Ed Driscoll

Any Sufficiently Advanced Prediction Newsweek Gets Right Is Indistinguishable From Magic

In his brilliant and frequently-updated non-fiction book, Profiles of the Future, Arthur C. Clarke famously quotes a remark attributed to William Henry Preece, the chief engineer of the British Post Office, when he was told in 1877 that the Americans had stumbled across a then-bleeding edge communications technology:

“The Americans have need of the Telephone — but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.”

In contrast, Clarke had infinitely more foresight. In 1967, he gave a speech in which he said:

Newspapers will, I think, receive their final body blow from these new communications techniques. I take a dim view of staggering home every Sunday with five pounds of wood pulp on my arm, when what I really want is information, not wastepaper. How I look forward to the day when I can press a button and get any type of news, editorials, book and theater reviews, etc., merely by dialing the right channel.Electronic “mail” delivery is another exciting prospect of the very near future. Letters, typed or written on special forms like wartime V-mail, will be automatically read and flashed from continent to continent and reproduced at receiving stations within a few minutes of transmission.

And as the first of Clarke’s Three Laws goes, “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

So with all of that background, how did Newsweek do in 1995 just as the World Wide Web, the still-new graphical interface running atop an Internet that had been around since 1969 was just taking off?

Just came across this article from Newsweek in 1995. It lists all the reasons the internet will fail. My two favorite parts:

The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.

* * *

Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.

If Newsweek is as good at maintaining the journalism industry as they are at fortune telling, they should be around for a long time.

Heh. Although, maybe not at this burn rate.

In the meantime though, Newsweek is determined not to get caught flat-footed once again. Via Tim Blair, a photographed smuggled out of Newsweek HQ just moments ago shows a highly-paid, smartly dressed consultant explaining the latest in technologies to the magazine’s crack staff, who stare wide-eyed at the wonders of the future to come: