Ten years ago, Jonathan Coulton was the poster boy for the promise of the internet. A new kind of musician, Coulton built a following online, released all of his music for free, and succeeded without the support of a commercial music label. Fast forward to 2017, and Coulton has just released a new album, “Solid State”, with an accompanying graphic novel (written by Matt Fraction, no less, to be released in August). It tells the tale of an Artificial Intelligence that achieves consciousness, reads the internet to understand humans, realizes how horrible we are and leaves.
It’s quite a turnaround for Coulton, as he openly admits:
“It is very off-brand for me…I really owe my career to the early days of podcasting, downloadable MP3s, being able to set up your store for digital content, and blogs; without that stuff I wouldn’t be here. So it’s strange and disorienting for me to be where we’re at now: To feel like the internet has become this very crowded and sometimes very toxic place. As I was writing these songs, it was about exploring that feeling and trying to sort it out in my own head. This disillusionment, about how some time ago, it felt like we were on the edge of this glorious future, where this technology was going to bring us altogether. Now, essentially, internet trolls have taken over the White House; what happened?”
The track below, a live version of “Don’t Feed the Trolls” offers the always helpful advice: “Don’t read the comments.”
Still, in the end, Coulton remains optimistic:
Part of the message of this album is that technology itself is not going to save us and fix us. And in fact, we as humans have to continue working constantly on being better and better humans. If anything, the Internet is showing us where we fail to do that. I am hopeful that what’s happening now is: we’re going to look back and say that — this period of time — was a growing pain. That was a moment when the cultural change brought about by this technology overwhelmed us and we didn’t know how to control it, how to use it, and how to behave.