Sci-fi blind spots: The Internet?

By Wednesday, April 4, 2012 5 No tags Permalink 0

Yesterday, skulking around the Googleplex, I found a shelf of books and old sci-fi magazines. In one of the magazines from 1957 Arthur C Clarke outlined three possible ways that we could end up in space. He talks of space stations, of satellites et etcetera, but once again I am struck by the fact that nowhere does he talk of the Internet. He talks about a global Relay, but that would be used for radio and mostly, honestly, it seems for broadcasting TV. Overall, browsing through my sci-fi memory, I don’t remember the Internet figuring largely in any shape. There are computers, robots and AI in sci-fi, but no mention of a global computer network.

Maybe there is a reason. One interpretation would be to say that sci-fi has blind spots and that no-one (save for Paul Otlet) foresaw the net. There is an alternative interpretation though: as we progress and get artificial intelligence, robots and space stations the network will fade into the background. It will slowly disappear from our cognitive maps and becoming a necessary and enabling technology, like the integrated circuit or something similar. So maybe the reason there is not much mention of an internet in Star Wars or no UniWeb in Star Trek is for the same reason there is no discussion of electricity.

Are there any good examples of early sci-fi discussing the Internet?

 

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5 Comments
  • Lauren Weinstein
    April 4, 2012

    I’m in the “infrastructural” camp on this point — ultimately the Internet per se indeed vanishes into the background of expected utilities. That is, if we play our cards right. There are much darker possibilities too, of course. Sci-fi also generally was blind to the rise of even simple cellphones, much less smartphones. As for sci-fi takes on the Internet, one work that seems to qualify is also among the oldest sci-fi — “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster (1909), which includes an explicit reference to what we could now call a Hangout Live on Air for educational purposes. Quite a story by Forster.

  • Björn Hedensjö
    April 4, 2012

    “Ender’s Game”, which I’m currently reading, certainly doesn’t qualify as early sci-fi (since it’s from 1985) but it does have a vision of something similar to the what the internet has evolved to today. It’s called “The Nets” and only mentioned in passing, but use of social networks is definitely implied.

  • Simon Rosenqvist
    April 4, 2012

    Douglas Adams mentions the Zub-etha net as a way to update the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy. This isn’t early sci-fi, the hitchhikers guide came out in 1979, but it’s still worth a mention. Adams himself said that he didn’t predict the internet, it was just a plot device to help drive the story forward.

    In modern sci-fi i think Rudy Rucker has some interesting ideas about how the internet may evolve if people start to get brain implants.

  • Bart
    April 5, 2012

    I agree with the first poster in the infrastructure camp. The internet is so ubiquitous today in the modern society that we don’t think about it that much, its like running water or electricity. I did a Google search on ‘ early mentions of the internet sci fi literature’ and your blog post ranks #4, circular reference :P

  • bobo
    April 7, 2012

    only thing I can think about is one (perhaps “The moon is a harsh mistress” but I don’t remember its name and I didn’t read it in english) where the people on the moon communicates through the network to an AI that helps them revolt against earth, they don’t seem to communicate to each other though… only trough the AI that dies in the end :-(

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