NEWS ANALYSIS: Legendary science fiction author and futurist Arthur C. Clarke predicted that one day calls anywhere on Earth would be free and would change society.
I didn't realize it at the time, but during what would normally have been a routine phone call to discuss an editorial assignment, I was given a look at the future.
Back in the late '90s, I was the editor of a technology supplement for The Washington Post
. I had asked a number of people to write about the lunar mission of Apollo 11. One of those people was the legendary science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke.
I'd asked Clarke to participate because of his accurate descriptions of lunar activity in his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey
. While I knew about his involvement in communications technology, that wasn't on my mind at the time. But it was on Clarke's mind.
During our brief conversation to discuss the article I asked him to write, he mentioned that he thought it was too bad making a call between Washington and his home in Sri Lanka was so difficult, not to mention expensive.
At that point, Clarke mentioned that he'd predicted that calls anywhere on Earth would be free, and that they would essentially become local calls. He then suggested that I go read his new novel, "2061: Odyssey Three
," published in 1987.
It was that novel and that conversation with a man who saw the future far more clearly than I that came to mind last week when T-Mobile CEO John Legere announced in a press call that starting on July 15, calls between and within the U.S., Canada and Mexico would be free.
Legere said that all of North America would now be one big calling area for T-Mobile. As I fumbled about trying to pay attention to the press call, I had to ask the inevitable question: "Were there any plans for T-Mobile to extend that free calling to Europe and elsewhere in the world?"
Legere and his team fielded the question, not realizing that it was sparked by a conversation also about communications decades earlier. No, I was told, for now voice calls outside of North America would be pretty cheap, but not free. But I was reminded that for T-Mobile, all data and text messaging traffic was already free, and that applied to nearly every country in the world.
Later, I contacted T-Mobile and pointed out where Clarke had predicted that calling would be free, and I asked whether T-Mobile was in fact acting as Clarke's agent of change. I passed along this short passage from the book: "With the historic abolition of long-distance charges on 31 December 2000, every telephone call became a local one, and the human race greeted the new millennium by transforming itself into one huge, gossiping family."
"Clarke's vision for the future was inspiring and, more importantly, challenged conventional norms," T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert responded in an email when I asked about Clarke's prediction. "So, yes, he's a kindred spirit."