i’ve been a geek in the broadest sense all my life – ever since i can remember, i’ve had an insatiable desire to know how things work and it’s impossible for me to have just a passing interest in a subject… i can be almost obsessive in my thirst for knowledge about the things i’m interested in and will delve into them to a depth way beyond what most people would consider to be more than sufficient. Although we traditionally equate geekism with the sciences and the IT disciplines, i’m happy to say that i’m a fairly competent geek in everything from various aspects of the natural world, geography, numerous subjects that are encompassed by ‘the arts’, right through to the more usual techie style geekological pursuits.
Reflecting on the dim, distant past, i was a bit of a late starter when it came to joining the online community – certainly, the cost of getting online and then actually staying online was, in my circumstances prohibitive for a very long time. Eventually though the day came when, with a secondhand 28k (yes, 28k!) modem and a free month’s subscription to AOL, courtesy of a CD pushed through the letterbox, i was finally up and running. To be absolutely honest, although it was fun and addictive, i had absolutely no idea what i was doing and the true potential of the internet was lost on me – i was so green that i thought a search engine was a piece of software that you had to buy!
It all changed however, almost overnight… in fact, i can identify the exact moment that i turned from total newbie with no idea whatsoever, to complete geek, (it was also, incidentally, when i first came across the expression ‘newbie’, and realised to my horror that i was one!).
Blame my local library. It was a Saturday afternoon when i popped in and picked up a few books that i hoped would help me with my new-found interest in the Information Superhighway, (it’s been a while since i last heard that particular expression) and, had it not been for the fact that the library permitted an incredibly generous allowance of books that could be taken out – one that i felt it was my obligation to fully utilise – i might never have picked up the unobtrusive paperback with the intriguing name that, unknown to me, was about to change my life.
‘Adventures of a Cyberpunk’ was the title – not, as you might think, science fiction, or any sort of fiction at all, actually. It was nestled alongside ‘The Internet for Dummies’ and ‘How to Start a Successful Internet Business’, right there in the middle of the geek-wannabe section. To this day, i don’t know what made me pick it up but once i started reading it, i was hooked.
Even at the time, it was well out of date – the account of a young woman’s exploration of the .net and all that she had learned on the way. Although it was already behind the times, that was a good thing as far as i was concerned, because from it i learned the how and why of how the internet had developed – this was to be my grounding in so many things that a huge number of today’s internet users are completely unaware of. There’s concern these days that people who’ve grown up with technology have lost the understanding of the very things that make it function – the same is true of the internet… the vast majority of those who use it have no idea what makes it tick: We’re running out of geeks.
However, the exploits of that girl as she pushed the frontiers of her own knowledge, provided me with with a grounding in things that i would otherwise not have known. i learned about listservs and usenet, about binaries, handshaking, e-mail protocols, MIME and Rot13… terms that would baffle even some of those who consider themselves to be tech-savvy surfers today. More importantly, quite aside from the technicalities, she taught me about cyberculture – for that was her story; the story of a cyberpunk.
Over time, the meaning of the word has changed subtley – it now represents a literary/artistic genre and a style of thinking; back in those days it tended to refer to someone living a life substantially in a virtual world – a ghost in the machine… if you like, a Tron-esque construct, a person of flesh and blood but living a life encompassing and embedded thoroughly in the electronic medium – a bit like the Matrix in reverse, and very much like the sl that we’re so familiar with. i was hooked – i wanted to be a cyberpunk… and that’s how it all started, although it’s been a very long time indeed since i’ve thought of myself in those terms and, until comparatively recently, i’d certainly never been described as such – perhaps it takes one to know one?
Back in January last year, (can it really be that long ago?), i started writing the first instalment of my story /#: Apocalypse #/ – Shauna commented on that post and what she said brought a smile to my face, and i took it as a huge compliment. That was a year ago but, as is the unpredictable nature of these things, at some point – inevitably – you have to come out of the closet.
It’s been a particularly challenging few days – for reasons i won’t be discussing here – and at those times in life when you feel shipwrecked and lost there are occasions when the rules just don’t fit any more and you have to make up your own, often by retreating from reality or making an entirely different one to escape to. So, to the girl whose name i can’t remember, who authored the book that i’ve never been able to find since, i just want to say ‘thank you’… thank you for making it kinda cool to be a cyberpunk and for giving me a whole new perspective from which i can explore my virtual world.
It may not last a week, or this could turn out to be the whole new me… we’ll just have to see. Whatever happens, it’s reminded me that to truly understand the virtual world, you have to be immersed in the virtual world: A techno-anarchist, a virtual spy, a pixel sniper; an explorer, hacker and investigator and super-geek; in short, a cyberpunk. If nothing else, in the words of Bug’s Bunny; “This promises to be fun!”