Boytronic: Red Chips (1983, Germany)

We crossed the oceans of megabyte
When the diskettes start to burn like candles

I usually think of William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) as the prototypical Cyberpunk work, but of course it wasn’t even Gibson’s first story set in the Sprawl  (1981’s Johnny Mnemonic) or the first one featuring his videogame-like Cyberspace (1982’s Burning Chrome).

Meanwhile, Vernor Vinge’s 1981 cyberpunk novella True Names featured a slightly different take on the ultimate computer user interface; one that ‘evoked’ images in a person’s mind rather than a visual field of pixels, and was conceptualised in terms of magic. Of the two writers, Vinge was the only one working as an actual computer scientist at the time, and would have experienced first-hand the pseudo-anonymity of computer chat forums that we now take for granted as ‘the Internet’.

Finally, in 1982, Disney released the movie Tron, taking place inside a computer from the viewpoint of programs, and giving a third popular fictional impression of ‘cyberspace’ based on mythology and analogies to videogames. Wikipedia suggests that development of Tron began as early as 1976, as a response to the popularity of Atari’s 1972 hit videogame Pong.

(It’s fascinating to think how long it takes for technology to migrate to popular culture: in the case of Pong to Tron, about 10 years. So the seeds of cyberpunk, even in its earliest fictional form, would likewise go back to the early 70s. What’s being sown now, in the years after Snowden, I wonder?)

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