My wife wanted to take a nap on Sunday, and since she said she didn’t care what was on the TV as long as it wasn’t Anime, I took the opportunity to watch some Season 2 episodes of Babylon 5. Estimations of future technology have always been kind of a tricky subject in science fiction. Some things it gets right, like the tablets, cell phones and laptop computers in Star Trek, and some things it gets hilariously wrong.
This one I’m not too sure about.
In episode 19 of Season 2, “Divided Loyalties” Ambassador Delenn and Captain Sheridan are standing in front of an unusual dispenser:
Instead of USA Today, Babylon 5 dispenses “Universe Today”. Subscribers deposit their previous day’s issue into the slot which is recycled with a flash, select their preferences, and are issued a new paper edition customized to their needs.
Now the logic of this is a little questionable. In the same episode Sheridan and Garibaldi have an extensive discussion about the lack of trees on the station (except for those in the orchard), and yet there is an ample supply of paper being shipped to the station for a newspaper. Presumably recycling the issues cuts down on the amount of stuff that would need to be shipped in, but paper can only be recycled so many times, and relies on everyone depositing their previous issue to get the new one.
Leaving this aside there are some things about the concept that are brilliant. I think a lot of us have a cycle of 5-10 sites we check every morning for news, media and whatever strikes our fancy. There are RSS feeds and news aggregators and even apps that deliver magazine like content from different to our tablets. The Universe Today concept takes news from what must be hundreds of sources and condenses it down to a particular user’s interests, like Delenn’s “Eye on Minbari” section. And it delivers it cleanly, in an easy to digest format.
Today, a lot of local papers are using news writing software to deliver personalized content about sports and financial stories. Technical journals with a very narrow audience are being automatically created using software as well, producing analysis and reports for very specialized needs.
The idea of the paper newspaper surviving until the 23rd century, let alone the end of the 21st century, may seem far-fetched. But personalized, customized, and even echo-chambered news is already here.
Now if only someone can make a White Star I’ll be all set.