Douglas Adams was a hero of mine from the day I first stumbled on a tattered paperback of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy at sleepaway camp the summer I was 11 (I finished the book in a single sitting). His unique blend of psychedelic situation comedy, wry British tone, and deep curiosity about the physical and cultural codes behind the curtains of everyday life, combined with a gleeful galactic hedonism, provided me with one of my first glimpses beyond my own narrow universe of experience, and offered the promise for limitless future adventure. I wanted to be just like him, but somehow also just like one of the characters in his books - even though I knew rationally the two were incompatible.
In 1998, I was a 25-year-old with a job as a research associate and newsletter editor at Jupiter Communications, the New York internet consultancy. I was just beginning to discover that being an influencer and gatekeeper in an emerging industry came with benefits - namely, free stuff and access to interesting people. I still remember the trepidation with which I called up the Voyager Company asking for a free - FREE! - copy of their Marshall McLuhan CD-ROM, and my shock at having it promptly delivered to my office a block away. A few months later, I was invited to a press event for Adams' new video game, Starship Titanic, his first work of interactive fiction since his text-based Infocom games more than a decade earlier. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to attend, and, at the end of the event, found myself shaking hands and exchanging a few words with my boyhood idol. I'm not sure how it happened, but I managed to parlay that brief meeting into a half-hour 1-on-1 interview soon afterwards. Three years later, he died unexpectedly while exercising, and thus I never had the opportunity to speak with him again.
I recently discovered the tape of this interview in an old box of memorabilia, and had it digitized. I hadn't ever listened to it (after sending it off for transcription, I published a very abbreviated version in my newsletter), so it was an almost Adamsian time travel adventure listening to myself interview the man nearly two decades later. A few things stand out for me. First, I knew nothing about conducting an interview, and not much more about media, technology, or industry at the time. Yet Adams, who began the interview with a big yawn (this was the end of a long press junket for him), was incredibly patient and open with me, and willing to answer my wide-ranging questions thoughtfully and articulately. I begin the interview with a few pro forma questions about the new video game and the business decisions behind it, but then veer awkwardly and selfishly into the stuff that I really wanted to know about - namely, what Adams thought about the "information revolution" and the transformative effects of the internet on art, culture and society. Eighteen years later, his thoughts sound remarkably prescient. And although I cringe at my own shortcomings as an interviewer, I'm also happy to hear that the questions that animate my scholarship and advocacy today were already bubbling inside of me, in nascent form, way back before I'd ever stepped foot in graduate school or published a work of research, journalism or opinion under my own byline.
I only wish I'd had the chance to continue the conversation, at intervals over many years.