Cyberpunk: 1990 Documentary Featuring William Gibson & Timothy Leary Introduces the Cyberpunk Culture

"High tech and low life": never have I heard a literary genre so elegantly encapsulated. I repeat it whenever a friend who finds out I enjoy reading cyberpunk novels — or watching cyberpunk movies, or playing cyberpunk video games — asks what "cyberpunk" actually means. We've all heard the word thrown around since the mid-1980s, and I seem to recall hearing it several times a day in the 1990s, when the development of the internet and its associated pieces of personal technology hit the accelerator hard. At the dawn of that decade, out came Cyberpunk, a primer on the eponymous movement in not just literature, film, and computers, but music, fashion, crime, punishment, and medicine as well. That time saw technology develop in such a way as to empower less governments, corporations, and other institutions than individual people: virtuous people, sketchy people, everyday people, and that favorite cyberpunk character type, the "gentleman-loser."

We recently featured No Maps for These Territories, the 2000 documentary starring William Gibson, author of novels like Neuromancer, Idoru, and Pattern Recognition and the writer most closely associated with the cyberpunk movement. Cyberpunk describes him, a decade earlier, as  "the man who may be said to have started it all," and here he shares insights on how the literary form he pioneered made possible stylistic development within and the importation of elements of the wider literary and artistic world into the reactionary "golden ghetto" of the science-fiction industry. We also hear, amid a farrago of glossy, flamboyantly artificial early-1990s computer animation, from a number of cyberpunk-inclined artists, musicians, scientists, and hackers. This lineup includes psychologist, LSD enthusiast, and NeuromancePC game mastermind Timothy Leary, in some sense a progenitor of this whole culture of self-enhancement through technology. How has all this worked out in the near-quarter-century since? It depends on whether one of Gibson's darker predictions aired here will come true: if things go wrong, he says, the future could in reality end up not as a grand personal empowerment but as "a very expensive American television commercial injected directly into your cortex." Fortunately for cyberpunks the world over, we haven't got there yet. Quite.

(And if this documentary gets you wanting to jump into cyberpunk literature, you could do worse than starting with Rudy Rucker's Ware Tetralogy, two of whose books won the Philip K. Dick Award for best novel, all of which come with an introduction by Gibson, now available free online.)

Cyberpunk will be added to our collection, 265 Free Documentaries Online, part of our larger collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Did the Wayback Machine Catch Russian-Backed Rebels Claiming Responsibility for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17?

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If you're a long-time reader of Open Culture, you know all about -- a non-profit that houses all kinds of fascinating textsaudiomoving images, and software. And don't forget archived web pages. Since 1996, Archive's "Wayback Machine" has been taking snapshots of websites, producing a historical record of this still fairly new thing called "the web." Right now, the Wayback Machine holds 417 billion snapshots of web sites, including one page showing that "Igor Girkin, a Ukrainian separatist leader also known as Strelkov, claimed responsibility on a popular Russian social-networking site for the downing of what he thought was a Ukrainian military transport plane shortly before reports that Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 had crashed near the rebel held Ukrainian city of Donetsk." (This quote comes from The Christian Science Monitor, which has more on the story.) Girkin's post was captured by the Wayback Machine at 15:22:22 on July 17. By 16:56, Girkin's post was taken offline -- but not before had its copy.

To keep tabs on this story, follow Archive's Twitter and Facebook pages.

The Internet’s Own Boy: New Documentary About Aaron Swartz Now Free Online

On BoingBoing today, Cory Doctorow writes: "The Creative Commons-licensed version of The Internet's Own Boy, Brian Knappenberger's documentary about Aaron Swartz, is now available on the Internet Archive, which is especially useful for people outside of the US, who aren't able to pay to see it online.... The Internet Archive makes the movie available to download or stream, in MPEG 4 and Ogg. There's also a torrentable version."

According to the film summary, the new documentary "depicts the life of American computer programmer, writer, political organizer and Internet activist Aaron Swartz. It features interviews with his family and friends as well as the internet luminaries who worked with him. The film tells his story up to his eventual suicide after a legal battle, and explores the questions of access to information and civil liberties that drove his work."

The Internet's Own Boy will be added to our collection, 265 Free Documentaries Online, part of our larger collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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The Big Lebowski Reimagined as a Classic 8-Bit Video Game

The above video brings together two things that few people of my generation can resist. The first hardly needs an introduction: at the risk of angering Coen Brothers fans with the comparison, their 1998 cult hit The Big Lebowski has generated at least as many endlessly quotable lines as Caddyshack did almost 20 years earlier, and it appeals to a similar contingent of slacker wiseasses. The movie gave Jeff Bridges—son of Lloyd, brother of Beau, and certainly a star in his own right before he played The Dude—the kind of cachet most actors only dream of. I’m not saying he wouldn’t have won his 2009 best actor Oscar for Crazy Heart without Lebowski, but I’m not saying that he would have either. And then, of course, there was the renewed interest in the “sport” of bowling, Hollywood weirdo and self-identified gun nut John Milius (who inspired John Goodman’s character), and the creamy vodka cocktail.

