Which science fiction writer predicted broadcast of audio-visual content over the Internet?


Science fiction is not only a literary genre devoted to extra-terrestrials, spaceships and other subjects that seem entirely unrelated to the day-to-day lives of earthlings. Rather, this literary genre has generated, and continues to generate, stories that anticipate and even predict or design the future. Isaac Asimov, one of the great sci-fi writers, defined it this way: ‘Science fiction is that branch of literature that deals with human responses to changes in the level of science and technology’.

There are more than a few examples of science fiction exploring and imagining fictitious scenarios that have later become real as certain political ideologies, electronic devices, social and cultural movements, etc. These ‘prophecies’ are not the exclusive territory of sci-fi literature, but rather, as noted in this other article, movies have much to say on this subject, as do certain video games and even songs in the same genre.

This article focuses on different communication channels that were first described in science fiction novels, and it seems almost unthinkable today that we could have lived without them just a few decades ago. The clearest example that these communication formats are part of our everyday lives is that you are reading this blog post online on a device connected to the Internet.


The webcast: one of Asimov’s visions

It was in this article, published in The New York Times on August 16, 1964, to celebrate the opening of the World’s Fair in Queens, New York, that biochemistry professor and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov discussed with great accuracy how the lives of earthlings could be in 2014. A little over 50 years later, many of his ‘visions’ have come true, and the World’s Fair, whose main theme was ‘Peace Through Understanding’, is remembered today more for the predictions of this Soviet writer and biochemist than for the subject matter it addressed.

Source: Isaac Asimov – sketchport.com

At the time, Asimov’s outlook on the future of communications was very visual. In fact, the sci-fi writer’s description of futuristic communication sounded a lot like the broadcast of audio-visual content over the Internet, also known as webcasts. In 1964, Asimov said: ‘People at two points anywhere on earth could interact and communicate with each other through images. The screen will not only be used to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs’.

Another prediction by Asimov was the emergence of the Internet, or perhaps a bit more specifically, the giant Google, which he described as: ‘Huge libraries in which we will be able to freely access information from the comfort of our homes on our personal computers. A place where anyone can get the answers and references they need. A place where all the knowledge of humanity will be available’.


James Graham's prediction of social media

Another writer who was less well-known than Asimov, but also a visionary, was James Graham (J.G.)  Ballard, who published in 1977 an article entitled ‘The Future of the Future’ in which he predicted the way our society would be transformed by social media. This is how Ballard foretold it:

‘Every one of our actions during the day, across the entire spectrum of domestic life, will be instantly recorded on video-tape. In the evening we will sit back to scan the rushes, selected by a computer trained to pick out only our best profiles, our wittiest dialogue, our most affecting expressions filmed through the kindest filters, and then stitch these together into a heightened re-enactment of the day. Regardless of our place in the family pecking order, each of us within the privacy of our own rooms will be the star in a continually unfolding domestic saga, with parents, husbands, wives and children demoted to an appropriate starring role’.

Source: A person reading from a futuristic wraparound display screen – David Revoy / Blender Foundation

Doesn’t this description come close to what social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram are today? Although the writer uses a dramatic and humorous tone, there is no doubt that it reflects the daily use that is often made of these websites. How does the reader envision the future of communication for earthlings? The daydreams and visions of the present are undoubtedly the raw material with which potential futures are constructed, even if they seem uncertain today…