Take a look at this:
That is a “steampunk” laptop, made by Sony. Actually, it is a Sony Vaio F laptop with a special cover designed to look “steampunk”.
What is steampunk, you may ask? If you don’t know, here’s a little primer (if you DO know, skip the italicized section below):
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction in which authors, artists, and fans imagine a past history (typically the 1800’s) in which steam is used to power all sorts of devices. Typically anachronistic, it is not uncommon to see analog computers, flying ships (most often dirigibles and the like), and even cybernetics and robotics.
However, one common theme is the visual aesthetic, which generally appears very Victorian-age in style, including lots of brass, piping, dials, and gauges. And even though steam is not always indicated as a power-source, any technology that appears Victorian in design, and is anachronistic, can be considered steampunk.
In fact, one of the most widely recognizable steampunk devices is the Nautilus submarine from the Disney film adaptation of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and some lesser known ones can be seen in the disaster of a film Wild, Wild West starring Will Smith, Kevin Kline, and Kenneth Branagh; including Branagh’s character’s prosthetic lower body, and the giant spider thingy.
So, anyway. steampunk is a nitch sub-genre of sci-fi, but its adherents are truly faithful. Many fans go to comic/sci-fi/geek conventions wearing steampunk outfits, weaponry, and machinery of their own design and construction. They are very creative, very intricate in design and ornamentation (the “Victorian” influence), and can be pretty cool-looking. In face, a friend of mine once actually re-envisioned the Ghostbuster’s uniforms, proton packs, and proton guns in steampunk-style, making the entire costume himself.
The important thing here is to remember that this culture is very DIY, and very creative.
And then you have Sony coming along with what will be a mass-produced laptop case. Its only pedigree for being steampunk seems to be a couple of gauges, some copper/brass panels, and some metal tubing (to be honest, considering the weight, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was all painted plastic).
While the prototype looks kind of OK, I fully imagine when seeing multiples of the same unit lined up in a row the uniqueness that is inherent in steampunk will be lost, and any interest will soon wane.
And that is part of the problem when major corporations try to tap into and market sub-cultures by taking something that a community has built up itself and then mass-producing it, usually to general failure.
An example of this is Toyota’s Scion brand of automobiles. Scion, when first announced in 2003 for North America, tried to market to car-modding enthusiasts, particularly of those into modifying Japanese brand cars. A buyer was able to go online and chose upgrades (mostly aesthetic) to their car, including paint jobs, new rims, spoilers, etc., and have the car built to order. As opposed to purchasing the car and then having it modified at a garage or, as is sometimes the case, doing it on your own.
While Scion models have gained a certain popularity for being alternatives to standard entry-level cars, the whole “modding” schtick never really played out. Probably because the small, dedicated group of enthusiasts are no dummies. They can smell and rat and can tell when they are being pandered to.
So I think that will also be the case with Sony’s new steampunk laptop. I am predicting it will sell poorly and will, eventually, be discontinued.
And the dedicated steampunk enthusiasts will continue on their merry way, with their pressures gauges, polished brass tubes, and uncompromised creativity.