David Bowie Predicts the Internet

An interesting blast from the past.

This video, from 1999, is making the rounds:

https://twitter.com/ThatEricAlper/status/1372354590230863876

Given its age, I’m sure many of you have seen it but I don’t recall having seen it before. He’s remarkably prescient given how nascent the medium was then. I believe I’d just graduated from dial-up to broadband and had built my first website, with a lot of assistance from Steven Taylor, for my classes at Troy. Blogs were barely a thing and other forms of social media were a long ways off. Not to mention smartphones that allowed us to carry the Internet with us everywhere.

I don’t know that he was the “Greatest Rock Star Ever” but he certainly had an imaginative mind.

The whole interview (roughly 17 minutes) is here:

FILED UNDER: Media, Social Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DrDaveT says:

    There were a few SF writers who had some good guesses about what was coming. Walter Jon Williams published The Crown Jewels in 1987. It features celebrities whose relative status (and thus incomes) are determined by real-time audience response to their live content streams. YouTube was still almost 20 years away, and most contemporary authors continued to envision the future internet as more like UseNet than like the WWW (much less TikTok or Facebook).

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  2. Gustopher says:

    The short clip just has him saying that the internet will be more exciting than we can imagine. The full interview, right up to the spot of the clip, has him just dancing around the complete breakdown of the notion of truth, which is only happening recently.

    I don’t know that Bowie was the greatest rock star ever, though. I think that if different opportunities were afforded him, he might not have gone into rock at all, and done something bold and visionary in another field entirely.

    If his parents owned an emerald mine, he might have become Elon Musk. We might have been better off with David Bowie in that role than the Elongated Muskrat, actually… big ideas with a bit more compassion and a better sense of history.

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  3. CSK says:

    @DrDaveT:
    E.M. Forster predicted something close to Facetime in a story titled “The Machine Stops.” This was in 1909.

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  4. Jay L Gischer says:

    It’s impressive, but not that different from what folks like Doc Searls and others in the Silicon Valley/open source communities were saying. And not that different from what, for instance Jeff Bezos was saying at the time. Bowie is a rock star, though, and none of the above are. So I’m a shade jealous, actually. It’s not that I or they disagree, just that, well, rock stars get attention because they are rock stars, and also because they are not expected to be smart.

    Though as it turns out, musicians are often highly math/computer oriented.

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  5. Michael Cain says:

    During the mid-90s, when I was doing leading-edge research on delivery of various media using computers and IP protocols, I said something to the effect of, “Imagine everyone publishing using every media you can imagine, and some you can’t yet, the vast majority of it with really crappy production values. The problem becomes one of finding content worth consuming in that flood.”

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  6. James Joyner says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    rock stars get attention because they are rock stars, and also because they are not expected to be smart. Though as it turns out, musicians are often highly math/computer oriented.

    Yes, that’s fair. Then again, it’s less impressive that Bezos or Searls, who were specialists, made good guesses about the future.

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  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    What I would not have predicted is that with 24/7/365 access to essentially all published data, and pretty much for free, we’d be dealing with people who think Tom Hanks eats babies. More data should not yield more stupid. It’s a bank shot to undercutting the whole premise of education as a cure-all.

    What if too much data in too little memory with too slow a processing speed works on humans the way it does on computers? Is QAnon basically a 404 error? Are we having a kernel panic?

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  8. Scott says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Kind of similar to the idea that being able with communicate and converse with millions of people will make people feel more connected and involved. The opposite has happened. It has made people realize that they are, by and large, insignificant in the wide, wide world. People feel more important and involved if they are just connected to a small community where they are actually heard and listened to.

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  9. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Once Blogger.com was launched in August 1999, it became possible for every weirdo in the world to have a public forum. People who’d have been confined to a very small group of like-minded crackpots suddenly found themselves with the world–theoretically, anyway–as their audience.

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  10. sam says:

    Plato anticipated computer dating:

    Now for divine begettings there is a period comprehended by a perfect number, and for mortal by the first in which augmentations dominating and dominated when they have attained to three distances and four limits of the assimilating and the dissimilating, the waxing and the waning, render all things conversable and commensurable with one another, whereof a basal four-thirds wedded to the pempad yields two harmonies at the third augmentation, the one the product of equal factors taken one hundred times, the other of equal length one way but oblong, one dimension of a hundred numbers determined by the rational diameters of the pempad lacking one in each case, or of the irrational lacking two; the other dimension of a hundred cubes of the triad. And this entire geometrical number is determinative of this thing, of better and inferior births

    .

    Republic 546b–c

  11. MarkedMan says:

    @DrDaveT: My vote for SF writer who got the “feel” of the future down right, was Frederick Pohl. I haven’t read “The Cool War” in years, but think of it and some of his other books often. The idea of constant cyber attacks (he didn’t call it that, it was 1981) launched by and against a free for all of state actors, criminal syndicates, and politically motivated groups causing a constant drain on productivity. In his world, if I recall correctly, the means of attack were likely to be biological or mechanical as well as cyber, but the feel seemed right. And I think it was in that book that he talked about the effect on society if people had miniature video cameras (he didn’t predict the cell phone but rather google glasses) on them at all times, recording everything from crimes to simple rudeness. Again, 1981!

