Did Gary Numan Predict Facebook?

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Am I Mark Zuckerberg?

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My life is increasingly mediated by the internet, even more than it was in college. I’m blogging more, using OKCupid, and repping the shit out of my writing all over Facebook. I stay up late drinking and chat with people, which is what I also did when I was in middle school (without the drinking). It’s in times like these that the lyrics of Gary Numan seem to speak to my lifestyle, one that I’m sure many share.

Gary Numan, the enigmatic, robotic man behind the hit single “Cars” (’79), might just have been a great visionary during the ’80s and inadvertently predicted things like the internet and Facebook – in the film world, the same might be said of David Cronenberg; his films Scanners (’81) and Videodrome (’83) surely have a special spot in media theory paradise.

“It doesn’t even require analysis to see why the following track, ‘Are Friends Electric?’ is rich with Facebook meaning.”

With Numan’s first album, Tubeway Army (’78), it was already clear that Numan’s songwriting was concerned with the relationship between man and machine and what we would now call the post-human condition. It includes lyrics like “Me I’ve just died / but some machine keeps on humming / I’m just an extra piece of dead meat to keep running,” from the track “Life Machine.” Anyone listening to a lot of Gary Numan will notice that the word “me” figures heavily in his lyrics. The song “My Love is a Liquid” from the same album features the lines “can’t meet you face-to-face / There are no corners to hide in my room / No doors, no windows, no fire place.” In our times, this is a blatant comment on the way the internet mediates social relations.

Am I Gary Numan?

Numan’s following album, Replicas (’79), couldn’t be more drenched with prophetic visions of the internet and Facebook. The opening lines of “Me! I Disconnect from You” – in itself a charged title – are metaphors for botched Facebook relationships: “The alarm rang for days / you could tell from the conversations / I was waiting by the screen / I couldn’t recognize my photograph / Me, I disconnect from you” – the line about the screen doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the late ’70s, unless Numan was specifically talking about an imagined form of communication. It practically goes without saying that “disconnecting” from someone entails ending a Facebook relationship or, even worse, de-friending someone. It doesn’t even require analysis to see why the following track, “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” is rich with Facebook meaning. The track “You Are in My Vision” anticipates critiques of television by theorists like Marshall Mcluhan, Jean Baudrillard, and though not a theorist, naturally Cronenberg in Scanners and Videodrome, with its lines “Fade to screens of violence / Like a TV screen but silent / Where the victims are all paid by the hour.”

The Pleasure Principle (’79), recorded after Replicas, is Numan’s most lauded album and surely his most popular, mostly because of the hit “Cars.” Again, this album is like a treatise on the post-human condition, and its song “Metal” looks to the Japanese cyberpunk film Tetsuo: The Iron Man (’89), featuring the lines “the sound of metal I want to be you.” The follow-up to The Pleasure Principle, Telekon (’80) is similarly ripe with songs and song titles that are evocative of the internet, such as “I Dream of Wires” and “Joy Circuit.” It’s not difficult to make the case that these early Numan albums in particular are highly suggestive and obvious metaphors for something that didn’t even exist yet as we know it now.

After Telekon, Numan’s popularity diminished until he started to gain a new audience interested in various subgenres of music like “dark wave” and industrial with the 1997 album Exile. During his period of relative unpopularity, however, he maintained his fan base and even released a live album entitled White Noise in 1985, the same year Don Delilo’s postmodern novel on media saturation and consumerism, White Noise, was published – yet another curious affinity with cultural currents and trends.

Like Cronenberg in the film world, Numan produced songs and albums that have a surface appeal for their spectacle and trendy sounds (Cronenberg’s film have the appeal of being gross-out horror films while also making compelling statements about media and society) that at the same time emit of a near prophetic, insightful vision of a culture increasingly mediated by machines.TC mark

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  • http://hbgwhem.tumblr.com/ HBGWHEM

    dan, i liked this! i wish it was longer. it was interesting and bateman-esque.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    nu-age

  • http://twitter.com/Erikhaspresence Erik Stinson

    pave media theory paradise and put up a parking lot

  • too rude magazine

    i think josh harris depicted in “we live in public” predicted facebook.

