Editor’s Note – March, 2004


The article that follows was written in 1986 – 18 years ago - for the Halley’s Comet Watch Newsletter.  It is fascinating to read it today in light of the development of the Internet during these 18 years.  Halley’s Comet Watch ’86 had an arrangement with CompuServe at that time, wherein we collaborated on a special Halley’s Comet Forum, and during the height of Halley’s Comet viewing, I hosted a LIVE INTERACTIVE FORUM on CompuServe from the living room of my home in Vincentown, New Jersey on a simple Atari Computer hooked to a phone line.  Had the Internet been developed to the extent that it is today, there is no telling how exciting the projects would have been. 


Looking back on this today, I now realize that I was involved with the Internet during its infancy, when it wasn’t widely known as the “Internet” on a very primitive level, before anyone realized what it would become and at a time when CompuServe was the trail blazer in the development of the popular use of the Internet.  Reading CompuServe’s introduction to this article shows that even they did not realize the extent to which their technology would expand in the 18 years to follow. 


In addition, when one reads the winning essay by Eric T. Scholl, a High School Senior at the time, you cannot help but admire his vision.  He is approximately 35 years old today, and it would be fascinating to find him to learn about the path his career has taken and exactly what he is doing today.  His description certainly goes beyond the development of the Internet today, but he uses terms that were not a part of the common vocabulary in 1986, but parallel the development of the Internet as we know it today.


Joseph M. Laufer, March 20, 2004 – 18 years after first publishing the article which appears below!






(The following excerpts are from a booklet prepared by COMPUSERVE for inclusion in the Official Halley’s Comet Time Capsule).




           During the 1985-86 A.D. return of Halley’s Comet, the CompuServe Information Service created an extensive database of information about the comet.  With the assistance of Joseph M. Laufer, editor and publisher of the HALLEY’S COMET WATCH NEWSLETTER, we were able to present to our 280,000 subscibers interesting scientific facts, first-person accounts from people who had also viewed Halley’s Comet in 1910, fascinating comet trivia, and comet contests.


           As I write this in 1986, CompuServe is North America’s leading provider of electronic information, communication, and transactional services via home and business personal computers.  Our subscribers have access to online, hourly news reports from the Associated Press wire service and USA TODAY national newspaper; electronic shopping services through the ELECTRONIC MALL; and comparative travel planning services from numerous online travel products.  In addition, our customers can access a wide variety of forums or special interest groups such as the Investors’ Forum, Space Forum, IBM PC Forum, National Issues Forum, and the Bacchus Wine Forum to name just a few.  These forums provide a message board that presents inquiries and responses from all forum members; online conferences which generate lively discussion on timely issues; and library services to maintain electronic information files.


           Our subscribers consist of primarily upscale clientele with discretionary income and a keen interest and curiosity in a wide variety of topics.  The service continues to grow at a rate of over 10,000 customers per month!  Hopefully, in 2061, the CompuServe Information Service will be commonly available in every household and a vital information source for most individuals.


           One of the contests which was held during CompuServe’s Comet Watch ’86 was an essay contest.  Within the broad theme of “Inter-generational awareness and concern,” the theme of one of the essay contests was “Communication.”  The three specific subject areas from which subscribers could choose were:


1.     Describe life in the United States in 1910 with an emphasis on the topic of communication.

2.     Present a written collage of 1986 lifestyles directed toward your descendents of 2061 with a focus on changing means of communication.

3.     Project yourself into the future and describe the lifestyles of the year 2061 stressing the changes you foresee in communications technology.


We have reproduced below the winning essays under topics 1 and 3.




FIRST PLACE WINNER: STUDENTS’ FORUM TOPIC 1: Laurie Wen, Lancaster, Ohio.  A student at Columbus School for Girls, Grade 9.


After posting this article on my website in March, 2004, 18 years after it had appeared in the Halley's Comet Watch Newsletter, I received the following message from Laurie Wen, now 33 years old:

Dear Mr. Laufer, I just googled myself and found my essay, written as a high school freshman in 1986, on your website! Wow, what a trip down memory lane. I have to say I'm not sure why I won--the essay seems kind of boring now--but I was very proud I did, especially since English is my second language. Winning the contest helped boost my confidence. In case you're wondering, I'm now a 33-year-old filmmaker living in New York. Thank you for putting it on your site. Best wishes, Laurie Wen

Letter posted April 6, 2004 - JML



           In the late 19th century, as most Americans were preoccupied with their fascination of a huge number of new inventions and machines that improved their lives, they welcomed the 20th century with an optimistic, confident mood.  They were not disappointed, in fact, other than new advances in fields such as industry and commerce, communication between individuals and around the world also stepped into a new chapter of its history.


           Communication is the sharing of information and interchange of thoughts between human beings by speaking, writing or other means.  The history of communication, of course, started with the first people, and they communicated through talking (making noises), gesturing, drawing and making signals.  However, the history of more modern communication should start around the Renaissance (from about 1300 to 1600), when movable printing first started in the western world.  The condition of communication improved as people printed more books with less work and time.  Visual telegraph, which sent messages by making signals on tall towers, and then people on other towers would see the messages, was also in use.


