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Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Future

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When Douglas Adams died last May, we not only lost one of the great comic writers, (and the originator of the comic science fiction novel) but also one of the great adopters of and evangelists for technology. Adams owned the first Macintosh computer in England, created one of the first first-person role playing games (I had a copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy game for my Commodore 64), and turned the title subject of his best-selling novel (itself a prediction of today's 'e-books') into a functioning reality on the Web.

Just before his passing, the author also took a fresh look at today's technology and its implications for the immediate future for the BBC's Radio4, and those broadcasts have become the centerpiece of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Future.

The four half-hour programs, (the last episode originally aired on May 5th) are dedicated to the impact of technology on the music, publishing, and broadcasting industries, as well as the topic of convergence ("Extreme Evolution: How far can technology go?"). Available only as streaming RealAudio files, the shows nevertheless flowed without interruption during my visits. (No doubt due to the capabilities of the BBC's servers.)

Adams begins the series by recounting an occasion a few years before, when various people in the aforementioned industries asked him what he thought the impact of the computer would be on their fields. He compares the question to three rivers asking how the Atlantic ocean might affect them, and gives gives those listening --if not the people who posed the original questions-- some slight idea of what were in for.

Whether he is covering such possibilities as the end of copyright as we know it, questioning whether e-publishing will be a liberating chance for writers to bypass publishers, or simply a new form of vanity press, and introducing the promise --or horror-- of interactive drama, Adams is a far cry from the typical celebrity, 'talking-head' host. The man genuinely knows, and has given much thought to the subject matter - and not only makes it admirably accessible, but does so with the occasional flash of the humor that sold 14 million copies of his first book. An example is his theory about our willingness to adapt to new things...

1) everything that's already in the world when you're born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn 35 is incredibly exciting and creative and, given opportunity, you can make a career out of it;


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