  • mario

    did randy newman predict facebook.

    • http://twitter.com/webleywebster Webley Webster

      Cue the crickets as camera zooms in on Mario laughing quietly in his mother's basement…

  • http://twitter.com/straponheart Evan Hatch

    most of his lyrical elements, especially in Replicas, were references to a dystopian science fiction novel he was writing but never finished. the 'friends' he talks are identical robots that could be hired and used for any purpose, and “the life machine” is about a comotose individual being sustained by a machine. it's all quite directly inspired by numan's favorite writers, and as such one could more perhaps more aptly say that william s. burroughs or phillip k. dick “predicted the future”. still interesting though. numan's contributions to modern music and popular culture are woefully under-appreciated.

  • Wendy Weedon

    Gary has always had amazing vision in his writing and I love everything he has ever done. I enjoyed reading this article and the connections it made.

  • omnivore

    I'm a true barbarian, and therefore I believe that all of history and human achievement only serves to foreshadow the shallow interests I have. The past, other people and cultures are only valuable if they can be contorted by my ego to resemble aspects of my own life, presented in the most flattering, least critical way possible.

    Therefore, I really, really liked the ideas put forward in this piece.

  • Sweeneyp3

    A contrived and trivial argument masquerading as something meaningful. In the end – so what? I doubt Numan himself would take this seriously – he'd probably laugh.

  • nafmiws

    read this in my head with patrick bateman's voice as performed by christian bale

  • A.A

    Can't wait to see him in London this April!

  • http://pansentient.com/ Jer White

    Great article, I love this sort of stuff – I wrote something kinda similar a while back on how The Human League predicted the Internet:

    http://pansentient.com/2005/02…/

    I've always seen a lot of cross-over between sci-fi and synthpop music: from the original Human League (they got their name from a sci-fi board game), Numan, OMD (Genetic Engineering?) through to the current crop of synthpop bands, especially Parralox.

  • ak

    Hollywood ripped off Gary Numan when he wasn't looking, I think a couple of times but at least once to be honest. In the 1987 film starring Melanie Griffith called 'Cherry 2000' within the first few minutes of this film you can see that it's all about a human man and his electric 'friend' but…..'Only. Mine's broke down…..and now I've no one to love' and that's what the whole of this flop of a film is all about! Melanie Griffith helping some loser fix his electric 'friend' like he's repairing a vibrator or something! LOL LOL

    • http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoffmann Dan Hoffman

      Have you ever seen that overrated movie called The Matrix that ripped off Numan, Blade Runner, and Cronenberg and packaged it into a stupid blockbuster?

  • Vrampold007

    hi Numan´s friends, I´m from Germany. I respond to Numan´s music as if it were tailored for my innermost nature, although I HATE the machine and computer culture – I just learned to make use of it for survival – and moreover I often felt like a relative, a sister, of Numan inside, I was feeling as if I knew him very well, and this led to me consciously avoiding to go to his concerts or watch his videos for fear of his show externals which were entirely alien to me and even repulsive making him as a person repulsive to m.e. and breaking the spell.
    Nopw that I read how prophetic that man was then, and that he was writing a Sci fi novel that time but never ended it, I remembered having been prophetic when ten years old, about a world-wide disaster to come and me to survive and to seek other survivors, which I then only saw as the hobby of making up stories for a novel. I even commenced the novel but never came beyond first chapter when I survived a nuke attack by mere goodluck and started seeking the few other lucky ones to survive.
    This cleared up to me why I feel relative to that strange human specimen, The Sparkle, the Last Electrician Alive… Numan.
     There was his very core and nature behind his music, and it was his novel itself – Preophecy but on another plane of perception and thought that is not in danger of misperception as words are. Either one just hears some strange kind of music, or one feels there is something more about it and gets inspired. Blind or having vision. Zero or One. Digital.
    Whopever has access to Numan via e-mail tell him from m.e.:
    Congratulations Numan for still being alive. Live up to a hundred and see the machmen die out.

  • Sfsdfsdf

    Idiot. Everything Numan wrote about on his early albums was stolen from books by William Burroughs and Philip K.Dick. He’s a plaigarist and always has been.

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