Today Jack Schofield tweeted an old article from the Guardian in 1999, Tomorrow’s Rock ‘n’ Roll , where David Bowie talks to Emma Brockes about his recently-discovered love for the internet. It’s a fascinating document of the time for me, a few months before I started working “in the internet” (for want of a better description) and at a point where I was starting to create my own sites more, and think deeper about what could be done online. I think it’s worth looking a little closer at a few lines from the interview, as there are some interesting insights into how Bowie saw things developing at the time.
Something that is very familiar to me is that he started to learn more about the internet when he created his own site, bowieart.com . Just like the early home computer gamers like myself learnt about programming from trying or succeeding in creating our own games, and from inputting code ourselves, I and many others learnt a lot from creating our own sites. There is a bit of a disconnect now with services like Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter et al where the creation of content is almost completely separate from the code underneath it. Such a disconnect of course brings them to a much wider audience, but often at the expense of a deeper knowledge of how things work. However when when he talks of “The communication between me and my Web audience has become more intimate than its ever been”, it really sounds a lot like the positive side of the experiences many creators have had with Twitter. Twitter isn’t the invention here, it’s simply that I think it’s made that communication even easier, and open to many more than ever.
What really caught my attention was his understanding then of how the internet could affect music. He talks of how he “would like to see record companies changing their delivery systems so that they could send MP3s (an instant free download) straight to the record stores via an ISDN cable. The stores could then burn the CD for them on site. It would reduce the packaging costs and they would make a fortune out of it”. It’s easy to have a bit of a giggle at this, but I think he actually got it in the main. The point to him I think was that the MP3s were already approaching instant, and also that in some ways, they were valueless, 1s and 0s. As he understood it, the difficulty and the aim for the record companies instead was to find a way of making these “free” files have a value, add packaging, add value. It almost seems weird to him that they could charge for the download alone.
Where he’s absolutely spot on is the remix culture of the web. I’d never really thought of him as part of it, but his personas and reinventions clearly were remix culture, and even his music at times, which he freely admits in the article. And he just gets the issues that came with that and with the increased ability to just steal content
But on the issue of straightforward piracy, I tend to go with the flow. I am not indifferent to it, but I look on it as a lost cause. The way our society constantly breaks down parameters has led to the disintegration of intellectual property. Whether thats a good thing or a bad thing is to an extent irrelevant, without a doubt things in the future are going to be different.
He wasn’t the first person to say these things by any stretch, but it is interesting to see someone in retrospect who mainly got it, as say opposed to a Metallica, or almost every record company. All of whom had to pretty much be dragged kicking and screaming into the next century (again, as he predicts they’d have to be)