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Thursday, 17 May, 2001, 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK
The day I met Douglas Adams
Many people are mourning the death of the author Douglas Adams. Matt Jones, BBC News Online's former creative director, is one of those who will treasure the memory of meeting the great man.

Like many people last weekend, I found out online that Douglas Adams had passed away. It was through a community linked together via e-mail and the internet, some living in far-flung places, some nearer.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Life, the universe ... and wobbly sets
This may now be a familiar thing, taken for granted, but this network would have been an amazing concept for a nine-year-old staying up to watch The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, wobbly-sets and all, back in 1981.

When I got the e-mail, I didn't follow the advice The Guide gave years ago: "Don't Panic". I immediately scoured the web for news to the contrary, hoping it was a hoax.

My first port of call was the BBC. Maybe if I had gone somewhere a little less authoritative I could have stayed in denial a little longer.

Douglasadams.com (the brightly coloured, irreverent site a couple of friends of mine had helped him to build) still looked the same. But the message boards, where Adams would regularly post, were full of sombre words from people around the world as shocked as I.


He was a hero to me, not only as a writer and entertainer, but as a thinker

Matt Jones
This man was a source of entertainment and inspiration that everyone thought would just keep, albeit infrequently, producing things to change our lives, and make them lighter - another familiar thing, taken for granted.

Back at the BBC site, a Talking Point debate was gathering tributes. One stood out for me: "You changed my life. I will never forgive you for that. Kris from New York."

As a teenager reading his books and watching the prescient TV series, the threat of being put on the Golgafrinchan 'B' Ark (where an overcrowded world despatched its "useless 1/3 of the population") made me determined to pursue science, computing and art equally.

Douglas Adams on the Hitchhiker set
Adams: an inspiration
This led me to study architecture instead of graphic design. From there I went on to researching virtual reality and information design, and eventually into designing for the web.

He was a hero to me, not only as a writer and entertainer, but as a thinker. He, before anyone else, realised the human potential that technology could unlock. He also saw that to achieve this end, the technology had to be treated as absolutely the least important part of the process.

I got to meet him just once.

I gatecrashed a party his company held to launch the game Starship Titanic. A boat had been hired to go up and down the Thames, while its occupants gently stewed in free alcohol.

Semi-stalking Adams for most of the evening, I finally got the Dutch courage to corner him. He generously listened to my drunken ramblings about life, the universe and everything.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Earthlings, "mostly harmless"
He thanked me when I confessed how much he had influenced me. The message I had taken from his work was that the rational can create as much wonder as the magical.

Smiling, he asked me what I did, and with some pride I said I worked on the team that designed BBC News Online. He brightened, and just said "nice site" as he walked away.

High praise from a guy who classified the whole Earth as "mostly harmless".

So, I briefly, and drunkenly met my hero, and he had been as easy-going and pointedly absurd as his works.

While I would have loved another more serious discussion with him, he's gone. His work and his influence are not. It'll always be there for me, a familiar thing that I won't take for granted.


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14 May 01 | UK
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