In 1962, Arthur C. Clarke published a collection of prophetic writings called Profiles of the Future. His intent, he wrote in an introduction, was not “to describe the future, but to define the boundaries within which possible futures must lie.” In one chapter he predicted the creation of a high-speed worldwide communications network (he thought it would be satellite-based) and discussed some of its probable consequences. The physical mail system, he wrote, would be replaced by “an orbital post office,” which “will probably make airmail obsolete in the quite near future.” The new system will “of course” raise “problems of privacy,” though these “might be solved by robot handling at all stages of the operation.”

The revolution in communication won’t be limited to correspondence, though: “Perhaps a decade beyond the orbital post office lies something even more startling – the orbital newspaper.” News reports would come to be transmitted to video screens in homes. To get “your daily paper,” you’d need only “press the right button.” Moreover, each reader would be able to create a personalized bundle of stories: “We will select what we need, and ignore the rest, thus saving whole forests for posterity. The orbital newspaper will have little more than the name in common with the newspaper of today.”