Of Course David Bowie Predicted The Rise Of Internet Culture

Back in 1999, Bowie already understood the potential of the Internet.
David Bowie: Artist, icon, livestreamer.
David Bowie: Artist, icon, livestreamer.
Frederic REGLAIN via Getty Images

David Bowie was such an icon in music and fashion that it's easy to overlook his ideas on the defining arena of our time: the Internet.

In the days since his death, a 1999 interview between Bowie and BBC Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman has gone viral. In it, it's clear Bowie foresaw how Internet culture would develop and evolve much more clearly than many others. The artist extolled the potential of the nascent technology in the interview, arguing that the the Internet would become the defining medium of a new generation, even more so than rock music.

"The Internet now carries the flag of being subversive and possibly rebellious and chaotic," he said. "Nihilistic."

Bowie goes on to assert that the Internet's power lies in its ability to connect audiences and creators, handing even more power to the masses. Think: Celebrities tweeting at fans and Instagramming private moments for likes.

"I embrace the idea that there is a new demystification process going on between the artist and the audience," Bowie explained. Later, confronted with the idea that the Internet's worth is "exaggerated," the singer shook his head.

"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," he said, calling that potential "exhilarating" but also "terrifying."

In perhaps his most prophetic moment, Bowie started to talk about "content" -- a soulless term now in rampant use by media and Internet professionals to refer to the spaces between ads.

"The state of content is going to be so different to anything that we can really envisage at the moment," he stated. "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."

Had TechCrunch Disrupt been around in 1999, David Bowie might have won the whole thing. Having launched his own website in the early '90s, he'd offered a new track, "Telling Lies," for download in 1996, and already moved on to becoming a full-fledged Internet service provider. BowieNet, as the service was called, launched in 1998. For $19.95 per month, users could sign up for a dial-up connection to browse the web, which included access to an array of features on Bowie's site. Fans could create avatars and interact with each other, live-stream concerts and listen to an Internet radio station where Bowie was the DJ.

The project fizzled by 2006, but Bowie's interest in the power of the Internet did not. In 2013, he dropped a surprise single on his website, paving the way for Beyoncé to do the same some months later with a whole album.

"It's an alien life form," Bowie said of the Internet in 1999. Clearly, he had it figured out long before the rest of us.


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