Sunday, December 09, 2018

A brief followup to yesterday's Asimov parody

Lest anyone conclude, on the basis of yesterday’s Asimov parody, that I am insufficiently appreciative of the achievements of the Great White Men of postwar science fiction, here’s a remarkably prescient little snippet from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, published in 1968. Heywood Floyd on his way to the moon:
“Floyd sometimes wondered if the Newspad, and the fantastic technology behind it, was the last word in man’s quest for perfect communications. Here he was, far out in space, speeding away from Earth at thousands of miles per hour, yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. (That very word ‘newspaper,’ of course, was an anachronistic hangover into the age of electronics.) The text was updated automatically on every hour; even if one read only the English versions, one could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the everchanging flow of information from the news satellites.
“It was hard to imagine how the system could be improved or made more convenient. But sooner or later, Floyd guessed, it would pass away, to be replaced by something as unimaginable as the Newspad itself would have been to Caxton or Gutenberg.
“There was another thought which a scanning of those tiny electronic headlines often invoked. The more wonderful the means of communication, the more trivial, tawdry, or depressing its contents seemed to be. Accidents, crimes, natural and man-made disasters, threats of conflict, gloomy editorials—these still seemed to be the main concerns of the millions of words being sprayed into the ether. Worst of all, without question, was the so-called Book of Many Faces, connecting billions of human beings in order to mine their personal data and foment tribal hatreds and dark obsessions. There were even grounds for suspicion that the Soviets had used the device to tamper with the most recent U.S. presidential election. Floyd didn’t know whether to give the rumor any credence, but, scanning through the Newspad, he found it impossible to dismiss altogether.”


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