Social Consequences? | Horizon January 1962

COVER: What mysterious portent has filled the Delphic Sibyl’s wide-set eyes with
wonder and apprehension? We do not know. for at the moment of revelation she was transfixed forever on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and thus became part of the world’s most famous work of art. She is perhaps the most beautiful of the five pagan sibyls that Michelangelo incorporated in his stupendous fresco to symbolize pre-Chris­tian intimations of divine truth. Although the Sistine ceiling provides the overwhelming experience of any visit to the Vatican, it is only one of the marvels in that tiny state-­within-a-city. Many of these are described in an article by Alfred Werner beginning on page 22, which is accompanied by a portfolio of Vatican treasures printed by Skira.

For your reading pleasure (and amusement) I’ve scanned the complete, 5-page article. Though Clarke’s terminology is not what we use, he was quite precient in many respects.

One idea that has been discussed at some length is the Orbital Post Office which may make most air mail obsolete in a decade or so. A single satellite, using modern facsimile equipment, could easily handle the whole of today’s transatlantic correspondence. Eventually, letters should never take more than a few minutes to be delivered to any point on the Earth, and one can even visualize the time when all correspondence is sent by direct person-to-­person facsimile circuits. When that time comes, the post office will cease to handle letters, except where the originals are required, and will concern itself only with parcels.

Clark imagines wonders for humanity that were only beginning to be dreamed in 1962. He warns of the risks, though of “machines outpacing their builders.” He asks, “How can we possibly cope with the far greater flood to come, when the whole world -soon, indeed, the whole solar system-will be clamoring for our attention?”

There is a Persian legend that warns us of what may come from our efforts to devise a communications system linking all mankind. The story tells of a prince who lost his dearly loved queen and devoted the rest of his life to building a monument that would be worthy of her. He hired the finest craftsmen to raise a palace of marble and alabaster around the sarcophagus: year by year it grew until its towers and minarets became the wonder of the world. Decade after decade he labored, but still perfection eluded him; there was some fundamental flaw in the design.

And then one clay, as the prince stood on the gallery above the central aisle of the great mausoleum, he realized what it was that spoiled the perfect harmony. He called the architect and pointed to the now dwarfed sarcophagus that held the queen he had lost so long ago.

“Take that thing away,” he said.

Some fun phrasing: Angst-ridden young men have become commonplace on Broadway; and since last year’s theater neurosis are this year’s fashion in Hollywood…. Warren Beatty was, therefore inevitable.”