Fun Songs with Jonathan Coulton

From “The Future Soon” to the Mandelbrot song, an inside look at some of Coulton’s biggest hits.
  • Transcript


Question: Tell us about “The Future Soon” and how it reflects your feelings about the future? 

Jonathan Coulton: It's a future that you might imagine if you were 13 years old growing up sometime in the 1980s and you were all alone in your room reading Omni magazine. I spent many hours exactly like that when I was 13 in the 1980s. So, yes, you know there are pieces of that character that are definitely me. He's jilted by a girl that he loves and imagines an elaborate revenge fantasy that also involves him improving himself. That’s his vision of the future: technology will save him and somehow make him more powerful, and really just sort of even him up with everybody else. 

There are definitely times, particularly in my early teens, where I felt like that. Not necessarily that I was going to build and command a robot army, but you know just the promise of technology is frequently about evening the score, making things accessible for everyone in a way that they haven't been. So I think my favorite kind of futurist thinking is that kind of futurist thinking. I am a fan of technology and science and I know there are a lot of people who don't feel that way, who fear technology and progress. And you know they don't necessarily have to be luddites to be that way. They may use cell phones and computers, but at the same time, they feel like technology is a Pandora's box that has been opened and all of the ills of the world are gradually destroying our society and tearing us apart and isolating us and destroying the planet. 

And you know maybe they're right but I kind of think that if you look at progress, in particular technological progress, if you take any sort of rational long view of what has happened so far, you'd have to come away with the opinion that ,overall, it's been good for humans here on earth. And I fully expect that trend will continue and certainly there are a lot of challenges, you know. There are millions of gallons of crude oil pouring in to the ocean right now and that's a terrible thing and it's a terrible side effect of our technological footprint on this planet. But, I believe that we can face these challenges and I believe we can solve these problems and I think that we will, because that's sort of what we're here to do. 

Question: What inspired the Mandelbrot Set song? 

Jonathan Coulton: Yes, I was very flattered to see that you asked him that question about the song and that he'd heard of it and had an opinion of it. The only thing I would like to say to him is, "I apologize that I got the math wrong." I have been informed by numerous mathematicians, both experts and armchair that I am actually describing a Julia set and not the Mandelbrot set. I still don't exactly understand the difference. So I apologize for acting as though I was an expert on the subject, when in fact, I was mostly just mining Wikipedia and doing my best to put it into lyrics for a song.

Recorded on May 6, 2010