David Bowie: The man who fell to Earth – and started an internet revolution


Along with millions of his fans and followers the world over, my heart sank on Monday morning when I learnt of musical legend, David Bowie’s passing. An icon whom I’ve revered since my teens, Bowie leaves behind a legacy of awe-inspiring music, legendary style, ethereal lyrics (not to mention some downright sensational lipstick goals) and unbeknownst to some, a contribution to technology that was well ahead of his time.

Take his online platform BowieNet, for example. Back in 1998, during the time that music forgot (Westlife and B*Witched, I’m looking at you!), Bowie launched his own ground-breaking internet service which gave his fans the opportunity to personally engage with the superstar. At a time when less than half of Americans had internet access, for a monthly fee users gained access to exclusive audio recordings, music videos and chat rooms, which Bowie himself was known to frequent under the handle ‘Sailor’. Competing against AOL and Claranet, Bowie’s influential movement online sparked the trend for more and more musicians to interact with their fans through technology.

He didn’t stop there. While I doubt any of us can ever dream of penning a song as striking as ‘Space Oddity’, that isn’t to say that Bowie didn’t give his fans the opportunity. In 1999, some 80,000 followers took part in a contest by submitting lyrics online to the BowieNet ‘cyber song’ contest in a bid to co-write a track with Bowie. To add to the excitement, the winning lyricist, Alex Grant, was invited to New York to lay down the track with Bowie for a webcast, which audiences could view in real-time and comment on the recording.

Although today’s artists are no strangers to the plethora of technology readily available to connect with their fans, Bowie’s innovative contributions to the internet, online music creation and cyber audience interaction led to his ‘Online Pioneer of the Year’ award from Yahoo back in 2000, highlighting just how cutting-edge his vision was.

As the word spread on Monday, Twitter was filled with tributes to the rock legend, and online music giant Spotify noted an astronomical 2700{20156fe61baea400d2663eb990f17abdabeb6ef183a2129287a793abd8ac1d8a} increase in streams of Bowie’s music. His final album ‘Blackstar’, a parting gift to us mere mortals, is already set to charge like a battering ram to the top of the download charts – safe to say that the internet, in which he held such a vested interest, exploded with the news of his death.

As we reel from his departure, it’s clear that the tremors from his music and fashion will continue to reverberate through the Earth’s core in his wake, and though he may not be remembered for his foresight of a digital revolution, it is certainly a credit to his lifetime of boundary-pushing, transcendent achievements.

Bowie, we cyber-salute you.