David Byrne’s 1987 Predictions for the Computers of 2007

David Byrne Computer ArtRetro-futurist blog Paleofuture found this interview from 1987 with David Byrne, where he gives his thoughts about how computers would affect the arts. He kind of gets it wrong, but it’s not really a problem. Here’s the link: Paleofuture – David Byrne’s 1987 Predictions for the Computers of 2007. It makes me wonder if the Knee Plays track 12 In The Future is all true.

His main point is that computers are just boxes for adding stuff up, and also for communicating. They can do that, but even at that time they were so much more. Perhaps he was thinking mainly about traditional artistic forms – music of course, painting, physical objects. A computer in 1987 wasn’t going to help much there, it’s true. But even then computers were creating their own new forms of art. Not just graphics, but new music, new forms of text manipulation and so on. They were streamlining the publishing of dead tree media, and allowing vinyl and CDs to be created and transmitted more easily.

What he does get right is that fragmentation of TV broadcast networks will give rise to highly specialized channels, aimed at ever-shrinking demographics. “In the future, everyone will have their own TV channel.” He separates computers from video and film. Of course, what has happened is that the convergence and digitization of these media means that anyone with a digicam and a Macbook can create watchable films, and that accessibility means a huge range of new forms of creativity.

Art and artists can be very conservative though – or at least unimaginative when considering new forms. I remember going to the Cardiff Art in Time exhibition back in the mid-to-late-1990’s. Friend Robin got his degree in Cardiff, and so I would go along and visit from time to time. There was a panel discussion on how computers would affect art – and it was very irritating and frustrating. Apart from anything else, the first question was, “Why aren’t there any women on the panel?”, to which the answer was, “We asked an equal number of men and women to be on this panel, but only those you see before you responded.” So nyer.

The discussion started, but quickly deteriorated into, “Computers aren’t any good for art because I get so much email and it takes me so long to sort through and answer all my email that I don’t get any art done.” The panel also talked a bit about how documenting a piece of art (in this case they were talking about performance art) could affect the art itself, or that the documentation was a piece of art in it’s own right. That was more interesting. But not as good as Stitt yelling, “Earth! Spread ’em!” later on.

Back to Byrne. Predictions about the future are very tricky to get right. On the other hand, so many people are making predictions that some of them must be right – and then other people work hard to make those predictions a reality, rather than letting research follow it’s own path. See: obsession with flying cars. CARNAGE.