Hello! This is Arthur Clarke, speaking to you from my home in Colombo,
As I approach my 90th birthday, my friends are asking how it feels
like, to have completed 90 orbits around
Well, I actually don't feel a day older than 89!
Of course, some things remind me that I have indeed qualified as
a senior citizen. As Bob Hope once said:
"You know you're getting old, when
the candles cost more than the cake!"
I’m now perfectly happy to step aside and watch how things
evolve. But there's also a sad side to
living so long: most of my contemporaries
and old friends have already departed.
However, they have left behind many fond
memories, for me to recall.
I now spend a good part of my day dreaming of times past, present
and future. As I try to survive on 15
hours’ sleep a day, I have plenty
of time to enjoy vivid dreams. Being completely
wheel-chaired doesn't stop my mind from
roaming the universe – on the contrary!
In my time I’ve been very fortunate to see many of my dreams
come true! Growing up in the 1920s and
1930s, I never expected to see so much
happen in the span of a few decades. We
'space cadets' of the British Interplanetary
Society spent all our spare time discussing
space travel – but we didn’t
imagine that it lay in our own near future…
I still can't quite believe that we've just marked the 50th anniversary
of the Space Age! We’ve accomplished
a great deal in that time, but the 'Golden
Age of Space' is only just beginning.
After half a century of government-sponsored
efforts, we are now witnessing the emergence
of commercial space flight.
Over the next 50 years, thousands of people will travel to Earth
orbit – and then, to the Moon and
beyond. Space travel – and space
tourism – will one day become almost
as commonplace as flying to exotic destinations
on our own planet.
Things are also changing rapidly in many other areas of science
and technology. To give just one example,
the world's mobile phone coverage recently
passed 50 per cent -- or 3.3 billion subscriptions.
This was achieved in just a little over
a quarter century since the first cellular
network was set up. The mobile phone has
revolutionized human communications, and
is turning humanity into an endlessly
chattering global family!
What does this mean for us as a species?
Communication technologies are necessary, but not sufficient, for
us humans to get along with each other.
This is why we still have many disputes
and conflicts in the world. Technology
tools help us to gather and disseminate
information, but we also need qualities
like tolerance and compassion to achieve
greater understanding between peoples
I have great faith in optimism as a guiding principle, if only
because it offers us the opportunity of
creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. So
I hope we've learnt something from the
most barbaric century in history –
the 20th. I would like to see us overcome
our tribal divisions and begin to think
and act as if we were one family. That would be real globalisation…
As I complete 90 orbits, I have no regrets and no more personal
ambitions. But if I may be allowed just
three wishes, they would be these.
Firstly, I would like to see some evidence of extra-terrestrial
life. I have always believed that we are
not alone in the universe. But we are
still waiting for ETs to call us –
or give us some kind of a sign. We have
no way of guessing when this might happen
– I hope sooner rather than later!
Secondly, I would like to see us kick our current addiction
to oil, and adopt clean energy sources.
For over a decade, I've been monitoring
various new energy experiments, but they
have yet to produce commercial scale results.
Climate change has now added a new sense
of urgency. Our civilisation depends on
energy, but we can't allow oil and coal
to slowly bake our planet…
The third wish is one closer to home. I’ve been living
in Sri Lanka for 50 years – and
half that time, I’ve been a sad
witness to the bitter conflict that divides
my adopted country.
I dearly wish to see lasting peace established in Sri Lanka as
soon as possible. But I’m aware
that peace cannot just be wished -- it
requires a great deal of hard work, courage
* * * * *
I’m sometimes asked how I would like to be remembered. I’ve
had a diverse career as a writer, underwater
explorer, space promoter and science populariser.
Of all these, I want to be remembered
most as a writer – one who entertained
readers, and, hopefully, stretched their
imagination as well.
I find that another English writer -- who, coincidentally, also
spent most of his life in the East --
has expressed it very well. So let me
end with these words of Rudyard Kipling:
If I have given you delight
by aught that I have done.
Let me lie quiet in that night
which shall be yours anon;
And for the little, little span
the dead are borne in mind,
seek not to question other than,
the books I leave behind.
This is Arthur Clarke, saying Thank You
and Goodbye from Colombo!
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Photo: Bircan Ünver, Light