Friday, March 28, 2008

The Internet? Bah! (1995)

Waxy.org has a link to a February 27, 1995 Newsweek article stating that this whole Internet thing is a bunch of hype. Author Clifford Stoll proclaims, "no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works." You can read the piece in its entirety here. Excerpts appear below.
Every voice can be heard cheaply and instantly [on the Internet]. The result? Every voice is heard. The cacophany more closely resembles citizens band radio, complete with handles, harrasment, and anonymous threats. When most everyone shouts, few listen.

. . . Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we'll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.

These expensive toys are difficult to use in classrooms and require extensive teacher training. Sure, kids love videogames--but think of your own experience: can you recall even one educational filmstrip of decades past?

We're promised instant catalog shopping--just point and click for great deals. We'll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet--which there isn't--the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

See also:
The Answer Machine (1964)

21 comments:

GeorgeKirk said...

Yeah, how could the Inter Net ever turn into a big deal? It's just a series of tubes!

Yep, this "prediction" ranks right up there with "Aeroplanes are a crazy idea that will never work", "No one will ever need a computer in their home" and "512k is all the RAM you'll ever need" as one of the worst prognostications ever.

Cory The Raven said...

I think he makes a some salient points about the problems of the introwebs, but underestimates the human willingness to go with the worse of two options. Many of his criticisms are quite right, but the Internet succeeded in spite of (and perhaps because of) them.

Chad said...

Thanks to the internet, I have been doing all of my schooling without a "physical teacher".

Dennis said...

At least he was right about no one buying newspapers over the Internet. That counts for something, right?

Wutzke said...

His last statement is probably the most egregious, actually; it is the very absence of (annoying, cloying, pushy) salespeople on the internet that make it so attractive. I can come and go, click around here and there, and not have someone interrupt every 5 minutes with "Can I help you?" and "That's a nice shirt" and "Hi, how are you?" I'm annoyed, thanks.

Janet said...

I get most of my news for free over the Internet. It's my primary source of news. So he was wrong even when he was sort of right.

Anonymous said...

Dennis, with Amazon's Kindle, you can subscribe to (i.e., pay for) newspapers, so now even that prediction was wrong. ;-)

Isabelle said...

He certainly lacks vision in this article--but I've read one of his books and he was always a hesitant geek--always believed in humanity and was not a slave to the machine. He does have some good points, though: "Lacking editors, reviewers or critics, the Internet has become a wasteland of unfiltered data."

Wayne said...

I think I see a trend that predictions of what people think technology WILL be never happens, but when people predict what tech WILL NOT happen actually accurately predict what will happen, but in 180.

deven-science said...

Wutzke,

That was going to be my comment exactly.

Jonathan Badger said...

I don't think Stoll lacked vision or thought that the Internet was unimportant -- if you know who he is you'll know that he's been using the Internet before 99.9% of us knew it existed -- it's just that he didn't like hype. And he was right. When I hear bloggers claiming that they are the "new media" I can only think back to 1999 when the dot-com people thought they were the "new economy".

Anonymous said...

I'll give him credit - I couldn't have even come up with the idea for PayPal.

gizmogal said...

i lol'd. nice find.

Matt Agnello said...

Cacophony is still a major problem of the Internet. Luckily, we have a lot of ways of filtering that content: search engines, Digg, and the traditional gatekeeper model like a CNN or NYT. Instead of only the gatekeeper model being valid, now any method can be valid as long as it returns results the users like. This is more important than the blogosphere becoming a new mainstream medium. Making it easy to switch news sources keeps competition high and keeps users happy. And now, if they don't like any of the available options, they can always create one of their own. He was completely right when he cited cacophony as one of the Internet's central problems. So far, the most successful orgs have been the ones who can crush cacophony the best.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget peak oil, food shortage, and recession brought about by major financial problems. All of these will affect the availability of resources needed to continue operating Internet technology.

Anonymous said...

The fact that he was using the Internet so early accounts for nothing. I'm often surprised at how people who started as visionaries can become luddites quite easily. If you go to most tech-related websites - reddit, slashdot, etc - you'll see "intelligent" people promptly flaming anything new with a burning passion.

However, I think if we read that article in context, much of this might have been because of the Internet bubble that existed at the time and eventually burst. There was the hype, and it was solid. I was quite flabbergasted at the time by the amount of crazy ecommerce ideas that popped up everytime. But to discount that we'll eventually reach a destination because we're going too fast already is blind negativity.

It's also funny how people always assume it's all black and white. They assume that if e-commerce exists, than physical commerce will cease to be, as if it was a complete replacement. That's hardly the case...

Frans said...

Even though I have nothing to add to the discussion, I just had to comment to say that I agree completely with Wutzke.

I don't have to drive between 5 and 30 minutes to get to the store (that being pretty much the maximum distance that would still possibly interest me in going there), but when I'm at the store I want to just simply browse the articles. Yet while at a store I do lack the power of the internet to come up with reviews about a product and a sales person walking around might be able to give somewhat of an impression, but he still wants to sell something, after all.

The absense of sales people is exactly what makes shopping on the internet much more pleasant. Besides, long before the internet we have had home shopping catalogues for decades, possibly longer (I'm not old enough to know). It's not very different from an electronic version of such a catalogue, except that it's always up to date.

Typing this gave me the time to think about it a bit longer, though. This got me thinking that maybe he's primarily talking in response to a sort of "e-shopping will completely replace 'classical' shopping" article written by someone.

Anonymous said...

"Besides, long before the internet we have had home shopping catalogues for decades, possibly longer (I'm not old enough to know)."

Yes, the Montgomery Ward catalogue started in 1872. It's totally moved online now.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, the Montgomery Ward catalogue started in 1872. It's totally moved online now."

Dude, you're OLD! LOL

Anonymous said...

Wonder what he has to say now

planet-tom said...

Cliff Stoll has written a number of books on this subject; Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway (1996), High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian (1999), LOGOUT (2002).

Not some Neo-Luddite, he uses computers and the Internet daily; he merely thinks there's more to life than the Internet, and as a classroom teacher, he thinks, with some justification, that the experience of being in a classroom is not replacable by sitting in front of your computer at home.

Also, he's a lover of libraries, and feels there's still a place for brick-and-mortar library buildings with real books.

Maybe you could...gasp....go to the library and check out some of his books if you're interested.