David Bowie predicted the power of the internet

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It’s hard to believe that today marks four years since legendary musician David Bowie died. 

There will be no more new music from the great man – but a campaign of reissues and a wealth of rarities released from the vaults continue to keep fans happy and David Bowie’s profile high.

But there’s an argument (and I’m one of the ‘Bowie people’ who often makes it) that he was much more than just a musician during his first golden period of 1972 – 1980.

He was, in fact, the internet for a generation.

In those days (well before home computers and web access, remember) he was a highly user-friendly interface fronting an exciting portal into another dimension… well, other aspects of culture, other strands of art and a wealth of new information. Change what knowledge people have and you change the way they think. Change that and you change the world…

Think about how many people explored Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Jean Genet, Andy Warhol, George Orwell, William Burroughs, Jean-Michel Basquiat – and many many other figures – due to Bowie. A wider world of art and culture became accessible through him, just because he’d ‘synthesised’ it into his own work and presentation. Or talked about it in interviews in the press and on TV.

david bowie and the internet
(Fabio Diena / Shutterstock.com)

The man who told the world

Maybe it was his art school background, but Bowie was the pioneering figure in multimedia expression during the 1970s. He broke new ground in music, video and art.

But he was also one of the first artists of any kind to understand that a computer was more than just a tin machine. (Hey, see what I did there?).

Bowie had always seemed to be ahead of the curve in pop in the ’70s, but the explosion of computers and web technology meant he had his ‘boots on the ground’ of the cyberworld too, during the ’90s.

In fact, he stole the march on most. 

The internet offered exciting new communication possibilities for Bowie. In 1996 he became the very first artist to issue a new song as an online-only release. The single Telling Lies sold over quarter of a million downloads.

He also explored interactive CD-ROM technology by releasing the Jump package in the early ’90s. The graphics and level of interaction do, admittedly, now seem a tiny bit primitive. But at the time putting out something as bold as Jump was a groundbreaking step.

And, in 1997, Bowie ‘cybercast’ one of the shows on his Earthling tour.

Net’s Dance…

Bowie was also one of the very first artists to have his own website. Users were granted access to a vast archive featuring photos, interviews, music and videos – in addition to a blog, career chronology and news feed. 

Another webspace oddity was that Bowie himself would ‘drop into’ the chat room of his own website on a regular basis and join in conversations or answer fan questions. But his masterstroke, his revolutionary move, was the launch of BowieNet – an ISP. Subscribers could surf the net through Bowie’s own service.

Excitingly, he managed to really blur the lines between ‘famous’ and ‘fanbase’… He really ‘got’ the power of the internet and understood the implications for society, before most of us had really grasped what it was – as this fascinating clip from a 1999 BBC TV interview shows…

Generally speaking BowieNet isn’t one of the things to have received major coverage since his death four years ago. But, as time passes and we can see a little more clearly, Bowie’s web innovation is very nearly the perfect example of his restless, adventurous and shrewd spirit.

David Bowie left behind some fantastic music which, arguably, changed everything – but the Starman also really pushed awareness of the internet, and clearly saw how it would revolutionise the world.

If not the universe! 

By the way, we gave some David Bowie vinyl a spin on the Ebuyer office record player… and five of the most popular songs from his amazing body of work were: Absolute Beginners, Changes, Heroes, Life On Mars and… of course… Sound & Vision.

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