           The revolutionary period of communication did not come until the end of the 19th century.  It was called the electronic age as people were able to send signals through space with electronic machines.  In 1840, the first electric telegraph was patented, and by 1866, the telegraph was able to link Europe and North America.  Two years later, the typewriter was improved to a practical stage.  Then came a device that truly revolutionized communication – the telephone, which was first demonstrated in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell.  Following closely was the phonograph, then 18 years later came the wireless telegraph, which was actually the early radio.  The radio was patented in 1906, and once again, it fascinated the world with excitement.  At this time, there were also early motion picture projectors.  By 1910, besides the basic media such as books, newspapers, and letters, all these machines and devices enabled people to communicate over long distances within short times.


           Mass communication (communication with a large audience) was especially improved: national affairs and news were known across the country in a short time; radio broadcasts provided entertainment as well as important news; motion pictures and telephones led Americans into the modern age.


           Doubtlessly, transportation is directly related to communication, and one grows as the other progresses.  Since the time the railroad was first used in the 1820’s, it had become the most widely used and important means of transportation in the western hemisphere, and this was still true in the early 1900’s.  Along with commercial ships, railroads transported passengers as well as goods, in both short and long trips.  The first automobile, a three-wheeled, steam-powered vehicle, was invented in 1770.  However, successful gasoline engines similar to the ones used today did not appear until 115 years later, in 1885.  Then, in 1901, mass production of cars began in the United States, and Ford introduced the Model T car in 1908.  Thus, by 1910, it would not be a rare scene to see a number of quite modern automobiles on the roads in American cities.


           Man finally conquered the sky in 1903 when the Wright brothers demonstrated their first successful flight in North Carolina.  But the public did not really accept that man could fly until 1908, when the Wrights finished their improved version of early airplanes.  By 1910, there were also simple gliders and dirigibles.


           From the above history of communication, one should be able to get a clear image of how Americans could communicate with each other and with the world in 1910.  Ever since, scientists and inventors have been at work to process human life and communication between peoples.  In the future, this communication will hopefully extend out into the universe.




FIRST PLACE WINNER: STUDENTS’ FORUM: TOPIC 3: Eric T. Scholl, Bethlehem, PA, Grade 12.




           I place the helmet on my head, and enter the system.  My mind links with thousands of others, becoming one with them in an incredible torrent of mental power.  I am surrounded by a rainbow of brilliant colors, each with its own unique meaning.  The colors alter subtly as I enter the main system, and gossamer mental touches announce the presence of several friends.  I did not have time for them now, but I would be back.  I move myself to my own personal workspace.  An image of a comfortable office forms, with an ancient desk, pleasantly messy.  The walls are painted an only slightly faded yellow.  The red carpeting is fairly new and very thick.


           I am only here to do my work, not to admire the settings, I though to myself.  I turn up the “sunlight” coming in the window and get to work.  Papers materialize on my desk, and the changes I desire are made merely by thinking of them.  After finishing my work, which takes only a few seconds, I reenter the Link, a place where people can talk to one another.  I opened myself to the sensations around me, while at the same time inviting my friends in.  We speak by thought transfer, concepts jumping from one mind to another.  The differences in our thinking are mind-boggling!  Some of us think in plain English, others in colors, others in sounds, and still others in light.  Yet no confusion occurs.  Today, however, event the glory of the Link seems pals, and I decide to research the history of the system.  Moments later, the information makes itself available to me, appearing in my mind in the form of glowing paragraphs of golden light.


           2034 – Steven Jameisson invented the first crude thought transfer system.  While inside the cumbersome machine, it short-circuited and killed him.


           2041 – The modern thought helmet is perfected.  Anyone could share thoughts with any other single person.  At first, its uses were limited to courtrooms and psychologists’ offices.


           2047 – The first crude net was created.  It had a capacity of one hundred minds, and was very slow.


           2052 – The modern net was born.  It ran on the power of the minds that used it, plus several thousand managing computers.  The system promptly crashed, and, though a lengthy delay followed, was restored.  It crashed again.  Finally, engineer, Sarah Prince discovered that the system needed a minimum of three thousand minds to maintain its integrity, and the larger the number, the more powerful the resulting matrix.  LinkMind, Inc., hired people to work eight hour shifts, just staying on the net.  The “life penalty” was also popular – a criminal was condemned to spend time on the net, where teams of psychiatrists were ready and waiting to help him.  The maximum number of minds the net could handle was eighty thousand.


           2055 – Another advancement occurred, and the net’s capacity increased to six hundred thousand.


           2057 – A maximum capacity of an incredible three thousand million minds was possible.  The birth rate dropped slowly, and was then just above the death rate.


           2059 – People were complaining that they only felt alive and fully able while on the net.  The combined power of millions or billions of minds dulled the experiences of everyday life.  Many cases of “neticide”, a condition where the person stays on the net until the physical body dies, were beginning to be recorded.  The birth rate fell to well below the death rate.


           2061 – A vast increase in the number of cases of neticide was recorded, often upwards of twenty people a day.  A huge portion of the average person’s day, often up to twelve hours, were spent on the net.  Businesses shifted onto the net so that all their transactions took place there.


           I know that will not happen to me.  There are so many natural wonders that still have to be experienced first hand.  I remove the helmet, and am just myself again.  Looking out over the countryside, I can see Halley’s Comet rising over the treetops, its long white tail looking like an old man’s beard.  No, I thought, I will not fall victim to the perils of the net.  I can’t wait to check out the people on the link tomorrow….



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