Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Web Secret #151: Why the Internet Did Not Fail

In 1995, Newsweek published an article "The Internet? Bah!" in which author Clifford Stoll predicted that the Internet would fail.

Three Word Chant! analyzed the original article. This post, in turn, gave rise to many fascinating reader comments.

What emerged is a compelling discussion.

First, let's examine 4 major predictions from the original 1995 article:

1. "Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems.

Baloney... The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher..."

2. "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."

3. "The Internet is one big ocean of unedited data... Lacking editors, reviewers or critics, the Internet has become a wasteland of unfiltered data. You don’t know what to ignore and what’s worth reading."

4. "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.... 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."

So why didn't the Internet fail?

As one perceptive 2011 reader noted (with the benefit of hindsight): "This is a fascinating look at the fog of the future. How often we assume that today’s current technical challenges are tomorrow’s impossibilities.

Barely five years later, Google came on the scene and solved the “internet filtration” problem."

Stoll also failed to consider the following innovations (in no particular order):
  • wireless technology
  • Paypal
  • Kindles and iPads
  • Cloud computing
And I could go on and on.

Fundamentally, I think the author failed to grasp our human capacity for innovation or our capacity for learning and adaptation.

The same commentator goes on to write, "I wonder what today’s equivalent of the Stoll prophecy is?"


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