Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 Newspad

newspad.jpg Steven Sande of TUAW remembers a passage from 2001: A Space Odyssey:
When he tired of official reports and memoranda and minutes, he would plug his foolscap-sized Newspad into the ship's information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure up the world's major electronic papers ... Switching to the display unit's short-term memory, he would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him. ... the postage-stamp-sized rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort. When he had finished, he would flash back to the complete page and select a new subject for detailed examination. Floyd sometimes wondered if the Newspad, and the fantastic technology behind it, was the last word in man's quest for perfect communications. Here he was, far out in space, speeding away from Earth at thousands of miles an hour, yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. (That very word "newspaper," of course, was an anachronistic hangover into the age of electronics.) The text was updated automatically on every hour; even if one read only the English versions, one could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the ever-changing flow of information from the news satellites. It was hard to imagine how the system could be improved or made more convenient. But sooner or later, Floyd guessed, it would pass away, to be replaced by something as unimaginable as the Newspad itself would have been to Caxton or Gutenberg.
There's actually a history of stories which tie a current gadget to this particular device. Three years ago, it was Sony's Reader graced with the comparison. In 2001 itself, however, Transmeta-powered Tablet PCs got the buzz. Now, of course, it's Apple's turn. Photo: News Research Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 Newspad finally arrives, nine years late [TUAW]


  1. ISTR seeing somewhere a piece on just how hard that effect was to acheive with the technology of the day.

  2. Just like Star Trek’s communicator (via Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio), a lot of consumer products seem to be the result of self-fulfilled prophecies.

    1. There’s surely a reason gadgets come to resemble future-fiction: designers grow up watching Star Trek and reading 2001 and then tech advances, and they have the ability to actually build them.

  3. Interesting future-paradox anachronism in the description of the Newspad as ‘foolscap’ sized. If the Newspad has made paper obsolete (an assumption, yes) would people of the future know the obsolete word? So larke is using it, even then an obscure word to describe it to present day users, in the present tense from the future third person point of view

    1. I do not see the problem. We stil use names and terms that have lost nearly all connection to the origin.

      We “fire“ employees and guns, even though there’s no open fire involved since the age of the muskets.

      “Pages” have become virtual.

  4. One of the things that disappointed me about the film version of 2010 was the replacement of flatcreeen displays with CRT’s. I don’t know whether the director thought that it would save money not to do mattes and rear-projection FX, but it makes the movie look clunky and dated.

  5. “Nine years late”? Online newspapers have been available for years. There’s nothing radical about the iPad.

    1. Exactly. The iPad is interesting for its execution, but no more revolutionary than the iPod itself was. It’s an evolution of existing technology.

      I think by 2001 we had similar enough technology, like tablet PCs. They may not have had widespread availability, but the news itself was available and someone in Floyd’s situation certainly would have it available.

  6. Reminds me of the periscope.

    Jules Verne described periscopes in his works.

    Because Verne did this, periscopes can not be patented.

    I wonder if Apple knows that.

  7. It’s also interesting to read Clarke’s description of the “Minisec” (Minisecretary) in IMPERIAL EARTH, which is basically like an iPhone or similar gadget.

    It basically gets the idea of these hand-held computing devices, and gets that they’ll be networked to planet-wide databases, but still doesn’t quite predict The Internet.

    Of course, IMPERIAL EARTH takes place in the 23rd century…

  8. I can’t help thinking of Freud’s “Mystic Writing Pad” when I read about these. The German is even more evokative:


    Where’s my wunderblok?

    “For Freud, all means of mechanically supplementing the memory suffered from one of two drawbacks. Permanent means of recording, like paper, can only be written on once–they quickly become filled and need to be further supplemented. The alternative (eg: a chalk board) is infinitely receptive, but only if one erases the previous inscriptions. The Mystic Writing Pad, however, represented an admittedly imperfect but illuminating example of how the psyche itself records material. Like the chalk board, it can record an infinite amount of material while always remaining “new.” But, like the piece of paper, this material leaves a faint, but perceptible trace on the waxen surface below, a trace which can be seen if one were to lift up the sheet of plastic and examine the wax surface. This, for Freud, is analogous to the way the psychic system which received sense impression from the outside world remains unmarked by those impressions which pass through it to a deeper layer where they are recorded as unconscious memory. Thus, “the appearance and disappearance of the writing” is similar to “the flickering-up and passing-away of consciousness in the process of perception” (SE XIX:230).”

  9. From the Geosync Comsat, to the Newspad and the Minisec, Sir Arthur C. Clarke seems to have had communication stuck on his mind!

  10. I’m with nanuq #6. We’ve had online newspapers for years. Two weeks ago this passage would have seemed just as prescient as it does today.

  11. “he would plug his foolscap-sized Newspad into the ship’s information circuit”

    He plugs it in. PLUGS. IT. IN.


  12. I guess this is just more marketing hype for the ipad?

    Perhaps not. The story notes that this reference applied to devices that are now obsolete.

    I’m just amazed at how the ipad has so quickly entered the national consiousness. Celebs want to be seen with one, or bloggers want to talk about it.

    It’s such a lame effort to progress technology, imo, that it’s hard to understand the hype. Tablets from years ago were better at the Ipad’s functions than the ipad is. The iphone is more impressive than the ipad.

    Oh well, to each his own. Sure makes it easy on Apple to come up with something better than… this.

  13. Attention physicists, we are still waiting for fusion power, anti-gravity, FTL warp drive, force fields, a host of other stuff… so put down the web browser and get back to work!

  14. Hmmmm.


    “Captain. I have just received an update to my communicator telling me that I am now eligible to increase my p***s size considerably.”


    “That’s nice Spock. Hope you have a good time.”

  15. “Jules Verne described periscopes in his works.
    Because Verne did this, periscopes can not be patented.
    I wonder if Apple knows that.”

    What matters is if the USPTO knows that.

  16. How could any information be exchanged in “milliseconds” from that far away? Regardless of the transmission medium, information can’t travel any faster than the speed of light, and as far out as they were, pings would be measured in minutes.

    Obviously, bandwidth is up to the imagination but every new click would be painstaking. Hell, they can barely control the Mars Rover with the latency between Earth and Mars.

  17. So he’s moving away from Earth at “thousands of miles per hour.” yet he can still access Earth’s papers within milliseconds? Somebody’s doing some time traveling.

  18. 38&39,

    “Milliseconds” referred to loading pages from memory on the pad, not from loading them from Earth. The text is about Floyd who only went to the moon in 2001, so loading a page from Earth in one second would have been possible. The photo is Bowman on the way to Jupiter (Saturn in the book) and news would have been sent by push processing unless the AE35 had crapped out again.


    Indignant antenna designers are invited to contemplate ABM search radars and to THINK BIG. Thats not related, I just wanted to repeat it here.

    The minisec was more of a palm pilot I think. It had ultraviolet networking rather than infrared.

  19. I love how when apple releases something, they invented it. Tablets have been around for years now, I’ve owned three. This is like when the ipod was release and all the fanboys were like WOW a portable MP3 player! Apple rulez

  20. Since when isn’t it Apple’s turn to take credit for something that isn’t new? Today we adore it, tomorrow Apple claims to have invented it. Meanwhile, Apple’s only tablet innovations seem to be the lack of flash and the total app store lockdown.

  21. Tablets and even Pocket PCs have been able to do that and more long before the ipad was even thought of.

  22. This piece doesn’t surprise me. Arthur C Clarke, was, among many things, the greatest speculative science fiction writer of last century.

Comments are closed.