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Monday
Jul112011

David Byrne's 1987 Predictions for the Computers of 2007

The January, 1987 issue of OMNI Magazine included a cover story titled, "14 Great Minds Predict the Future." OMNI asked influential people from a variety of fields what was in store for humanity in the year 2007, twenty years into the future. There were predictions about everything from peace in the Middle East to 3D televisions.

David Byrne, lead singer and songwriter of the Talking Heads, gazed into his crystal ball to write about pop art, the future of television, and why computers will never help the creative process. With the benefit of hindsight it's a little hard to believe that Byrne was so pessimistic about the potential for computers as a creative tool, especially when futuristic designs for computers were getting so many others excited. An excerpt from the OMNI piece appears below. 

David Byrne, Lead Singer, Talking Heads

I don't think computers will have any important effect on the arts in 2007. When it comes to the arts they're just big or small adding machines. And if they can't "think," that's all they'll ever be. They may help creative people with their bookkeeping, but they won't help in the creative process.

The video revolution, however, will have some real impact on the arts in the next 20 years. It already has. Because people's attention spans are getting shorter, more fiction and drama will be done by television, a perfect medium for them. But I don't think anything will be wiped out; books will always be there; everything will find its place.

Outlets for art, in the marketplace and on television, will multiply and spread. Even the three big TV networks will feature looser, more specialized programming to appeal to special-interest groups. The networks will be freed from the need to try to please everybody, which they do now and inevitably end up with a show so stupid nobody likes it. Obviously this multiplication of outlets will benefit the arts.

I don't think we'll see the participatory art that so many people predict. Some people will use new equipment to make art, but they will be the same people who would have been making art anyway. Still, I definitely think that the general public will be interested in art that was once considered avant-garde.

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Reader Comments (8)

What is really weird about Byrne's response is that it was in 1987. It he had been giving this response in 1977, it would make more sense, as computers then *were* basically adding machines with no obvious creative side. But in 1987, musicians were composing tracks using MIDI keyboards, graphic artists were using lightpens and tablets to draw, and Pixar had just been founded. I guess Byrne was just out of touch. A pity, as I'm a big Talking Heads fan.

July 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Badger

However, he is pretty accurate about tv network and outlets for arts. It was not that obvious in 1987.

July 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAska

What makes it stranger is that Byrne wasn't even out of touch; he'd been in contact with artists who were experimenting with computers already. For instance, the cover of Remain in Light had been made by manipulating photos with an early computer paint program at the MIT Media Lab.

Maybe he was just disappointed by the possibilities of what he'd seen. And, of course, he wasn't thinking of the computer as a communication or media-distribution tool.

July 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMatt McIrvin

I assume that by "creative process" he meant the process by which you come up with artistic ideas, not the process by which you execute those ideas.

I find it quite hard to believe that (for example) a musician can sit down in front of a computer and come up with a song that the computer helped them write. Or the that the stories in Pixar's films would be different if they did not use computers to make them.

Or have I misunderstood?

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonatan

Is there a place to read the rest of the articles?

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdan

perhaps he was being ironic. this sounds to me like one of his strange characters talking.

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterfloob

i agree with jonatan. by "bookkeeping" i think he meant just the moving around of pixels or sounds. the computer doesn't help an uncreative person or process become creative.

drum sticks, guitars, and pianos are made of wood but nobody considers lumber to have had a significant impact on the creative musical process

david byrne has a presentation (there's a TED talk of it) about the architectural spaces and social contexts over time affecting the nature of the music we create to fill those spaces, which I think is analogous to the sort of change he's talking about with attention span and program specialization. those types of changes are at the core of the art we produce, but whether you used photoshop or a paintbrush hasn't fundamentally changed your art.

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermichael

Ironically, the very first computer I ever owned that was just mine and not my family's had a David Byrne song preloaded onto it. Also, what he said about TV was incredibly prescient, however off-base he was about computers.

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElaine

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