Taking 21st century technology back to the 1800s via 'Steampunk'

September 22, 2008

by Mark Ollig

It captured my attention immediately.

I became awestruck staring at the picture of this particular computer – it mysteriously exhibited the appearance of having been manufactured during the Victorian era.

This didn’t make sense to me because as you know, the Victorian era occurred between 1837 and 1901, during the reign of Queen Victoria in the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

The reason this particular computer was very different is because its physical appearance had been “steampunked.”

I can best describe the term “steampunk” as “the process of changing a modern made device (in this case a modern computer) to appear like it was made in the 19th century.”

The “steam” in steampunk refers to a time when steam itself was the power commonly used to operate mechanical devices during the 1800’s.

Steampunk could also be described as an “earlier-history style presentation” of a modern day technological device.

This type of re-creation of modern techno-devices is actually very popular. In fact, the more I researched this, the more I found out about the growing “steampunk society” that exists.

One of these steampunk web sites is located at: www.steampunkworkshop.com

I am discovering steampunk fabrication is incredibly cool and even addictive by those who work in it.

Some of the parts used in steampunk, like older Victorian style wooden frames and shelves, are found at local antique and knick-knack stores.

One of the people I read about who’s ‘steampunking’ a modern desktop computer found many of the Victorian style parts he used at his town’s local waste disposal site.

This person made a video of his “steampunk processing procedure” of a modern computer and uploaded it to YouTube.

These hobbyists are very detailed in their re-building techniques and perform much research in order to use the correct Victorian era “steampunk” styles when retrofitting their modern-made tech devices.

Another YouTube video shows how a steampunk hobbyist used a Victorian style hand-crafted wooden shelf to encase a computer’s LCD screen – he then proceeded to meticulously trim the wooden shelf into frame pieces using a band saw.

He carefully fitted the pieces of cut wood using antiqued brass corner plates.

This hobbyist was able to perfectly border-in the flat LCD monitor screen inside this wooden Victorian style frame, which presented the steampunk look he wanted.

Steampunk craftspersons (also called “steampunks”) need to utilize their research, wood working, mechanical and dexterity skills in creating these amazing pieces of “de-modernized” – yet functioning – displays of steampunk artwork.

I personally consider the detailed work of steampunk as I would any other specialized hobby or craft.

This type of steampunk art is sure to capture anyone’s attention.

Bruce Sterling is an American science fiction author and wrote an essay entitled “The User’s Guide to Steampunk.” In this essay he says, “Steampunks are modern crafts people who are very into spreading the means and methods of working in archaic technologies”

Some of Sterling’s words I found enlightening, as he tries to analogize the term “steampunk” as a coping mechanism for how some of us are handling modern technology.

After reading about Sterling, he seems to imply, in my opinion, that there are people who steampunk because they want to remove the futuristic look of today’s modern devices. These people desire to have modern devices look as if they had been created using materials from ages past, or in this case, the steam powered era.

By steampunking a piece of modern technology, it is in a sense “de-evolving” its outward physical appearance back to an earlier period in history.

In Sterling’s first fictional book he published in 1977 called “Involution Ocean,” he writes about the world called “Nullaqua.” The entire atmosphere of this world is held inside of a deep crater located miles under the surface.

The story involves a sailing ship which is hunting creatures called “dust whales” that live beneath –you guessed it – the “dust ocean” which lies at the bottom of this deep crater.

Sterling’s “Involution Ocean” is written in the artistic genre of “Moby Dick.”

And I thought I had an active imagination.

You can read Sterling’s brief essay about steampunk at: http://tinyurl.com/63kaoz

Sterling is also one of the founders of the “cyberpunk” movement in science fiction writing.

His writings do provide for some thought-provocative reading.

Many of Sterling’s books can be found at Amazon.com and your local book stores.

When you visit this week’s “Web Site of the Week” you will discover your humble bits_blogger’s “web pick” is focused on steampunk computers, wrist watches, guitars and more!.

You will see some remarkable steampunk related pictures and information, so when you’re online be sure to check it out.