First thing’s first: modder Datamancer’s “steampunk” LCD monitor (pictured above) is a beauty. It’s a 22″ widescreen LCD featuring a frame of solid 1/-inch brass and a base made up of a mixture of black marble and brass. It was made for an upcoming movie, and after filming, it’ll go up on eBay. I’m tempted to pick it up myself: I would look fine blogging in front of such a monitor, my meerschaum smoldering, a fez perched atop my head.
But those supine quotes smugly curl around steampunk in my first sentence for a reason. As lovely as Datamancer’s creation is, I bristle at it being referred to as steampunk. Steampunk means something more precise than just “old and cool looking.” I wish we could get back to using it that way.
Joel thinks steampunk is a confluence of aesthetic influences — which I agree with — and is ultimately an adjective without a concrete meaning. But it had a very precise meaning to me: it’s anti-retro-futurism. Where retro-futurism is the attempt by people of the past to imagine the future by extrapolating it from the technology of the day, steampunk should be the attempt to recreate — at least in spirit — our own contemporary technology using the science and mechanics of the Victorian era.
I once interviewed Jake von Slatt for Wired. Jake’s not shy about artfully adding ornamenture and oxidization to some gadget and calling it steampunk, but he’s clearly interested in doing far more. Von Slatt was telling me about what a true steampunk monitor would be like in his mind: all ASCII, maybe no more than 80×40, but each letter would change like the rapid-fire fluttering of the destinations on a mid-century train departures board. He also described a steampunk mouse that was like “a phrenological device for hands.” Now that’s steampunk.
Maybe I’m just being an elitist snob. There’s something to that: when Joel told me on my first day at BBG that our science-fiction category was “Retro-Futurism” because “it means the same thing,” I experiences a remarkably vivid waking dream in which I schooled Joel on the exact meaning of the word by garroting him with his own unspooled intestines. But I like to think I try to hold on to the purity of the word “steampunk” just because modern technology mechanically engineered with the knowledge and materials of the distant pass is just so much more wonderful than spraying some copper paint on the side of your Dell and calling it a day. What do you guys think?
Steampunk LCD Monitor [Datamancer]