I recently watched an interview with David Bowie from 1999, at the dawn of world wide web. He said in it:
“...the Internet carries the flag for the subversive and rebellious, chaotic and nihilistic...Forget about the Microsoft element, the monopolies do not have a monopoly [on the internet]...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...I think we're on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying... it's an alien life form.”
He then went on to say how the internet would change film and TV:
“The context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can envisage at the moment, where 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.”
He said all this in an interview with a disbelieving Jeremy Paxman. David Bowie was a renowned deep thinker and creative genius, so it made him easy to disbelieve by disregarding his whimsical philosophies. I’m a big fan on Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era of music – thanks to my Dad – but also found him to be a captivating guy to listen to; most of the things he’s predicted in interviews have turned out to be mostly true.
The things Bowie was saying about the internet in his interview with Paxman, were merely predictions at the time, but, as we now know, those predictions were accurate. In the interview, Jeremy Paxman looked like someone who was enjoying a really good story, because that’s all it was to him at the time - a story. Paxman even screwed his face up at one point during the interview, probably just thinking that Bowie’s creative and deep mind was over-imagining the power of what the internet potentially had, and said:
“It’s just a tool though… it’s just a different delivery system…”
It’s a fascinating interview and you should watch it. I’m not giving Paxman a hard time, he was only reacting in a way that many of us would, but this type of scenario has always led me to keep an open mind - don’t bet too high against the unimaginable, and don’t be too ignorant to the seemingly improbable. The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if Bowie had some kind of futuristic insight into how our modern world would become so reliant on something we can’t see but use every day - the internet.
When I was at Primary School (elementary), I remember having various history projects to do; one was about the Egyptian Pharaohs and one was about World War II. I still have them in storage somewhere. I used to love doing projects like them because I had a fascination with history and they gave me an excuse to pester my parents to buy me the ‘Horrible Histories’ books. I won a few class competitions for projects like that and think one of the aforementioned bagged me a Creme Egg and a book token. I had a bit of an obsession with Wallace and Gromit when I was growing up, so my Egyptian project had little drawings of them at the bottom of the pages with speech bubbles, like they were the narrators of the story - it’s hilarious to look at now, but I do envy my vivid imagination back then. Everything was handwritten in these projects because we weren’t yet at a stage in technology where every home had Microsoft Word and a printer. So how did I research those things? This was long before the days of Wikipedia and Google Images. It was all about reading books. Can you imagine how easy it is nowadays to find some facts about the Pharaohs? The answer is literally in your pocket on that thing you call a smartphone.
The other research tool I had back then was ‘Encarta 95’ - a bunch of CD ROMS for Windows 95 that acted as your online encyclopedia - like an ‘olden days’ Wikipedia. (I just Googled a photo of those CD ROMS to make sure I remembered the name correctly - how poetic to use Google for that.)
I think we got our first computer when I was around 7 years old, give or take a year. It was one of those chunky white ones that weighed an absolute ton and took up half of our living room; of course, we needed the wooden desk and the hideous chair with the big obtrusive wheels too. It was the classic space invader. We didn’t have internet at the time, so it was a space to play games, use Encarta as a research tool, and an excuse for my Mum to ditch her typewriter and start learning Microsoft Office. My brother and I would argue about who’s turn it was to sit and play games like: Orly’s Draw-A-Story, The Muppets, Disney’s Magic Artist, and not forgetting the games pre-installed onto Windows, like Chip’s Challenge and Pipe Dream. My Dad would soon jump on the bandwagon when games like ‘Broken Sword’ came out and then my brother would will the hours away playing Championship Manager. It’s funny to think of it now, our constant battle for ‘my turn’ on the computer. Nowadays we all walk around with the internet in our pockets and kids have their very own iPads. How many Google searches do you make per day? It's insane to think how vastly the past two decades have changed the way we make our discoveries.
I guess we weren’t aware of it at the time, but this white space invader was the beginning of a new lifestyle and marked a new way of having information at our fingertips. This was the start of the ‘alien life form’ that Bowie suggested in 1999.
I can’t remember the exact year that my Mum and Dad caved in to the ‘modern world’ and changed our phone service to include dial up internet - it must have been around 1999 (ironically when Bowie had his interview with Paxman). Our internet provider was Freeserve, which doesn’t even exist anymore. This was back when we were still a lot more sensitive about parting with details about ourselves - now we just put every personal detail about ourselves on social media and key in our bank card numbers daily on Amazon and such like - so my parents were still pretty dubious about giving away any information about themselves. It meant that our first email address was something ridiculous like: firstname.lastname@example.org. It only took around 1 year for that email address to get super embarrassing, but we kept it for a good while before Freeserve switched to Wanadoo – another that’s no longer operating. It was only dial up internet that we had at the time--do you remember that ridiculous noise it made to connect to the internet? We would sit and pray that it would connect. We really do take WiFi for granted, more so now that we expect to have it when we’re out and about.
I can’t really remember what we actually used the internet for in the early days, it was a time when Yahoo was better known than Google and Ask Jeeves still had the logo of the butler. It was really at the turn of the millennium when things changed for my family and our relationship with the internet.
The Millennium – year 2000. This was a bizarrely exciting year for us as kids: schools had us burying time capsules all over the grounds; Robbie William’s ‘Millennium’ song was played on the radio at least 5000 times per day; and we had the doomsday excitement of the Millennium bug or Y2K as it is more popularly known. I was only in primary 5 before the new year of 2000 arrived and everyone was freaking out wondering how we would be writing the date in our school jotters after the Christmas and New Year holidays. This was an actual real-life problem at the time - just how were we supposed to write the date? Eventually we all just realised that it would be OK to write the year 2000 as ‘00 and that nobody would get ill by doing so. Phew.
The year 2000 is a year that I remember in my life for lots of reasons - I turned 10 in May 2000, woohoo for double digits – but it’s probably the year that marked the beginning of an eventual life reliant on ‘staying connected’. 2002 seen the start of my High School days, where after-school activities consisted of logging into MSN and spending the evenings speaking with friends virtually, instead of actually going outside to play. 2009 seen me enter the world of Facebook, 2017 seen me leave it, and here I am now, online, using the internet to write about it. When do you think the internet first made its impact on you?
Photo by NASA.