Monday, September 07, 2009

False Predictions about the Internet

There's a really interesting blog called Paleo-Future, which looks back at past views of the future. You could spend all day there just reading.

Here's a particularly interesting 1995 Newsweek article by Clifford Stoll, who was an early Internet guru based on his having been one of the first to track down a hacker, and the fact that he was rather charmingly wacko himself.

It's a notable article for (1) how assured Stoll sounds, and (2) how wrong he was. Among his prediction were:
  1. He wrote: "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."
  2. "How about electronic publishing? Try reading a book on disc. At best, it's an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can't tote that laptop to the beach. Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we'll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure."
  3. "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 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."
Basically, Stoll got everything wrong.

Predicting the future is very, very difficult. I learned that when way back when I was a pup of a freelance writer and trying to sell something -- anything -- I wrote a short article called "The Brave New Internet" that appeared in an alt-weekly called Metro, Santa Clara Valley's Weekly Newspaper in 1995. I got $40 for the piece. I tried to predict how Congress would act on efforts to control speech on the Internet, then a big topic of discussion. I was completely wrong in nearly every way, and I haven't tried to predict the future since.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Time for a wise person, as precious as diamonds; but right fool, it becomes like a soil, there is no point value.