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First of All,...

The Messages

The Division Bell

But Why?

Douglas Adams



So long and thanks for all ...

"Its a, a division bell, it divides the yeses from the noes."
-David Gilmour

Douglas Adams, best known as the author of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series of books, is listed in the album credits of The Division Bell. Adams reportedly coined the title of the album and David Gilmour in turn donated funds to a charity of Adams' choise.

"Dave Gilmour asked me to fiddle around with some of the lyrics, which I did, though I don't think he used any of my suggestions in the end. The only suggestion of mine that I know was used was that the album could be called 'The Division Bell'. I didn't think up the title, of course, I merely pointed out that the phrase was lying there in one of the song lyrics and would make a great title.

In fact, there's a story there. I had given a talk at the Royal Geographical Society in aid of the Environmental Investigation Agency's work on rhino conservation. Both Dave and Nick came along and we all went out to dinner afterwards. Dave was a bit preoccupied about the title problem - they had to have the title by the following morning, and no-one could decide what it should be. I said, 'OK, I'll give you a title, but it'll cost you a £5,000 contribution to the EIA.' Dave said, 'well, tell me your title and we'll see'. So I suggested 'The Division Bell'. And Dave said, 'hmmm, well, seems to work. Sort of fits the cover art as well. Yeah, OK'.

So, it's called the Division Bell." FAQ

To speculate further, Douglas Adams may have had a role in the concept behind The Division Bell. Douglas Adams might even have thought of the concept, suggested to Pink Floyd how the lyrics could be used to make the online component work, and wrote "the messages" signed "Publius". Of course this is just speculation. Anyway, it seems likely that Douglas Adams was involved artistically in some capacity, along with Storm Thorgerson and others.

First of all, Douglas Adams was a big fan of feedback. Look:

"One of the most powerful forces in nature is about to come into view in the online medium: the feedback loop - where the input stage of one iteration is the output stage of another iteration,... Feedback loops are what drive evolution..."
-Fast Company, The Hitchhikers Guide to the New Economy

"He establishes points that are so fundamental, most people will probably have not even stopped to consider them ... Interactive may be a term severely lampooned by those sick of e-this and e-that hype ... But 'interactive' makes for individual empowerment. Where the telephone is one-to-one communication and newspapers and television are one-to-many, the Internet is many-to-many."

Growing through evolution

"The Net is like the British constitution, not set in stone but constantly evolving. And while feedback through the polling booth is a slow, grinding process, the Internet allows for immediate reaction with what Adams calls feedback loops."
-UK Hitch-hiker's guide to the Internet

How do you see the Internet changing your world?

"Tight feedback loops. As a novel writer Iím used to feedback loops of about a year. As we at The Digital Village start to produce interactive content for the web, Iíll be able to respond to feedback loops measured in minutes. Feedback loops are the most powerful process we know of, being responsible for everything from guitar howlround to the evolution of life. As their power begins to invade all of the electronic transactions of our lives, the effect will be, Iím convinced, as fundamental as the invention of printing, broadcasting, and telephony."
-Douglas Adams, AppleMasters

"This subjective view plays odd tricks on us, of course. For instance, Ďinteractivityí is one of those neologisms that Mr Humphrys likes to dangle between a pair of verbal tweezers, but the reason we suddenly need such a word is that during this century we have for the first time been dominated by non-interactive forms of entertainment: cinema, radio, recorded music and television. Before they came along all entertainment was interactive: theatre, music, sport Ė the performers and audience were there together, and even a respectfully silent audience exerted a powerful shaping presence on the unfolding of whatever drama they were there for. We didnít need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we donít (yet) need a special word for people with only one head."

"Interactivity. Many-to-many communications. Pervasive networking. These are cumbersome new terms for elements in our lives so fundamental that, before we lost them, we didnít even know to have names for them."
-How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet, from The Sunday Times on August 29th 1999

"The silicon chip enables us to do mathematics tremendously fast, to model the, as it turns out, very very simple processes that are analogous to life in terms of their simplicity; iteration, looping, branching, the feedback loop which lies at the heart of everything you do on a computer and at the heart of everything that happens in evolutionóthat is, the output stage of one generation becomes the input stage of the next."
-Douglas Adams, Is there an Artificial God?
[Speech at Digital Biota 2, Cambridge U.K. - September 1998]

On the BBC Radio 4 broadcast The Internet: the last battleground of the twentieth century, Adams expresses towards the end of Programme I his "own little speculative vision", which is "best described by analogy". The analogy involves piloting a plane, thermostats, and the concept of "feedback loops". Adams concludes that "My belief, perhaps I should say my hope, is that the speed of response will reintroduce us to that from which our political systems have separated us for so long, i.e. the consequences of our own actions. Feedback loops will be the foundation of an entirely new form of electronic democracy."

For the BBC, Douglas Adams also presented
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Future. Go check it out. "Let Douglas Adams give you a steer..."

Douglas Adams is widely acknowledged as a computer guy. Well known as such in Apple Mac circles. He was active on usenet on the newsgroup during the late 1980's and early 1990's, including the period when the Division Bell was created and released. Not too big of a leap to suspect he could have conjured an online concept during the time. (see Hello from Douglas Adams) As a writer, Adams would have understood how the messages sent by Publius, possibly authored and sent by Adams, would have been received. Furthermore, Adams was very scientifically knowledgeable. Listen to the fascinating speech given by Adams at Digital Biota 2 in 1998, a conference on cybernetic biology.

From an atheistic point of view (Adams was a proclaimed atheist) the online concept might be seen as a play on the absurdity of blind faith. ("Have faith... It for those of you who now believe... There is an enigma... Trust") A simulation of religion.

Douglas Adams was a pioneer of multimedia concepts.

"Moving something from one medium to another is very interesting -- it's a lot like carrying a picture or a piece of clothing from one bit of lighting to another. Suddenly it looks very different. What interests me a bit further down the line is the way in which the different media interrelate -- you can hand things off from one to another, you can exploit each other's strengths and weaknesses."
-Douglas Adams, " starship trouper"

The concept reads like a Douglas Adams novel. It's totally absurd. There must be a brilliant, creative, comic mind behind the thing, and it sure as heck is not me. I couldn't have just thought this up. I'm not that creative, or out of my mind. Am I? I suspect that 99.99% of humanity isn't either.

A final byte to chew on:

Feedback is the answer.  
"The thing about evolution is that if it hasn't turned your brain inside out, you haven't properly understood it ... Then to my surprise I discovered that it was converging with my growing interest in computers ... The connection lies in the counter-intuitive observation that complex results arise from simple causes, iterated many times over. It's terribly simple to see this happening in the computer ... it all grows out of simple lines of code that start with adding one and one, testing the result, and then doing it again. Being able to watch complexity blossom out of this primitive simplicity is one of the great marvels of our age, greater even than watching man walk on the moon ... It's much more difficult to see it happening in the case of evolution ... our invention of the computer has for the first time let us get a feel for how it works ... It's all part of the same underlying process that we in turn are a part of."
-Douglas Adams, Turncoat

So, it's called The Division Bell.

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