People born in the last twenty years have always had access to the Internet. However, did you know that it wasn’t until the 1990’s that the World Wide Web became commercial? Yes, there was a form of Internet in existence; however, it wasn’t until 1995 when the Internet finally became truly available for the public and retail. But what role did Science Fiction have in the development of the Internet ? I’m glad you asked.
Some people hear the term “Cyberpunk” and think it refers to a band. Well it doesn’t in this context. Cyberpunk is the sub-genre of sci-fi which deals with high-tech and broken-down, messed up, morally bankrupt civilizations. But how did Cyberpunk come to be? Who started this phenomenon that has been instrumental in the further development of the World Wide Web and the creation of a sub-culture?
While scientists were busy creating the infrastructure for the networks, there were imaginative authors with the foresight to create stories that defined a new generation. These authors, Bruce Bethke, William Gibson, Walter Jon Williams and Greg Bear, in particular created a new language that thirty years later is used to define the “Net”.
Back in 1980 there was a guy named Bruce Bethke (author of the Philip K. Dick Award winning novel Headcrash) who wrote a short story about teenagers who happened to be troublemakers and computer hackers. The story was titled “Cyberpunk”. The story wasn’t immediately published, but it should have been. It wasn’t until 1983 that it came out and the term Cyberpunk took off. At the time, though, cyberpunk referred only to the teenagers who utilized their computer skills to hack and cause mayhem.
However, in 1982, an author named William Gibson, published a novelette in Omni Magazine titled “Burning Chrome“. This short story gave us an introduction to The Sprawl and “Cyberspace” as well as Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics. The following year, William Gibson published a brilliant novel titled “Neuromancer” . In this Sci-Fi Triple Crown Award winning novel (Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick), we are introduced to a world where the true drug of choice is being “jacked in” to “cyberspace”. Because of the huge underground success of this novel, the term “cyberspace” became synonymous with the World Wide Web. And the term Cyberpunk changed to become the name of the newest and coolest sub-genre of science fiction.
From there we were given such amazing books as Johnny Mnemonic (the movie wasn’t that great), Virtual Light, and Software, Wetware and Freeware by Rudy Rucker.
It is often stated that these stories were instrumental in inspiring the furtherance of the Internet, creation of Virtual Reality and thanks to Bethke, the creation of Laptops, Netbooks and Pads. (his teens used portable computers the size of notebooks.) Personally, I wonder, what would have happened to our civilization had it not been for these visionaries who opened the pathways of imagination.