In Honor of Douglas Adams This Towel Day

I happened to be reading The Salmon of Doubt last night, and came across this gem, which called to my mind, 12 years later, such developments as wireless internet, social networking, Google Earth, crisis mapping, applications like Ushahidi, and GPS navigation…  What hit me strongest while reading it was that he essentially predicts the creation of platforms and applications like Ushahidi and GPS:

It would be interesting to keep a running log of predictions and see if we can spot the absolute corkers when they are still just pert little buds. One such that I spotted recently was a statement made in February by a Mr. Wayne Leuck, vice-president of engineering at USWest, the American phone company. Arguing against the deployment of high-speed wireless data connections, he said, “Granted, you could use it in your car going sixty miles an hour, but I don’t think too many people are going to be doing that.”  Just watch. That’s a statement that will come back to haunt him. Satellite navigation. Wireless Internet. As soon as we start mapping physical location back into shared information space, we will trigger yet another explosive growth in Internet applications. At least, that’s what I predict. I could, of course, be wildly wrong.

Douglas Adams, in the Independent on Sunday, November 1999

If he were around today, I think he would be thrilled, though not surprised, to see so many students with their own “portable” computers (see Salmon of Doubt page 89, where in 1989 he refers to his “portable Mac” and follows up with the comment “I know, I know, you hate me”) accessing wireless internet where they have a universe of information at their fingertips.  I wonder what he would have to say about the way the internet has been used to connect like-minded people horizontally, and how social networking tools created the space in which revolutions could be coordinated and launched — and repressed.  I wonder what his contributions would have been to art, science, design, crisis mapping, interactive literature, and who knows what else.  I wonder what kind of toys and gadgets he would be bragging about in newspapers, saying how they give the term “disposable income” a whole new meaning for him.

Douglas Adams is by far one of the most broadly intelligent, funny, down to earth, complex yet simple human beings I have ever heard of.  His philosophy seemed to penetrate everything he did.  The way he wrote about the absurdity of our existence was ingenious, because it was not only hilarious– it was totally true to life without being depressing, bitter, or cynical. It poked fun at the futility of humanity without devaluing the experience of it.  It saddens me that I’ll never be able to look forward to a new book, a new essay, a new philosophy, a new bit of tech news, a new subtle piece of social commentary disguised as science fiction, a new poke in the ribs and knowing wink to fans over some recently demonstrated bit of human peculiarity.  But I’m glad he stuck around long enough to stress to everyone the importance of always knowing where your towel is.

Photo of Douglas Adams by Michael Hughes (Creative Commons License)

About Carol Jean Gallo

PhD student at Cambridge. Interested in local context and global affairs and the crossroads and misinterpretations between them.
This entry was posted in For Fun, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to In Honor of Douglas Adams This Towel Day

  1. I finally finished reading a Dirk Gently novel recently and picked up The Salmon of Doubt last night to read at random and chanced on these bits you’ve mentioned. I just can’t get over how fantastic he is! 🙂

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