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, 285 Free Doc­u­men­taries Online, part of our larg­er col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Take a Road Trip with Cyber­space Vision­ary William Gib­son, Watch No Maps for These Ter­ri­to­ries (2000)

Tim­o­thy Leary Plans a Neu­ro­mancer Video Game, with Art by Kei­th Har­ing, Music by Devo & Cameos by David Byrne

William Gib­son, Father of Cyber­punk, Reads New Nov­el in Sec­ond Life

What’s the Inter­net? That’s So 1994…

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?

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 11.16.42 AM

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, 285 Free Doc­u­men­taries Online, part of our larg­er col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Fol­low Open Cul­ture on Face­book and Twit­ter and share intel­li­gent media with your friends. Or bet­ter yet, sign up for our dai­ly email and get a dai­ly dose of Open Cul­ture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts def­i­nite­ly appear in your Face­book news­feed, just fol­low these sim­ple steps.

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Tim­o­thy Leary Plans a Neu­ro­mancer Video Game, with Art by Kei­th Har­ing, Music by Devo & Cameos by David Byrne

Free Fun: Play Don­key Kong, Pac Man, Frog­ger & Oth­er Gold­en Age Video Games In Your Web Brows­er

Down­load a Pro­to­type of Ever, Jane, a Video Game That Takes You Inside the Vir­tu­al World of Jane Austen

Long Live Glitch! The Art & Code from the Game Now Released into the Pub­lic Domain

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Three Uni­ver­si­ty Projects Use Twit­ter to Under­stand Hap­pi­ness, Hate and Oth­er Emo­tions in Amer­i­ca

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.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

10 Clas­sic Films from the Inter­net Archive

8,976 Free Grate­ful Dead Con­cert Record­ings in the Inter­net Archive, Explored by the New York­er

Kids (and Less Savvy Mar­keters) Imag­ine the Inter­net in 1995

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

A Short Animated History of the GIF

In 1987, Com­puserve begat­teth Image For­mat 87A.

Image For­mat 87A begat­teth Graph­ics Inter­change For­mat or GIF (rhymes with a cer­tain brand of peanut but­ter, the video his­to­ry above help­ful­ly points out).

The pro­lif­er­a­tions of free online GIF gen­er­a­tors begat­teth the count­less annoy­ing, smarmy, bone­head­ed ani­mat­ed loops you’ve seen junk­ing up emails, pro­file pic­tures, and MySpace pages.

Of course, some of them are also pret­ty cool, which is why they’re being cel­e­brat­ed with a fes­ti­val at the Brook­lyn Acad­e­my of Music. No tick­ets nec­es­sary. Mov­ing the Still: A GIF Fes­ti­val will be screen­ing through June on the out­door elec­tron­ic bill­board meant to pro­mote upcom­ing and cur­rent attrac­tions. Con­ceiv­ably, view­ers with wheels and time to spare could take it in on an end­less loop of their own, by cir­cling up Flat­bush to Lafayette, then mov­ing up when the light changes, bat­tling traf­fic from the near­by Bar­clays Cen­ter on the return leg.

What do we stand to see in this fes­ti­val? The video his­to­ry leads us to believe that any­thing is pos­si­ble, though cer­tain things—accidental hap­pen­ings, laser cats, col­or­ful barf­ing (…wait, col­or­ful barfing?)—have a built in appeal.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Gallery of Stan­ley Kubrick Cin­ema­graphs: Icon­ic Moments Briefly Ani­mat­ed

Kids (and Less Savvy Mar­keters) Imag­ine the Inter­net in 1995

Ayun Hal­l­i­day grav­i­tates toward the paper GIFs known as flip books. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

« Go BackMore in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.