Digital Drugs

Grendel, Timewave Zero.

A few weeks ago a friend asked me to look at the music video for Grendel’s Timewave Zero. As a cyberpunk fan, and a fan of my sci-fi works, he wanted to know what I thought, and if it had any realistic merit.

So, I did, and I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about it because, A: No, not really, technology and/or biology don’t work like that, but cool video and B: Actually, yes, sort of, but not like that, and it’s an interesting idea to explore.

So, first off, I suggest you watch the video, but in any case, during the video we see various scenes of the… protagonist(?) doing drugs, but not real drugs. They’re sort of cyberpunk themed parodies of real drugs. He takes a small circuit board on his tongue like a tab of acid, he smokes various things, snorts crumbled up data disks, etc. And while it’s a cool effect, no, it doesn’t work that way.

Cool, but, no.

“But if he’s a cyborg too, he’s got stuff that could read the data,” One might protest. And… yes, sort of, but assuming you did, it still wouldn’t work like that. Not quite. Consider this: all drugs work by affecting the biochemistry of your body. Even things like the lights and sounds of a rave, sans drugs, while not directly chemical, still affect the neurochemistry of the ravers through stimuli. “But the data could be programmed to do that too,” you protest. Well, yes, it could. And I’m actually going to get into that in a moment. But if that’s the case, why would you need a physical… thing to transmit said data? It could just be a program.

And that argument raises a couple more interesting points: specifically, how could a drug dealer make any money if people can just copy the files for getting high infinitely, and why would you bother to make a physical thing?

Cool lighter, but, unnecessary in a cyberpunk future (not to mention ecigs, haha.)

To address the copying issue, two interesting answers came up in discussions with other people. First, that this is somewhat like the argument that internet piracy would ruin hollywood, and, clearly, it hasn’t, because either not enough people know how or because hollywood can keep making new content. In much the same way, it could just be annoyingly difficult to copy so most people wouldn’t bother, or the dealers could create new types of cyber drugs to keep people always interested in a new hit. It has been proven over and over that humans have a natural inclination to get bored with the same old things, we like ‘the new’ even if the new isn’t actually better, we still crave new experiences. So, in that regard, you’re probably fine, drug dealers of 2137, and you’re still going to be busy, DEA and ATF of 2137. Ha.

On the second point, in talking with people who are more tech experts than I, I found out actually there are ways to make something actually only one use, that aren’t just chemical. That gets into some extremely technical coding stuff, some of which honestly went over my head, but, rest assured, that is possible. You could make a one time only use digital drug, in theory. Neat.

That of course assumes you have the cyberaugs to receive them. (If you don’t know, that’s common slang for “cybernetic augmentations” ie: technology directly linked into your body, and usually implied linked into your brain.)

Actual cybertech will probably be less gooey. (The Matrix)

So, ultimately, it really wouldn’t be down to the drugs (or e-drugs or whatever you want to call them) that you buy to get you high, it would be the cyberaugmentations you already have installed in your body/brain that those ‘drugs’ activate, probably by making them provoke a specific chemical reaction. For example, you could, in theory, program a machine already in your brain to cause a specific halucination, or stimulate the release of chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. Which, really, when you get down to brass tacks, isn’t terribly different from how drugs already work.

So, as far as my Point B, that ‘yes actually sort of but not quite,’ you could make electronic devices that simulate drug responses, you could customize them, and you could monetize them. Buuuut they wouldn’t be quite like in the (admittedly very fun to watch) music video.

There are entire books and libraries full of the idea and reality of cyberaugmentations and brain chemistry, and there are massive organizations trying every day to make something similar a reality, whether for genuine medical benefit or for overall literal ‘augmentation’. Make you faster, smarter, stronger, whatever. So, generally speaking at least, cyberaugs are coming, and cyber drugs will probably be close behind.

Coming to a city near you! Someday. Sort of.

To close with an interesting point: I myself have tried ‘digital drugs’ as they are now, in the form of specially created sound files that, supposedly, can cause neurochemical reactions when listened to correctly and in an area with few other distractions. There is much debate over whether they really do have such an effect, or if it’s more of a sort of placebo type thing, and not being a neuroscientist, I cannot say with any authority. What I can say is the times that I have tried them, I tried the ones that are supposed to make you “trip balls” (or in plainer english, have extremely vivid halucinations) and frankly, I did. I did trip balls, and it was pretty amazing. But, on the other hand, I can do that to myself by just meditating for a while in the right sort of mindframe and sort of lucid dream while still awake. But maybe that’s all the sound-drugs really did: help put my mind into that state by relaxing so I’d be open to the experience I’m already technically capable of achieving. I mean, your body can have anxiety attacks and release adrenaline and all kinds of other fun goo because of, say, a scary movie or something even less real, so, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility to have such things be true. Find out for yourself.

But really, in closing: Technology gets more fascinating by the second, we are alive in a very interesting time. I, for one, am excited to see what people come up with, good and bad alike.

See you ‘round the nets, chummer.

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4 Comments
  1. Very interesting thought experiment! The “sound drugs” remind me of a book I read a while ago that featured addictive books. While it was a fantasy book, the idea seems similar. Specific combinations of words induce a chemical response in the brain, giving the reader an immediate high. The problem with this was that one couldn’t stop reading and would constantly crave that state of mind. With devastating results: no more desire to sleep, drink or eat. If a drug could be copied, what would stop the users from overindulging? If it’s not a problem of availability, drug-induced deaths might rise significantly.

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    • The idea of copying drug programs or sound files to overcome scarcity is amazing! Maybe they would be put on chips or disks or some such, that would self delete after a single use. A hacker might be able to get around this, but most of the population wouldn’t… Cool idea…

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  2. i just took it as a way of connecting mind altering chemicals to technology and done in a way to combine them all through the music which is all relative and…. didn’t try to read that far into everything lol. its an ok vid, it has some great visuals here and there but also a lot of *overdone trying to hard ness* going on imo. grendel is a pretty decent act tho, and the song is nice.

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  3. I’ve tried the audio digital drugs that is available today but it didn’t work for me sadly. Maybe I did it wrong? Or used the wrong headphones or something I have no idea

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