Newsweek, in 1995, published an article by Clifford Stoll titled “Hype alert: Why cyberspace isn’t, and will never be, nirvana.”
Well, now it’s 15 years later. A relative blink of an eye. Hell, I can remember what I was doing back in 1995 - a kid playing with this newfangled thing called “the Internet,” that very few people understood but some visionaries had the foresight to realize was going to completely change the world.
Let’s see some of the areas where Stoll got it absolutely wrong:
“The truth in 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.”
Pretty much every newspaper has some online presence, from the largest New York Times publisher to the smallest hometown O-A News. Every instrument of government is now connected to the Internet, and contacting my representatives is online, making it easier than ever for them to ignore me.
He is correct that no CD-ROM will ever replace a teacher. Although we don’t use CD-ROMs anymore. But while all this technology is great, instruction will continue to be the domain of humans for the foreseeable future. However, technology certainly makes instruction easier and more fun.
Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.
Amazon.com. Barnes and Noble.com. Kindle. Nook. iPad. Buy wirelessly over the air anywhere I am.
Then there’s cyberbusiness. 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 obsolete. 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.
Yup. All that has happened. Moreover, I’ve done almost all that in just the last month! I buy all the time online. I haven’t bought an airline ticket any other way than online in years. Last weekend, when we went out to Melting Pot, I made our reservation online.
And while stores are not yet obsolete, there are certain times of the year - Christmas - I won’t go anywhere near a brick and mortar establishment. The crowds are terrible. But why should I, when I can do it all online and have it delivered to my door?
And the best part? I don’t have to deal with pushy salespeople! I’m not a moron - I know what I want and I can use the gasp Internet to research!
Computers and networks isolate us from one another. A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee.
I hear this one all the time, for years. I have one word: Facebook. Right now, thanks to the Internet, I am more connected to the lives of those around me than at any point in my life. And while he is correct that it isn’t a substitute for human contact, my social circle is now larger than at any other time ever. It makes it easier to arrange that human contact
Granted, we have luxury of 20/20 hindsight, but when someone talks about something “won’t” happen in the future, you should always think of this. Just because it wasn’t there in February of 1995 doesn’t mean that engineers wouldn’t solve the problems and get there. The surprising thing is that it happened so fast!
Moreover, if the innovators of the 90s had listened to luddites like Stoll (and lest you think this piece is ironic, he wrote a book that, no shit irony, is available at Amazon.com) we might not have had the complete information revolution that we’re still living through.
So never let anyone tell you you can’t do something. Stick with it, and look forward to seeing egg on their face in 15 years.