  12. Jay L Gischer says:

    I think we always had people who believed in strange things. I mean, the National Enquirer was a thing in the days of my youth. It’s just that the internet closed a feedback loop and shielded them from outside rebuttals.

    Every web page speaks with exactly the same authority as far as the medium goes. Google seems like an oracle but the right web searches will turn up pages that are lies piled upon falsehoods. I think this will mitigate over time, as the general public develops “antibodies” to viral marketing schemes.

  13. MarkedMan says:

    @Jay L Gischer: My father, for a variety of reasons, never watched TV very much during his working career (and never watched it all in his youth because, 1920’s and 30’s in rural Ireland). When he retired he found the Home Shopping Network and suddenly we were bombarded with gifts, things like “very valuable watches that will appreciate in value” and collectors edition John F Kennedy Ceramic Tiles. He was no pushover and his whole life he negotiated car prices and house prices like a pro, and never bought anything at a store unless he needed it. But he had no antibodies to that HSN magic….

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  14. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Bowie was always in front. Of everything.

    Up every evening ’bout
    Half eight or nine
    I give my complete attention
    To a very good friend of mine
    He’s quadraphonic,
    He’s got more channels
    So hologramic, oh my TVC 15
    I brought my baby home, she, she sat around forlorn
    She saw my TVC 15, baby’s gone, she
    She crawled right in, oh my, she crawled right in my
    So hologramic, oh my TVC 15
    Oh, so demonic, oh my TVC 15

    Maybe if I pray every, each night I sit there pleading
    “Send back my dream test baby, she’s my main feature”
    My TVC 15, he, he just stares back unblinking
    So hologramic, oh my TVC 15

    As to who saw the future, Philip K. Dick, hands down.

    He predicted the “news clown” as a delivery of infotainment, before that word even existed… And the News Clown Jim Jam decides to run for president, based on his popularity.

    Kid of explains the 2016 GOP presidential strategy

    An hour before his morning program on channel six, ranking news clown Jim Briskin sat in his private office with his production staff, conferring on the report of an unknown possibly hostile flotilla detected at eight hundred astronomical units from the sun. It was big news, of course. But how should it be presented to his several-billion viewers scattered over three planets and seven moons?
    Peggy Jones, his secretary, lit a cigarette and said. “Don’t alarm them, Jim-Jam. Do it folksy-style…

    “Folksy-style,” Jim Briskin said glumly. “I grin and say, Hey look comrades – it’s happened at last, the thing we all feared, ha ha…”

    “Is there any lighter piece of news?” Peggy asked. “By which you could open your program? The sponsor would like that… See what you can do. Mutant cow obtains voting franchise in court case in Alabama… you know.”

    (source: From Stand-By, by Philip K. Dick. Published in 1963)

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Education should never have been looked to as a cure-all in the first place. We’ve known since forever that well educated people are just as able to be evil, selfish, foolish, maniacal, or whatever else people are as uneducated people can be.

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  16. Mimai says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Though as it turns out, musicians are often highly math/computer oriented.

    A lot of them are….Brian May, Tom Lehrer, Dan Snaith, to name but a few.
    The reverse also holds…..most notably, Einstein.
    There’s even a scientific literature on this – my recollection is that it’s mixed. Which isn’t to deny the well-established connection between music and maths.

  17. David S. says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: People who conflate “access to data” with “education” are a critical part of the problem. Dumping someone in the middle of the ocean doesn’t solve their thirst. Drowning someone in a tsunami of facts doesn’t solve their ignorance. For that matter, while I’m doing this, posting a trove of classified communiques on the internet doesn’t solve corruption or usefully improve transparency.

    This kind of thoughtless, childish, “information wants to be free” hacktivist-libertarian bullshit is part of how we got here with this internet thing. Google-bombing. Wikipedia and Twitter moderation policies. Everything to do with Facebook.

    Kill them all, they said. Let God sort them out. Just release all the data. Usefully educating anyone is someone else’s job.

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  18. Gustopher says:

    @Scott:

    It has made people realize that they are, by and large, insignificant in the wide, wide world. People feel more important and involved if they are just connected to a small community where they are actually heard and listened to.

    The internet has allowed people to form communities of like minded individuals more easily. A disturbed person who believes in lizard people was an anomaly before, and most likely a loner. Now they gather and organize.

    Great for queer folks in rural America, though.

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  19. HelloWorld! says:

    David Bowie also predicted the iPad. Just look at his 1982 video for Ashes to Ashes, and his character is carrying around an iPad and shows it playing movies several times in this amazing and mind blowing video.

  20. HelloWorld! says:

    @Mimai: I’m waiting for the year of ’39 to see if Brian May was right.