THE NEUROKNIVES MANIFESTO
I love cyberpunk. Wet streets, constant rain, neon lights and neo-noir. I love the techno-babble, the stacks of old PC parts, loose cables and modems. I love the anachronism and the grit of it. There are complaints, among modern critics--those who say the sub-genre is dead--that cyberpunks’ anachronisms are one of the reasons that it is obsolete.
But for me, sitting in a room with pieces of tech of various age and quality, I am inclined to believe that the expectation that the future should be pristine, polished, and un-anachronistic, is an untenable and unrealistic goal. A goal that, frankly, comes from the same line of reasoning that drives the iterative yearly design pushed by corporations. “Your old phone is obsolete, upgrade to the newest model,” they’ll say.
But when at any point in time have we lived free from technological holdovers of the past? Your old phone still works. People still play their old handheld games even when newer systems are released. Some people upgrade very rarely, or not at all, becoming specialists in the maintenance and preservation of old technologies. Moreover, not everyone can afford the newest tech. Old consoles are traded, handed down. People still use pay-as-you-go phones. The future is already here, etc, etc. You know the line.
Even among its critics--those who point to cyberpunks failings as a genre and say it failed to predict x or y—there is agreement that we are “living in a cyberpunk dystopia.” And not just because we live now, as of this writing, in the 2020s—a decade in which many early cyberpunk works were set—but because of a slew of other genre tropes made real: Corporate powers that control and influence government, police militarization and brutality used to reinforce class and racial hierarchy, private military corporations (mercenaries), runaway climate change (a subject that I am deeply pessimistic about), the repression of gender and sexual expression, denial of access to critical health services including abortion and gender affirming care. Hell we even have combat drones and artificial intelligence, which, instead of ascending to godhood and becoming new life, is mostly used to steal art and jobs to generate cheap soulless trash—artificial, yes, but intelligent? Check back later.
In a lot of ways cyberpunk as a genre has shaped my aesthetic sensibilities as well as the trajectory of my political beliefs. I care a lot about the above issues, but it often feels like the scope of those issues is insurmountable. That the little, individual actions we are told we can take are not enough. What’s more, caring about those issues on the mainstream web, on the consumer net (or CONNET, as I like to call it), means subjecting oneself to an endless barrage of exposure to the worst elements of humanity.
Corporate owned social media spaces allow access to anyone with an internet connection. “Anyone” unfortunately includes, very often, monstrous people who have beliefs that, when looked at with even the slightest bit of scrutiny, can be recognized as stemming from ideologies of oppression. The worst of which are, if not outright fascist, apologetic towards fascism.
Algorithms drive people deep into the radicalizing pipelines that turn them into nazis, true, but social media platforms have other problems too. Take for example how the algorithm and analytics drive the behaviors of platform users. Artists who want to get eyes on their work have to bend to the whims of the algorithm, drawing pinups of popular characters and doing art trends and challenges if they want their accounts to grow or be seen. If they just want to draw original content, tell stories with their own characters in their own worlds, they’re basically shit out of luck.
The result of this--the experience of being on social media--can be alienating, isolating, and depressing. Anything you attempt to say will be swept away in the current of… everything else. Any painting, any drawing, digital or traditional, that isn’t what the algorithm demands, may as well be printed out, wadded up, and thrown in the trash instead of posted. No one will see or hear you. If you’re an artist or a writer, this can be especially discouraging. It was for me. So much so that it played a pretty big role in any number of depressive episodes I’ve had over the years. I know I am not alone in this. I’ve read many accounts from others who’ve had similar experiences attempting to exist online in these spaces.
That’s why I’m making this site.
Neuroknives.com is my attempt at reconnecting with a kind of website I have missed. The old web. Web 1.0. The Yesterweb. A project that, like cyberpunk, users of the modern consumer net—webs 2 & 3.0—would consider to be an unnecessary anachronism. And like with cyberpunk as a genre, I am sure critics of the old web would call nostalgia for it and any attempt to return to it backward and reactionary. I don’t believe that it is. I find it bizarre that so many have decided to just cede the internet to corporate powers. To just give up and say “x website/app environment *is* the Internet.” They’ll go so far as to say that the internet should be a public utility (which it should be), but then they’ll specify that what they really mean is a specific social media site.
I find this perspective difficult to grok, especially from those who would otherwise share my particular ideological beliefs. If you are an anti-fascist, if you believe in mutual aid, in community defense, in good op and infosec, in free and open source software, freedom of information, and especially if you believe in those things in the context of disentangling them from the hierarchies in which they are currently entrenched, Web0 should make sense to you.
Yes, that’s right. If you’ve read this far you might be catching on. This post you are reading right now is another one of those Web0 manifestos your mother warned you about. It has been from the start.
This is my personal website. Personal websites, for most people, have long since been a thing of the past—if they ever were a thing for them at all. A not inconsiderable number of people have only ever known the web as a series of social media websites, each more restrictive and non-customizable than the last.
MySpace allowed for some HTML manipulation to make your page your own (before Justin Timberlake bought it), but most other sites after that, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the other CONNET titans, have only allowed for a profile picture, a banner, and a gallery if you’re lucky. The ability to fully take a page and make it exactly the way that you want to is not a thing in those places.
Those restrictions, combined with the aforementioned demands of the algorithm and how the numbers that are surfaced, work to alienate the user from what should be theirs. The internet writ large. These things have removed agency in and ownership over the web from users and placed it firmly in the hands of corporations who have decided that the only reason anyone should be online, is so that they can make money off of them.
It took me a long time to realize that. I didn’t realize how important it was to me that I should be able to code my own static pages if I wanted to. That I should be able to host my own art and my own writing without fear of it being taken down. That my art and writing should get to exist without the value judgment imposed upon it by social media. Not until I stumbled across The Yesterweb project and read some other manifestos that really tapped into some feelings I had been unable to lock down.
Existing solely in corporate space, on connet, a space that exists to mine data, steal art, and sell your nostalgia back to you, doesn’t seem very productive to me. You can be there and you can push back while you’re there. You can yell about how the numbers and analytics are a detriment to our own mental health and how we interact with one another on a fundamental human level. But until we start building an alternative ourselves it’s just talk.
I may not be able to fight, on an individual level, the rapid deterioration of the climate (or any of the other massive systemic problems that are outside of my control), but I can do this. I can subvert the domination of the internet by corporate powers a tiny bit. If even just for myself. So, I made this site. You should make one too. I promise you it’s not that hard.
I plan on posting a lot of art and writing here—most of it cyberpunk-related in some form or another (as if that wasn’t already apparent). I’ve got drafts of stories, art, original characters, and even small little games that I can’t wait to share. And the great thing is I don’t have to worry about whether or not the stuff I make is trendy or popular. I can think of my site, my art, and my writing, as a cool secret thing. If you’re here reading this? Congrats on finding it!
Stick around, choom. I’ve got some stories to tell.