Quotation Back Trace

Curiosity can be a passing thought. Other times it's a burning question that latches on and won't let go. An itch that must be scratched. Such was the case upon my glancing at the title of a certain blog post, by Steve Rubel, a quotation that leapt right off the page:

In the future, everybody will be anonymous for 15 minutes.

Who originally made this statement?

Below I've documented the steps I took that in the end, I believe, led me to the horse's mouth. Let's get started.

For the record, it all began here:

So I follow the amusing quote link in Steve's first paragraph:

"the writer asked me what I thought about this amusing quote, which is the inverse of Andy Wharhol's more famous one."

The amusing quote hypertext linked to a twitter message shown below. Working with this tweet, I decide to first look up @bdegraf and interestingly, I get the response That page doesn't exist!. A search.twitter query shows 4 results, 3 of which are a retweet of the quote I'm trying to back trace.

Moving on to the other username, I look up @anselm (this account does exists!) and click More until I get back to the August 20th range where I find:

So at this point on the breadcrumb trail, attribution is pointing back to @bdegraf, a username that twitter reports does not exist. Back to search.twitter to dig for "in the future everybody will be anonymous for 15", which turns up one result:

SecondAttempt: "In the future everybody will be anonymous for 15 minutes" (Bansky) http://www.quotesfromthestreet.com/life-in-egland/the-madame-of-che...

Well now, we hit a site that contains the word quotes in the domain. This is promising. Also, (Bansky) could well be an author reference.


A book quote? Actually no. And the quote does not belong to that one post only, it's the header that appears throughout www.quotesfromthestreet.com. Also, ADVENTURES IN CONVERSATIONAL VOYEURISM is not a book title, it's the tag line of the blog. So now it's time to hone in on Bansky. Off to google to query banksy anonymous 15. Of the first page of results, myartspace>blog: Banksy: Did Banksy Reveal His Identity? drew my attention. On this art-related blog post was a comment containing:

At last: "Banksy", "anonymous" and "Swindle article" in the same sentence. That article might be the original source. Back to google again with Swindle Bansky. Finally, the referenced article is found. Swindle Magazine, a pop culture and lifestyle print publication, has back issues available online. Issue 08 contains an interview with Bansky; unless other prior art surfaces, this is where the quote was first captured:

So there you go. Who is Bansky? A self-described art terrorist according to Wired who rose up in notoriety within the graffiti subculture. Then of course Wikipedia has some things to say. Among other things, he's managed to put on public showings such as this 100-piece art exhibition in the UK; and yet has more or less retained his anonymity.

The quotation was not preserved word for word, but the semantics are nearly identical. The person behind the quote is enigmatic, but all the dots are now connected for attribution to the root source.

File under Curiosity: Satisfied.


UPDATE [2009-09-13 00:10]: Wait! There's more. Commentors on Steve's post are arguing between the true source being the Swindle/Bansky quote versus a lyric from Robbie Williams' song, The Actor, which is on the Rudebox album.

Williams' lyric does exactly match the twitter version, and thus Steve's version of the quote. I'd consider that a strong indication of a match.

However, Rudebox was released in October 2006 while Issue 08 of Swindle appears to predate that album, having apparently been published on or before September 2006.

Did one inspire the other, or was it just coincidence plus the zeitgeist in Britain at the time? This case is not closed.


Martha said...

I remember reading that quote in the Steve Rubel article and thinking it interesting. Your investigation about its source is even more interesting!


Micah Wittman said...

Thanks, Martha. Yeah, it just got to me and I couldn't shake it till I wrote it down in this post.

Anonymous said...

that's so interesting how on route to your answer you traced your way through my blog and then i found you in my analytics ... a modern day crossing of digital paths .... nice sleuth work though i love your curiosity!

Graham Greenleaf said...

If you dig back far into pre-history (Internet time) then the source of the original variant of this meme may be rather more mundane than either Banksy or Robbie Williams. The variant 'In cyberspace everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes' (or 'fifteeen minutes') goes back to 1996, but Banksy (via the Huffington Post, if I recall) changed it to 'In the future ...'. Various collections of Internet sayings attribute it to the first line of an article of mine at - but the joke is that no-one ever read the footnote, where I said I stole it from journalist John Hilvert (via Andy Warhol of course). Other than that footnote, no one on the Internet has ever attributed the source. Satisfied? ... you shouldn't be, because all the links to the current version are not here. Maybe this meme has many parents.

Graham Greenleaf said...

Here is the link lost from the last posting: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/PLPR/1996/48.html

If the link is still invisible, the article title is 'Privacy and cyberspace -- an ambiguous relationship'.

Graham Greenleaf said...

I'll try again ... the link missing from the last post is http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/PLPR/1996/48.html - and if this is still invisible, the title is 'Privacy and cyberspace -- an ambiguous relationship'.

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