“In the Year 2889” is a very short science-fiction novelette, only 30 pages in all, likely written by Jules Verne’s son, Michel. It was published in 1899.
It chronicles one day in the life of Fritz Napoleon Smith, the editor of the Earth Chronicle, an American newspaper, which occupies a 3,250-feet-tall skyscraper in Manhattan—a building that’s 2,000 feet taller than the Empire State Building, a height indicative of its owner’s social standing, and power of patronage.
The day? September 25, 2889. Could the duo have based it on The New York Times, founded on September 18, 1851? It narrates how the media business has been radically transformed by the invention of the telephone. “Instead of being printed, the Earth Chronicle is, every morning, spoken to subscribers.”
In an enormous hall, at one level of the paper’s 300-story headquarters, sits a legion of 1,500 reporters, each facing a telephone, communicating to subscribers the news from all over the world as gathered during the night.
When the subscriber is not in the mood to listen to it live, he leaves the task of recording it to his phonograph. Buyers of single copies can, at a “very trifling cost,” learn all that is in the day’s edition, at “innumerable phonographs, set up nearly everywhere.”
With the help of the “telephoto”—an instrument that transmits pictures by means of sensitive mirrors, connected by wires—subscribers can not only hear the news, but also see the occurrences.
They’re free to pick and choose what they enjoy listening to. “They may, at pleasure, give attention to one editor, and refuse it to another.” Sounds a lot like channel surfing?
The Earth Chronicle also sells fiction. From a “vast apartment, crowned with an enormous transparent cupola,” the “littérateurs” recount novels to the public in daily installments.
Even though this is a journalism-centric book, it presents a vision of other aspects of the future that are equally charming.
There’s a reference to “atmospheric advertising.” Giant projectors in the “marble and gold” edifice (opulent architecture today, is measured in terms of glass and chrome) beam gigantic advertisements on clouds.
But Smith’s enterprise also has at its disposal, a technology we know in the present day as “geo-engineering.” He commands his meteorological staff “to go to work in earnest on the question of artificial clouds.” “It will never do for us to be always thus at the mercy of cloudless skies!” he bellows, for if there are no clouds, where will they run the advertisements?
In that age, complex calculations are made in a jiffy, thanks to the “Piano Electro-Reckoner,” known today, as a calculator.
The rich and the famous of this 29th century “fairyland” don’t have kitchens in their homes because they neither cook themselves, nor employ chefs. They subscribe to a service that sends meals directly to their dining tables through pneumatic tubes.
For like all wealthy folk in our day, Mr. Smith has done away with the domestic kitchen, and is a subscriber to the Grand Alimentation Company, which sends through a great network of tubes to subscribers’ residences all sorts of dishes, as a varied assortment is always in readiness. A subscription costs money, to be sure, but the cuisine is of the best, and the system has this advantage that it does away with the pestering race of the cordons-bleus.