When you think of the brilliant minds who understood what a game changer the internet was going to be back in the ’90s, you probably don’t think of David Bowie. This is a shame, because Bowie had a keen interest in the early internet that showed his brillaince was not limited to the realm of rock and roll.
David Bowie’s vision of the internet yet to come
In a 1999 BBC interview, Bowie tells a skeptical Jeremy Paxman, “I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable.” When Paxman retorts that the internet is merely a tool, Bowie calls it “an alien life form” and expresses his belief that “it is going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.“
He knew what he was talking about. The year before this interview he had launched his own internet service provider called BowieNet. More than an ISP, the service also provided access to a dedicated website with exclusive content, including photos of Bowie, a blog, and a news feed. Users were encouraged to create their own websites with the free 5MB of space they were paying for and to participate in live chats with each other and Bowie himself. In effect, it was an early attempt at a social networking site.
His enthusiasm for the internet was so great that he once claimed, “If I was 19 again, I’d bypass music and go right to the internet.” Thank the Starman it only came around after he had a chance to be a musician.
You can see the entire interview below. The portion where he discusses the internet starts around the nine-minute mark, though he builds up to the discussion before then while expressing his postmodern understanding of how technology, audience participation, and new ideas about what an artist does were changing music.
David Bowie speaks to Jeremy Paxman on BBC Newsnight (1999)
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