BowieNet: David Bowie’s Prophetic Vision of the Internet

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planetearthisblueIn a world where Google was still just a number, one visionary artist saw cyberspace’s potential, and took his art to this bleeding edge. Without David Bowie, the Internet may not be what it is today.

Nowadays, 3.366 billion people — 46.4 % of the global population — use the Internet. It’s become such a part of everyday life that people can take their smartphones out, ask Google a question, and get their answer. About 75% of people never even have to scroll past the first page of search engine results.

However, there was a time when the Internet was a luxury. In 1998, there were only 147 million Internet users, just 3.6% of the global population. It was also the year that BowieNet was born, a service that gave users online access to a myriad of Bowie’s photos, videos, and songs, as well as his exclusive, upcoming material and chats hosted by Ziggy Stardust himself. For just $19.95 a month, users got five megabytes of space to create their own personal sites that could have music and video plugins to regular webpages. Essentially, it was “a music-centric social network,” years before the rise of MySpace and Facebook, The Guardian reported.

“I wanted to create an environment where not just my fans, but all music fans could be part of a single community where vast archives of music and information could be accessed, views stated and ideas exchanged,” said Bowie at the time of his service’s launch.

BowieNet was not his only online entrepreneurial venture, either. In 1994, he released a CD ROM alongside his track “Jump, They Say,” allowing consumers to create their own accompanying music video. In 1996, he put a new song — “Telling Lies” — out exclusively online, selling 300,000 copies.

“We’re on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying,” Bowie said in an interview with British political journalist Jeremy Paxman. “The actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can envisage at the moment — the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in simpatico it’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.”

In other words, Bowie’s music wasn’t the only aspect of the artist that was ahead of his time. The pop culture titan could also see the Internet’s real potential at a time when other people saw it as a curio.

David Bowie died on Monday at the age of 69, after an 18-month battle with cancer. According to his official social media accounts, the prolific artist passed away peacefully, surrounded by those he loved.

Ziggy Stardust’s career lasted a staggering 51 years. Over that time, he accumulated a net worth of over $194.744 million, sold about 140 million albums since his first release in 1967, debuted 111 singles (averaging more than two a year since he began his career), filmed 51 music videos, and starred in such hit movies as Labyrinth and The Man Who Fell to Earth.

“I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg,” Bowie said a staggering 15 years ago. “What the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable.”

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