Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lost Future

Two quotes that came to mind when thinking today of how good my Samsung Galaxy Tab is...but how far short it falls from some of the gadgets of science fiction. Then a second that came to me when I contemplated how many times I've been tossed out of a job vs. the potential that we have.

There was plenty to occupy his time, even if he did nothing but sit and read. When he tired of official reports and memoranda and minutes, he would plug his foolscap-size Newspad into the ship’s information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers; he knew the codes of the more important ones by heart , and had no need to consult the list on the back of his pad. Switching to the display unit’s shortterm memory, he would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him. Each had its own two-digit reference; when he punched that, the postage-stamp-size rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort. When he had finished, he would flash back to the complete page and select a new subject for detailed examination.

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 an 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. 


Bowman had been a student for more than half his life; he would continue to be one until he retired. Thanks to the twentieth-century revolutions in training and information-handling techniques, he already possessed the equivalent of two or three college educations—and, what was more, he could remember 90 percent of what he had learned.

Fifty years ago, he would have been considered a specialist in applied astronomy, cybernetics, and space propulsion systems —yet he was prone to deny, with genuine indignation, that he was a specialist at all. Bowman had never found it possible to focus his interest exclusively on any subject; despite the dark warnings of his instructors, he had insisted on taking his Master’s degree in General Astronautics— a course with a vague and woolly syllabus, designed for those whose IQs were in the low 130s and who would never reach the top ranks of their profession.

His decision had been right; that very refusal to specialize had made him uniquely qualified for his present task. In much the same way Frank Poole—who sometimes disparagingly called himself “General Practitioner in space biology”—had been an ideal choice as his deputy. The two of them, with, if necessary, help from Hal’s vast stores of information, could cope with any problems likely to arise during the voyage—as long as they kept their minds alert and receptive, and continually reen-graved old patterns of memory.

(Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey)

We live in a time of vast potential. We have a global information network that is constantly being crippled by governmental, non-governmental and corporate interests and concerns. Our education system is watered-down and over-priced. Our employment is constantly phased-our of existence or downgraded.

Never mind the jetpacks and flying cars. I want my free flow of information and endless chance to better myself.

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