In 1999, David Bowie Predicts the Good and Bad of the Internet: “We’re on the Cusp of Something Exhilarating and Terrifying”

“We’re on the cusp of some­thing exhil­a­rat­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing.”

The year is 1999 and David Bowie, in shag­gy hair and groovy glass­es, has seen the future and it is the Inter­net.

In this short but fas­ci­nat­ing inter­view with BBC’s stal­wart and with­er­ing inter­roga­tor cum inter­view­er Jere­my Pax­man, Bowie offers a fore­cast of the decades to come, and gets most of it right, if not all. Pax­man dole­ful­ly plays devil’s advo­cate, although I sus­pect he did real­ly see the Net as a “tool”– sim­ply a repack­ag­ing of an exist­ing medi­um.

“It’s an alien life form that just land­ed,” Bowie coun­ters.

Bowie, who had set up his own as a pri­vate ISP the pre­vi­ous year, begins by say­ing that if he had been just start­ing his career in 1999, he would not have been a musi­cian, but a “fan col­lect­ing records.”

It sound­ed provoca­tive at the time, but Bowie makes a point here that has tak­en on more cre­dence in recent years–that the rev­o­lu­tion­ary sta­tus of rock in the ‘60s and ‘70s was tied in to its rar­i­ty, that the inabil­i­ty to read­i­ly hear music gave it pow­er and cur­ren­cy. Rock is now “a career oppor­tu­ni­ty,” he says, and the Inter­net now has the allure that rock once did.

What Bowie might not have seen is how quick­ly that allure would wear off. The Inter­net no longer has a mys­tery to it. It’s clos­er to a pub­lic util­i­ty, odd­ly a point that Bowie makes lat­er when talk­ing about the inven­tion of the tele­phone.

Bowie also approved of the demys­ti­fi­ca­tion between the artist and audi­ence that the Inter­net was pro­vid­ing. In his final decade, how­ev­er, he would seek out anonymi­ty and pri­va­cy, drop­ping his final two albums sud­den­ly with­out fan­fare and refus­ing all inter­views. He also didn’t fore­see the kind of trolling that sends celebri­ties and artists off of social media.

Pax­man sees the frag­men­ta­tion of the Inter­net as a prob­lem; Bowie sees it as a plus.

“The poten­tial of what the Inter­net is going to do to soci­ety, both good and bad, is unimag­in­able.”

There’s a lot more to unpack in this seg­ment, and let your dif­fer­ing view­points be known in the com­ments. It’s what Bowie would have want­ed.

via Pale­o­fu­ture

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

David Bowie Gives Grad­u­a­tion Speech At Berklee Col­lege of Music: “Music Has Been My Door­way of Per­cep­tion” (1999)

David Bowie’s Fash­ion­able Mug Shot From His 1976 Mar­i­jua­na Bust

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

by | Permalink | Comments (8) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (8)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • jo cam says:

    Music may not be rare these days, but good music is still dif­fi­cult to find in the heaps of rub­bish we are del­uged with.

  • PG says:

    I believe Frank Zap­pa said essen­tial­ly the same thing before he death…which was in 1993.

  • Aja Soprano says:

    Every­one in ship most help­ful. Love Gilbert.

  • Liss says:

    I miss Bowie so much, for his music AND his philo­soph­i­cal view­points. It’s a great pity he tend­ed towards reclu­sive­ness. I’d love to hear his opin­ions on the state of world events today. Thanks for shar­ing this fas­ci­nat­ing and pre­scient clip. I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy watch­ing Pax­man’s expres­sion morph from his (default) cyn­i­cism to obvi­ous approval.

  • woody tobias jr. says:

    ah… the end­less pos­i­tive enthu­si­asm for the inter­net that could only be found in the 90s!
    of course, in hind­sight, we can cher­ry pick some nifty sound bytes from mr. bowie that make him look good and us feel good for agree­ing.
    but… come on: the internet/phone/online crap “rev­o­lu­tion” we’re liv­ing in has turned 100% into a Cap­i­tal­is­tic freak­out with it’s users smeared on the bot­tom of the cor­po­rate world’s shit­stained shoes. we, human­i­ty, have lost.
    there is no TAZ here any­more… nev­er was. if you are a con­sumer and Cap­i­tal­ist, and con­tin­ue to buy the dream, sure: the inter­net is your heav­en. but the cost is best ignored by you.
    the cost to make all this shit? who made your phone and lap­top? what resources were used? what tox­ins dumped in some unknown jun­gle riv­er so that you can tune in to Black Mir­ror on Net­flix and feel oh so groovy and aware?
    the real rebel­lion is toss­ing it in the bin and go to a hon­est to gawd sub­ver­sive meet­ing in the back of some library some­where with liv­ing humans to dis­cuss what we can do about this and how we can live bet­ter lives. I’m sor­ry, but any­one still argu­ing for the inter­net now is a Cap­i­tal­is­tic, con­sumerist whore that is square­ly under the thumb of bil­lion­aires.
    good luck with your plan­et, suck­ers.

  • Peter Leighton says:

    I still think there’s anoth­er Bowie album. They always came out of the blue. I’ve been look­ing for­ward to them since I was thir­teen years old. I’m fifty sev­en. It seems impos­si­ble that there aren’t any­more. What will I lis­ten to when I retire?

  • AKS says:

    I had no idea Bowie was so well versed in aes­thet­ics. Lit­er­al­ly pulling from Hei­deg­ger (the inter­net is not a tool — “mod­ern Tech­nol­o­gy is no mere instru­men­tal­i­ty, but a way of see­ing the world”), Wal­ter Ben­jamin (“the art is only fin­ished when the audi­ence gives their Inter­pre­ta­tion”), and refer­ring to Ducham­p’s Dada inter­ven­tions.

    The inter­view­er is so skep­ti­cal, but every­thing Bowie says is spot on. Notice, though, he isn’t only opti­mistic about the inter­net (“the good with the bad,” he says), but is indi­cat­ing the cat­a­clysm in the very idea of medi­um that has been occur­ring ever since (and every­thing else that entails, like, per­haps, sur­veil­lance cap­i­tal­ism and elec­tion rig­ging). Its the grey space between the artist and the audi­ence that will define the 21st cen­tu­ry, he says; I think that’s worth keep­ing in mind.

    Also, check out BowieNet from 1998. you’ll thank me.

  • Dave says:

    And like Rock­’n’Roll became every­where and lost its pow­er, now the inter­net is every­where, in our hands all day long track­ing our every move. And being pinned down by a very few com­pa­nies. So where will the rebels go next.…?

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.