In a 1999 interview with BBC Newsnight, David Bowie dropped some thoughts on what could become of the Internet.
20 years later, his words are just another reminder of his uncanny ability to anticipate the future.
Musician, painter, art collector, writer and actor, whatever the “White Duke” did he always seemed to be ahead of the curve. An artist who revelled in the crossroads between art and technology, not only did he pioneer electronic music, but in 1996 he was the first mainstream artist to distribute a song as an online exclusive, selling over 300,000 downloads of his single Telling Lies.
Now, let’s remember, back then the internet wasn’t anywhere near to what it is today. Browsing was this strange niche activity reserved for geeks, perverts and crazy people. You had to type in commands, carefully set up peripheral drivers, and the whole thing felt as if you were hacking into the Pentagon itself.
A single photograph took minutes to download and the mere act of going online was an almost mystical ritual capped off by that sweet – and now alien – modem screech.
To many, the internet was just another medium to distribute information. But Bowie was part of the pack who knew this intangible invention was going to transform us forever. He was so confident that in 1998 he launched his own ISP, called BowieNet. Aside from “uncensored” access to the internet, users had additional exclusive perks like a neat BowieNet email address, user forums and live chat sessions with Bowie himself.
Years before Myspace, BowieNet was providing every user with five megabytes of web space – that was a shittonne at the time – for fans to create their own content. Bowie understood that turning consumers into producers was one of the major disruptions the net would unleash onto the world.
— BBC Radio 6 Music (@BBC6Music) January 13, 2019
In this incredibly insightful interview with Jeremy Paxman, the lauded musician talked about how he thought this “new thing” was going to fragment society and transgress every existing medium. Bowie’s answers are so accurate and sound so fresh, it’s shocking to realize this interview is 20 years old.
“I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg, I think that the potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we’re actually on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying,” Bowie said.
You can check out the full interview below, where he also talks about his career, his aversion to alcohol and the motivations behind his music.