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What Would Douglas Adams Be Doing Now?

As mentioned in previous entries, I'm staying with my friend Richard Harris (and his partner Gill) here in the Scottish Highlands. Richard and I met in the mid-1990s, when I was VP and GM of Virtus Studios (prior to spinning out as Red Storm Entertainment) and he was CTO of The Digital Village, Douglas Adams' media development firm.

Over drinks last night, I wondered aloud, "What would Douglas be doing if he were alive today?" In addition to collaborating closely on technical issues, Richard and Douglas were good friends. Also, given Richard's wide-ranging technical knowledge, Douglas involved him in most (if not all) discussions about future opportunities. So it was with hope that I wondered aloud.

Richard thought for a bit, and then said that Douglas' interests were growing wider with time. "Did you know," he asked, "that the thing that Douglas was most proud of was Last Chance to See?" I replied that I didn't. Richard talked about how Douglas was profoundly interested in ecology, specifically in the loss of habitat and the resulting extinction of species, and how he was speaking out more and more often and more and more eloquently on the topic.

More generally, before his death, Douglas was becoming more ever-more respected for his ability to speak intelligently and authoritatively on scientific topics -- as Richard put it, though Douglas had no formal science training, he was a natural scientist, inquisitive, analytical, and a natural synthesizer of ideas from multiple disciplines. So in addition to ecology, Douglas was speaking more forcefully and regularly on climate change. He also had an ongoing interest in the intersection of science and religion, and was speaking on that subject as well. It's particularly sad to me that we lost his voice in that particular discussion, because it's so difficult for me to imagine anyone being truly angry with Douglas. How can you hate someone who's making you laugh? It would be a great balance to the thoughtful but serious Richard Dawkinses, Sam Harrises, and their like to have Douglas around, disarmingly poking holes in religion without truly offending anyone.

Of course, at the time of his death, Douglas was living in Santa Barbara, close to Hollywood in an effort to get the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie made. (On that topic, Richard felt that had Douglas been alive when it had been made, it would have been longer and more thoughtful, to its benefit. "Or," as Richard says, "possibly not made at all.") Hitchhiker's was close to Douglas' heart. But it seems to me that, were he around today, he would be known in a far larger context than as its creator.

I'm sure the world is poorer for Douglas' absence. I'm also sure that it's up to us to continue working on the issues that were so important to him. If anything, those issues are more critical today than they were when he was alive.


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