The second thing: the 8-bit video games that, believe it or not, represented a revolution in home gaming, and gave us the first Nintendo and Sega systems and games that, true confession, used to keep me up all night, like the various versions of Megaman (which you can play online here). The games now have legendary status and their definitively colorful, blocky aesthetic has been—or was at least a few years ago—the ultimate in geek nostalgia chic, along with a new wave of “chiptune” music made with, or inspired by, the 8-bit chips of the games of our youth. So what, I ask, could be more fun than bringing Lebowski and 8-bit gaming together for a 3-minute bowling game? Very little. As C-Net describes the video above, it’s “an experience we only wish we’d had back in the 90’s.” Made by CineFix, who have previously animated Pulp Fiction, The Hunger Games, Blade Runner and a string of other hits as 8-bit shorts, the 8-Bit Cinema Big Lebowski isn’t actually playable, but it should be. Regardless, it’s as fun to watch as you might imagine a mash-up of the Coen Brothers and Super Mario World would be. Get your nostalgia on.

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Want  to learn about Video Game Law? It's covered in our list of Free Online Courses

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Problem with Facebook: “It’s Keeping Things From You”

You liked our Facebook page. Now you're expecting to see our material in your Facebook news feed. It's not an unreasonable expectation. But it's also very unlikely to happen. As Derek Muller, the curator of science video blog Veritasium, explains very articulately in the video above, "The problem with Facebook is that it's keeping things from you. You don't see most of what's posted by your friends or the pages you follow." And that's partly because, Muller goes on to explain, Facebook is overwhelmed by content, and busy trying to find ways to monetize its newsfeed. Following a change to an algorithm in December, the problem has only gotten worse. (We have 245,000 followers, and maybe 7,000 -- or 2% -- see a post on average in January, as compared to 30,000 in November.) If you care about how you use Facebook -- either to connect with friends, or gather information -- the video is well worth watching. It clearly lets you know that Facebook is controlling your social media experience, when it should be you.

Note: If you want to make sure you receive all of our posts, get our daily email or sign up for our RSS feed. Facebook doesn't control those ... yet.

You can read more about this issue at Slate.

What Happens on the Internet in 60 Seconds

Chances are in the past week you’ve read some argument about how the internet has destroyed the middle class, democracy, culture, etc, or a rebuttal of one of the above. I can’t add much to these debates. They sometimes sound like arguments over whether telephony is a boon or a curse. These technologies—as long as the grid’s up and running—we shall always have with us.

Sociological speculation notwithstanding, the exponentially increasing computing power that pushes our online interactions to ever-dizzying speeds is surely something to pause and marvel at, if not to fear. The short video above from Buzzfeed takes us on a wild ride through the millions of transactions that occur online in a single minute. Here we learn that in sixty-seconds, there will be 2,000,000 Google searches, 27,800 uploads to Instagram, 278,000 Tweets, 1,875,000 Facebook likes, a “low estimate” of 200,000 people streaming porn….

Actually, it does start to seem like all this online activity is pretty narrowly focused, or maybe that's a limitation of the survey. Another video from 2011 (below) and infographics here and here offer some comparative analytics.

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How Brewster Kahle and the Internet Archive Will Preserve the Infinite Information on the Web

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Brewster Kahle and the Internet Archive Will Preserve the Infinite Information on the Web

Brewster Kahle is an unassuming man. But as an internet pioneer and digital librarian, he may rightly be called a founding father of the Open Culture ethos. In 1996, Kahle began work on the Internet Archive, a tremendously important project that acts as a safety net for the memory hole problem of Internet publishing. Kahle developed technology that finds and aggregates as much of the internet as it is able in his massive digital library.

Along with the archive, which Open Culture has drawn from many a time, comes Kahle’s “Wayback Machine,” named for the time-traveling device in a Rocky and Bullwinkle segment featuring the genius dog Mr. Peabody and his pet boy Sherman (the cartoon spelled it as an acronym: WABAC). The “Wayback Machine,” as you probably know, logs previous versions of websites, holding on to the web’s past like classic paper libraries hold on to an author’s papers. (Here's what we looked like in 2006.)

In the animated adventures of Peabody and Sherman, the Wayback Machine was a monstrous contraption that occupied half of Peabody’s den. And while we often think of Internet space as limitless and disembodied, Kahle’s Internet Archive is also physically housed, in a former Christian Science church now lined with towering servers that store digitized books, music, film and other media for free access. It’s an impressive space for an impressive project that will likely expand past its physical boundaries. As Kahle says above, “it turns out there is no end; the web is, in fact, infinite.”

Kahle is deeply invested in data. The challenges of maintaining the Internet Archive are immense, including translating old, unplayable formats to new ones. But what Kahle calls the greatest challenge is the perennial threat to all libraries: “they burn.” And he’s committed to designing for that eventuality by making copies of the archive and distributing them around the world. If you’re interested in what motivates Kahle, you should watch his 2007 TED talk above. He frames the business of archiving the internet as one of making available “the best we have to offer” to successive generations. “If we don’t do that,” Kahle warns, “we’re going to get the generation we deserve.” It’s a warning worth heeding, I think.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

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