David Bowie made his name in music and is admired as a pioneer in fashion, film, and gender politics. But one thing most of us don’t know is that he was also an internet pioneer who had already predicted the rise of internet culture back in 1999, a time when even people in the tech industry were skeptical about the potential of the internet.
A 1999 interview with Bowie, conducted by BBC’s Jeremy Paxman, has gone viral in the days following Bowie’s death, in which the musician voiced his opinions about the Internet. In this interview, it’s quite clear how Bowie foresaw the way internet culture would develop and evolve in the coming years.
The “Ziggy Stardust” singer commented on the prospects of the then-budding technology in the interview. He even argued that the internet would become the defining medium of the upcoming generation, more so than even rock culture.
Bowie told Paxman if he were 19 at the time of the interview, he wouldn’t have made his career in music. In his opinion, music had already lost its standing as the flag-bearer of upheaval to the internet.
“The Internet carries the flag of being subversive and possibly rebellious and chaotic, nihilistic,” Bowie said.
Bowie also stressed in the interview that the ultimate power of the internet lies in its ability to connect creators with their audiences and offering added power to their masses.
“I embrace the idea that there is a new demystification process going on between the artist and the audience,” Bowie explained.
Later, when the notion that the internet’s value is “exaggerated” was put forward to him, he made his disagreement known.
“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.
“The state of content is going to be so different to anything that we can really envisage at the moment. Where the interplay between the user and the provider are so in simpatico that it’s going to crash our ideas about what mediums are all about.”
David Bowie was a true internet visionary who realized the potential of the internet long before his contemporaries did. He had already launched his own website in the early ’90s.
When he released his single “Telling Lies” online in 1996, he was among the frontrunners to do so. The track was downloaded 300,000 times at a time when most of the world’s population hardly understood even what the internet was.
Bowie did a “cybercast” of his 1997 “Earthling” concert in Boston, although most people didn’t have an internet connection fast enough to truly experience it.
He even launched BowieNet, a full-fledged internet service provider that offered global high-speed internet service in 1998. It offered its users a dial-up service to browse the web. It also made a wide range of facilities on Bowie’s site available to the users. They were able to create avatars and interact with one another, live-stream shows, and even listen to an internet radio station with Bowie as the DJ.
In 1999, Bowie worked on the soundtrack for the video game Omikron: The Nomad Soul along with French game developer Quantic Dream. He also appeared in the game itself.
In 2013, surprisingly Bowie released a new single on his website. This was followed by Beyoncé, who did the same several months later, this time with an entire album.
Bowie’s forays were way ahead of their time. Although musicians of today do not usually launch their own internet services, they have followed in the footsteps of Bowie in other aspects. Musicians today share music digitally, live-stream concerts, write music for video games, and engage with fans online, something Bowie did way before everyone else.
When Bowie said in 1999 that the internet is “an alien life form,” he had clearly figured everything out much before the rest of us did. According to the internet stats from Hostingfacts.com, there are 3.26 billion internet users as of December 2015 which is over 40% of the world population.
[Image via Nbcnews]