David Byrne on J. C. R. Licklider

David Byrne and the Talking Heads starting me thinking about stuff a long time ago. They’re basically the reason I got into Urban Planning, with songs like Don’t Worry About the Government and The Big Country. He’s been keeping an online journal for a long time now but it’s pretty rare that he writes directly about music, or performing, or a new album or whatever.

Usually he writes about changes he sees happening, trends in the world, and The Future.

His latest entry talks a lot about J. C. R. Licklider. Licklider did a lot of work with psychoacoustics and computers during the 50s and 60s and he essentially predicted the development of the internet and a lot of other computer-enabled technologies in use around the world.

In his blog post Byrne talks about how a lot of the technology that was either made possible or inspired by Licklider’s work has led to mass digitization of nearly everything and the dissolution of privacy. He kind of blames the guy for contributing to the loss of books, magazines, newspapers, television, music and personal interactions as we once knew them. But also not. Byrne concedes that Licklider didn’t directly contribute to any of it really, and he says that it’s not really all bad.

Of course Byrne himself makes a number of predictions throughout the piece. Here’s a sample:

  • I see that in my lifetime I will witness the end of books, or most of them.
  • it’s hard to imagine a collection of someone’s text messages, tweets and e-mails [as a book]
  • Many [institutions] that deal with physical objects — newsstands, record stores, bookstores — will all go away, along with their support structures: trucks, warehouses and all the people that worked in those places.
  • Television […] is bound to migrate online and become something very different.
  • the access to information and convenience will be unprecedented
  • cloud computing will eliminate any real sense of privacy
  • The end of privacy in parts of the world is near. It will be traumatic for some, and a comfort for others — for to relinquish one’s privacy is to become a part of the hive and the herd, and there is a certain reassurance there.

None of these are new ideas of course, they’re all pretty commonly held feelings about where we’re headed. But these are the same kinds of predictions we tend to make at our Future Meetings. Any of the above bullets would look right at home hand-written on a slip of paper and stuffed into a bright yellow envelope.

There was something else Byrne said that I liked a lot:

Now, it’s been pointed out that [Licklider] didn’t actually invent any of this stuff — he merely “planted the seed.” But often it seems that putting out the idea that something might be possible encourages others to actually make it possible. In a way, to imagine is to create.

Which is why we encourage positive predictions, especially if they are of a personal nature. So Licklider puts an idea out there and over the course of 50 years it breeds and grows and develops into a reality that David Byrne is inspired to comment on. What will be the far reaching effects of this blog post by David Byrne? What will be the far reaching effects of Interested in The Future? I guess we’ll find out.

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Published in: Uncategorized on November 6, 2009 at 9:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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