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Jonathan Coulton is a musician and songwriter. A former computer programmer and self-described geek, Coulton tends to write quirky, witty lyrics about topics like science fiction and technology: a man[…]

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

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

Jonathan Coulton: rnIt's a future that you might imagine if you were 13 years old growing uprn sometime in the 1980s and you were all alone in your room reading Omni rnmagazine. I spent many hours exactly like that when I was 13 in the rn1980s. So, yes, you know there are pieces of that character that are rndefinitely me. He's jilted by a girl that he loves and imagines an rnelaborate revenge fantasy that also involves him improving himself. rnThat’s his vision of the future: technology will save him and somehow rnmake him more powerful, and really just sort of even him up with rneverybody else. 

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

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

Question: What inspired the rnMandelbrot Set song? 

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

Recorded on May 6, 2010