We love the internet and couldn’t imagine life without it, but just a few short generations ago it was the stuff of pure imagination.
Over the last century (give or take), there have been numerous scientific inventions which were predicted (to some extent) by the imaginations of the science fiction writers of the time. Here is a look at 7 books that predicted the internet and how we would use it.
7 Sci-Fi Books that predicted the internet
(In order of date published)
“From the London Times of 1904” – Mark Twain – published 1898
Funny to think of “1904” as being in the distant future!
In this short story (written at a time when the landline telephone was a new thing), Mark Twain dreamed up an invention called the “telelectroscope”.
In the story, this telelectroscope used the phone system to support a global network for information sharing (Um, anyone else thinking dial-up?) which would be visible and audible from anywhere. His short story involved people from around the world being able to keep up to date with each other’s daily deeds, to quote “the daily doings of the globe made visible to everybody, and audibly discussable too, by witnesses separated by any number of leagues”. So, basically, he predicted both the internet and social media way back in 1898 when most people hadn’t even heard the sound of a phone ringing.
A Logic Named Joe – Murray Leinster – published March 1946
Our next short story was written in 1946 by Murray Leinster.
In his story “A Logic named Joe” everyone has a device in their homes called a “Logic”. This Logic is connected to a data “tank” which possess all knowledge. The Logic is used to provide people with information as they need it.
Unfortunately, the “Logic” named Joe has a defect which causes it to become self-aware and it starts to provide information it “thinks” you need – even if that is information you shouldn’t have! The result in the story is all the “Logics” around the city starting to provide information on things such as “How to poison your spouse” and “How to get away with murder” – all in the name of helping their owners. The machines are not actually evil, they are simply trying to “help”. Essentially the story explores not only the possibility of the internet, but also the social ramifications of providing limitless information to an all too “human” and imperfect society. So, ya. Both technical and super deep and stuff.
1984 – George Orwell – published 1949
Many of us read this book as part of our high school English curriculum, and for those who are too young to have read it, you might be more familiar with the (rather silly) television show it inspired many years later – Big Brother (the very first “reality” TV show).
In this epic (and rather scary) novel, George Orwell predicts a world ruled by a sinister omnipresent government surveillance system which allows “the Party” ultimate public manipulation. While the story is rather a scary warning, it’s interesting to note that it was written long before the internet, or even computers and surveillance cameras as we know them, existed. Orwell essentially predicted the possibility of an interconnected, computerized system which could be used to document our lives.
What he never imagined is that we would volunteer our information ourselves! Luckily for us, the documentation he predicted is actually not so sinister, and most of us enjoy our Facebook and Instagram accounts rather than fear them.
Fahrenheit 451- Ray Bradbury – published 1953
When I think about Sci-Fi novels that predicted the internet this is always the first one to pop into my head.
Like Orwell, Bradbury wrote this story as something of a warning – but instead of being a warning about too much information being available about you, it’s a story about all information being censored and controlled.
Written when TV was a new thing, it’s interesting to note the things that Bradbury predicted in Fahrenheit 451, including flat-screen, fully interactive monitors (Something between a modern-day TV, a tablet and Siri, with Social Media thrown in for good measure). He predicts how addictive Social Media would be while people become obsessed with the fake “friends” who exist in “the walls” (their wall to wall screens).
He also predicted Bluetooth ear-buds in the form of tiny radios that fit into your ear, E-books, and E-readers. The irony is that the book has been banned from many schools and a censored version was released by the publishers to appease them.
The Naked Sun – Isaac Asimov – published 1957
No list of Sci-Fi books would be complete without Asimov. In his novel “The Naked Sun” he portrays a planet where the human population shun personal contact, preferring to interact with each other via machine technology.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams – published 1979
Although there may have been computers in existence by this stage, Adams does pretty much predict the iPad (or tablets), Wikipedia, and Siri (or Alexia if you prefer).
The Hitch Hikers Guide itself is described as “a portable, handheld electronic device which is the standard repository for all knowledge and wisdom”. See where I’m going with this?!
He also writes about a little fish called “the Bable fish” which lives in your ear and translates all inter-galactic language for you. Sounds quite a lot like a translation app.
Neuromancer – William Gibson – published 1984
This is, in fact, the novel which popularized the term “cyberspace”. He may have already known about computers, but what he predicted was that they would be interconnected and able to share data across the world at high speeds.
He described it as “A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.” I guess he predicted Webafrica Fasterfast Fibre.
Now you can understand why Webafrica are dedicated to bringing our customers the fastest internet access available, as soon as it becomes available because the only thing that should limit your internet experience – is your own imagination. We’ll be keeping an eye on the Sci-Fi isle, just in case.