Thursday, February 03, 2005

Glaring Monstrosities

Near Near Future has some not entirely welcome news:

By shooting intense radio beams into the night sky, researchers with the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program created a modest neon light show visible from the ground. The technique could help them to clear up the enigma of what causes the pulsating natural light shows. And one day, it could be used to light a city or generate celestial advertisements.
As it happens, "celestial advertising" schemes were very popular in the late 1800s, and in fact, some firms did manage to display text and images on the clouds. Carolyn Marvin's fascinating book When Old Technologies Were New quotes one horrified response to these spectacles, which was originally published in an 1892 issue of Electrical World:
The awful invention deprives us of the last open space in the world on which the weary eye might rest in peace without being agonized by the glaring monstrosities wherewith the modern tradesman seeks to commend his wares.
In the end, it wasn't public disapproval that sank celestial advertisements, so much as the technical difficulties involved (for instance, a prospective ad for Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show got no further than the blazing word BUF before running out of space).

One has to wonder how many woefully stupid ideas that didn't quite get off the ground a century ago will be earnestly debated in years to come.

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