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Monday, September 15, 2008

Mirrorshades

For me, the 80s never happened. In my Universe, the 70s blended into the 90s. The music, the politics, the fashions were so awful that I just blotted them out. Time travel was easy. I was busy, first trying to eradicate polio, and later, finding a cure for HIV. In my Universe, the 80s didn't happen until 2003, when I stood in a Yorkshire pit village and found out how Thatcherism had destroyed the lives of nearly everyone who lived there, not because of the economics of coal, but just because they could. So I wasn't sorry about missing it all until a few months ago, because along with John Selwyn Gummer, Kajagoogoo and silly clothes, I skipped cyberpunk. So I've spent the summer trying to catch up with my lost decade.

If William Gibson was the High Priest of Cyberpunk (and he was), Bruce Sterling was the Archdeacon, so Sterling's Mirrorshades anthology (how those sci-fis love an anthology) was high on my list. And it didn't disappoint.

Apart from my rambling personal reflection, you might think this post has no place on a blog about education. I'm not going to tell you that this is my personal blog and I can put what the heck I like here (hint). I'm going to tell you that cyberpunk has got everything to do with education and e-learning. Apart from the intricacies of Gibson's Metaverse, Sterling has a few things to say too.

And now that technology has reached fever pitch, its influence has slipped control and reached street level. As Alvin Toffler pointed out in The Third wave - a bible to many cyberpunks - the technical revolution reshaping our society is based not in hierarchy but in decentralization, not in rigidity but in fluidity. Science fiction - at least according to its official dogma - has always been about the impact of technology. But times have changed since the comfortable era of Hugo Gernsback, when Science was safely enshrined - and confined - in an ivory tower. The careless technophilia of those days belongs to a vanished, sluggish era, when authority still had a comfortable margin of control.

Without cyberpunk, I wouldn't be writing this - not because the fiction became the technology (Gibson's story The Gernsback Continuum, first in this anthology, tells us that), but because of people who were there in the 80s and made sure that I caught up. And now I'll off to tell our students that they, not we, own the technology, and they are the only ones who can own knowledge.