[SIGCIS-Members] Query: mobile phones and science fiction

Stephen Cass stephen.cass at gmail.com
Wed Oct 13 16:45:22 PDT 2021

I'm not an historian, but in my co-author and I have written about the
feedback loops between science fiction and technology in parts of our
"Hollyweird Science" books, published by Springer (
https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783319150710 ) . The mobile phone is
actually a classic example, being inspired by Star Trek's communicators,
c.f. this Forbes article, which also mentions some other innovations.


In an interview with Jason Pontin, then EIC of MIT Technology Review for
the 2013 Twelve Tomorrows hard sci-fi anthology (which I edited, so another
shameless self-plug, sorry :) ), Neal Stephenson put it very well:
"...science fiction can provide a coherent picture of an alternate
realty in which some innovation happened. Not just the technical innovation
itself, but the social context and the economic context that causes the
innovation to make sense. It can be sort of like an invisible magnetic
field that gets the iron filings to line up. In big engineering
organizations, you've got all these people working on small pieces of a
bigger problem, and there's an enormous amount of communication that has to
take place to keep them all working in a coordinated fashion. That
communication is tedious and expensive, but if everybody's got the same
picture in their heads, maybe you don't have to communicate as much."

Currently, the best academics to talk to are likely at ASU's Center for
Science and the Imagination:


They've done some innovation projects, including the "Hieroglyph: Stories &
Visions for a Better Future" anthology and ASU's Threatcasting Lab uses
science fiction as a tool for e.g, military and intelligence folks:

Hope this is of some help!


On Wed, Oct 13, 2021 at 3:29 PM Andrew Russell <arussell at arussell.org>

> Hi again SIGCIS - please see below, forwarded with permission via Peggy
> Kidwell -
> *From:* Baker, Alexi <alexi.baker at yale.edu>
> *Sent:* Wednesday, October 13, 2021 2:14 PM
> *To:* rete at maillist.ox.ac.uk <rete at maillist.ox.ac.uk>
> *Subject:* [rete] History of telecommunications / mobile phones
> This is perhaps going a bit far afield in the history of technology, but I
> have a student who is interested in the history of mobile phones with
> respect to science fiction. She is in particular interested in how the
> development of such telecommunications influenced, was represented in, and
> was influenced by science fiction films. Do any of you happen to know of
> historians who have focused on the development of mobile phones and/or on
> the relationship between sci fi and technology in general?
> Many thanks for any suggestions - Alexi
> Dr. Alexi Baker
> Division of the History of Science & Technology
> Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
> Tel. 203-737-3084
> alexi.baker at yale.edu
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