For a while, it seemed that cyberpunk was dead.
The Internet counterculture of the West went mainstream faster than anyone could have predicted and the grim forecast of the cyberpunk movement became a self-defeating prophecy. Many dark realities were prevented from coming to be. Far from the sinister age of corporate dominance many envisioned, the digital era has liberated an entire world of individuals from obscurity, empowering them beyond their wildest dreams.
However, this power didn’t come without regulation. The surveillance capabilities of the West have been well orchestrated to secure a significant degree of control over its citizens’ virtual lives. Its law enforcement continually strives to gain jurisdiction over the ever-expanding boundaries of Net, making it a far stretch from the lawless frontier cyberpunk predicted.
But here in Africa, development has been dangerously asymmetrical. By the time any product hits our soil it’s already fully-developed and ready to be abused by the imagination. Technology designed for vastly different societies invariably trickles down to our streets, re-sprayed, re-labeled, and hacked to fit whatever market will take it. Regulation? You can forget about regulation.
Whatever rules the creators imagined fly out of the window as freighters are crammed to bursting with the second-hand remains of their creations, damn wherever they’re heading as long as they can be cleared from port. Similarly, the Net’s architecture fails to reflect the reality on our continent as the expansion of cyberspace exceeds the reach of our road networks. How do you track someone who doesn’t have a social security number or a physical address? Someone who never really made it onto the Grid?
It’s no surprise then that lawlessness is the rule on our end of the networks, ‘do what thou wilt’ the full extent of cyber-regulation. This will remain the case as long as Africa continues to wear hand-me-down systems; until she acquires her own truly tailor-made networks. With the huge logistical frameworks that need to be implemented, spanning vast swathes of geographical terrain, political regimes, and language barriers, a cyberpunk future for Africa seems all but inevitable.
And even if we manage to overcome these hurdles, cyberpunk can never really die. There’s just too much human nature embedded within its code – it thrives on uncertainty and unpredictability, on severe human limitations juxtaposed with the radical and unlimited power of our own technology. It will always find a home somewhere on this planet until we collectively reach Utopia – if we ever do – whenever society grapples with brave new technology. We have not seen it’s last.
Cyberpunk will be reborn.
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