David Byrne: What If We Broke Up With the Internet?

David Byrne. (Photo via Getty Images)
David Byrne. (Photo via Getty Images)

It’s no secret that David Byrne doesn’t like the Internet. In an opinion piece for The Guardian published last fall, for instance, Mr. Byrne argued that digital streaming services like Spotify are destroying the livelihood of artists. “The Internet,” he said, “will suck all creative content out of the world.”

And so last night at Bookforum magazine’s annual pre-Valentine’s Day literary reading in the New Museum’s Sky Room, Mr. Byrne, the former frontman of the Talking Heads, wondered this question aloud: What if we broke up with the web?

“Skyping with Grandma?” Mr. Byrne said, gleefully imagining a post-Internet era. “That’s worthless.”

In a meandering and slightly paranoid presentation, Mr. Byrne said that we need to find human connection beyond the increasingly ubiquitous realm of algorithms and metrics. 

“This is what the Internet looks like,” he said, showing the room a photograph of wires. Mr. Bryne held up a variety of posters, some of which displayed what he described as “Internet nodes,” such as the Verizon Building on Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan. This, he implied, is the source of evil.

Mr. Byrne, who spoke first, ended abruptly and was quite vague. His speech, which he called a “thought experiment,” was more intended to titillate the mind, it seemed, than to answer questions.

The event, dubbed “The Night We Called It a Day,” featured such writers as Ed Park, Zadie Smith, Colm Tóibín and Rivka Galchen, who, in an interesting experiment, compiled a list of the day’s headlines and read them verbatim to the audience.

“I think I’d like an app where it’s just Rivka reading the day’s headlines,” Mr. Park said as he took the podium, kind of negating Mr. Byrne’s message.

When the reading had ended, a reporter sidled up behind Mr. Byrne, who was standing near the elevator. Did he have a moment, the reporter wondered, to elaborate on what he’d said?

Mr. Byrne, taken slightly off guard, laughed sheepishly and walked off. “I have to put my visual aids away,” he said, avoiding eye contact and the subject at hand.

So much for human connection.

David Byrne: What If We Broke Up With the Internet?