Can Science Fiction Predict The Future Of Journalism?

from the yeah,-but-most-people-won't-recognize-it-until-it's-too-late dept

On The Media has an a short interview with journalism professor Loren Ghiglione, who recently wrote a paper examining whether or not science fiction writers are a good place to look for the future of journalism. Unfortunately, I can’t easily find a copy of the actual paper anywhere. I believe it was put online here, but the link to the actual file turns up a page not found, unfortunately. The interview itself is a bit short, and I actually find that it’s more telling in what it doesn’t include, than what it does. That is, it does point to examples of science fiction writers successfully predicting some elements of today’s media world from the past:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Albert Robida wrote The Twentieth Century in 1887. What was his vision?

LOREN GHIGLIONE: He’s the one who had the all-electric home with telephonographics, news bulletins delivered automatically through telephones, and he had wall-sized telephonoscopes, which were televisions —


– that were interactive so people could react to the news and communicate with other people who were seeing the news.

But when it comes to looking into the future today to figure out what science fiction says about the future of news… well, that comes out a lot more vague:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is there any prediction that struck you as more likely than another?

LOREN GHIGLIONE: Oh, I don’t know what’s more likely, but I am intrigued about moving beyond the handheld devices. I remember hearing somebody who’d invented the handheld device talking about implanting various devices in the human body that might take care of delivery of news and everything else. So who knows where all of this is headed?

I definitely think that there’s plenty to learn from science fiction — just look around at how many modern technologies today seem to come straight out of science fiction — but I’m not convinced how much predictive value such things have. Yes, they bring up all sorts of cool ideas, but many of them never actually come to pass. It’s neat to cherry pick examples of science fiction that were way ahead of their time in predicting new technologies in the real world, but you can’t ignore all of the predictions that did not come true (flying cars!) in the timeframe predicted. So picking which sci-fi ideas from today will really matter to the media in the future still seems quite tricky, since there are so many (cool, unique and creative) ideas that won’t actually come true.

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Comments on “Can Science Fiction Predict The Future Of Journalism?”

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Hippy Hop (user link) says:

I had read on a blog the same thing, a certain Robert Sloss back in 1910 had an amazing account of an iPhone. It is really amazing how people can imagine things on the future and comes close to predicting what will really happen. I might say now that I don’t buy the idea of putting gadgets inside my body but who knows, that might be the trend in the future.


Re: Predicting the Future.

My personal take on this was something more along the lines of a small wearable device that would project it’s interfaces into space rather than using physical screens. It didn’t need to be implanted. It just projected stuff and measured your reactions to the projections.

That was my idea of more-advanced-tech-than-Trek in the early 80s. There are some prototype devices now that are along those same lines.

OTOH, there are tons of predictions by futurists and authors that are really wrong and have been forgotten about.

Anonymous Coward says:

While a lot of science fiction is bunk, you’d be surprised at the reliability of results you get when only looking at writers who take the “science” portion seriously.

Basically, look at the writers who actually do their research, and try to delve into hard sciences. And, of course, ignore the ideas that exist as the central plot-point. (So ignore the killer AI from 2001, but pay attention to the space travel)

The ones that write about things that “would be cool” can be tossed out pretty easily.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

I predict the abolition of copyright

If as a computer scientist I predict the abolition of copyright and no-one believes it at all likely to happen in their lifetimes, is that science fiction?

I predict that journalists will soon get paid directly by their keenest readers, despite their published work being free.

Perhaps the question is not whether science fiction can predict the future for journalism, but whether predictions of its future must necessarily be regarded as science fiction?

Any sufficiently advanced business model for the exchange of intellectual work is indistinguishable from charlatanism.

(cf Clarke’s Third Law)

Jezsik (profile) says:

Sci-Fi is a terrible predictor

I used to have a voracious appetite for science fiction and read countless books on the near and distant future. The one thing I can say about them is that they do a lousy job at predicting the future.

One case in point is the internet. There is not a single story I can remember that predicted this, arguably the most important media advance since movable type. There were plenty of stories about gigantic databases that required special skills to pull information, plenty more stories with artificial intelligences of varying ability and lots of high-tech communication tools, but nothing that came close to the internet and what it accomplished.

As another poster pointed out, the hard science fiction writers do a good job of describing future technology (e.g., Clarke’s space elevator), but as far as predicting how those technologies affect our society? Not so much.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sci-Fi is a terrible predictor

Robert Heinlein predicted it. His version was less automated (ie, it involved people talking to librarians, who would then research the information, then send it to the person who requested it via series of pneumatic tubes) but the end result was the same. It was in one of his earlier novels.

There is also the version that Friday (the titular heroine) used.

I want to say that there was a version in Methuselah’s Children, as well.

Michele (profile) says:

a contemporary sci-fi novel

Check out the novel Feed by M.T. Anderson. It takes place in the near future where social networking and the internet become literally fused within our brains and bodies. Instead of carrying around smartphones and laptops we have everything we need in our mind’s eye. It takes the whole “big brother” route too where our thoughts essentially dictate the advertisements we are forced to view on our “feed.”

Adam (profile) says:

The prediction from the ’60s that I’d love to see is Frank Herbert’s (of Dune fame) formation of a Bureau of Sabotage or BuSab. See: for a summary.

This government body’s purpose is to frustrate the workings of government in order to give sentients a chance to reflect upon changes and deal with them. Having saved sentiency from its government, BuSab was officially recognized as a necessary check on the power of government. It provides a natural (and lucrative) outlet for society’s regular crop of troublemakers, who must be countered by society’s regular crop of “do-gooders”.

A. Coward says:

Why there are less...

The reason there are less Science Fiction artifacts in real life (ie. flying cars) is regulations and lack of funding. There is already a Flying car (or a driving aircraft if you will) almost ready for mass production: It was supposed to hit the streets and air this year, but FAA and National Highway regulations keeps holding them back.

Same issue with many other things, we don’t yet have wireless electricity ( of regulations and how difficult it is for the average inventor to get a patent, get testing permissions, and find funding for experiments on this kind of technology.

Back in the Tesla, Graham Bell, and other inventors they would be allowed to test and try many different things, the US brought them from wherever they were to try their experiments here, helped them get funding, and made it somewhat pleasant for them to try new ideas. Nowadays is a PITA to try to implement any new idea.

And that’s why we have less and less Science fiction type technologies!

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