EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO, astronomer Clifford Stoll wrote an opinion piece for Newsweek about a burgeoning phenomenon, the internet.
Entitled “Why the Web Won’t Be Nirvana”, Stoll told us that the usefulness of the internet was limited and the exciting future everyone was talking about would not come to be.
Stoll has since recanted some of these beliefs, saying the 1995 essay was a “howler” - and though he is right about some things, we can see why.
Buying books and newspapers online – pah:
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.
In fact, online shopping will NEVER take off:
We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. 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.
There’s no way to properly search for useful information:
Logged onto the World Wide Web, I hunt for the date of the Battle of Trafalgar. Hundreds of files show up, and it takes 15 minutes to unravel them—one’s a biography written by an eighth grader, the second is a computer game that doesn’t work and the third is an image of a London monument.
Just a few short years later, Google was born. And then Wikipedia came along. And then we never had to really hunt for information again.
The connection is too slow to get anything done:
…my search is periodically interrupted by messages like, “Too many connections, try again later.”
Too many connections! Ah. God be with the days.