Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Business Impact

RIP David Bowie, Internet Pioneer

Long before MySpace, the late rock star was focused on connecting with his fans online.

As a rock legend, art and fashion pioneer, and leader in overturning gender norms, David Bowie will be remembered for many things. Put this near the top: he was a technological visionary.

In 1998, Bowie, who died Sunday after a battle with cancer, set up his own Internet service provider, BowieNet. It was never designed to compete with the ISP giants of the era like AOL and Prodigy Online. It did something more powerful and far more prescient instead: predating the likes of such Internet dinosaurs as MySpace and Friendster, Bowie’s portal to the Internet also functioned as a fan community, connecting the artist to his listeners through technology in a way that wouldn’t feel out of place in 2016.

It was a natural evolution for a man who in 1996—yes, 1996—released his new song “Telling Lies” online and netted 300,000 downloads. Not impressed? Back then, people spent an average of 30 minutes online a month (and downloading a single song could take up all of that).

David Bowie

Internet 1.0 was taking off around the time that BowieNet went live, but Bowie saw the true extent of the disruption that was coming. “We’re on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying,” he said in an interview in 2000. In 2002 he sounded eerily close to predicting today’s ubiquitous streaming services when he told the New York Times, “Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity.”

Bowie’s innovative prowess didn’t end with foretelling the Internet’s impact on the music industry. The man who invented Ziggy Stardust also sold Bowie bonds, an innovative financial tool that promised investors a share of his future royalties. And he launched the online bank BowieBanc, which he used to issue a credit card with his face on it.

BowieNet shuttered in 2006, and it will not go down in history as one of the Internet’s greatest triumphs. But as we pause to remember the man famous for his music, sexiness, and swagger, his forays beyond rock stardom underscore how wide his genius truly ranged.

(source: The Guardian, BBC)

The AI revolution is here. Will you lead or follow?
Join us at EmTech Digital 2019.

Register now
More from Business Impact

How technology advances are changing the economy and providing new opportunities in many industries.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.