Predictions About the Web From 1995

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Dec. 2 2013 8:39 AM

Predictions About the Web From 1995

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Nothing's gonna come of this.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Here's a very funny 1995 Newsweek piece by Clifford Stoll debunking all the hype about the World Wide Web.* I think it serves as a useful antidote to a certain genre of writing popular on the Internet today where people poke fun at excessive techno-hype from Silicon Valley types:

After two decades online, I'm perplexed. It's not that I haven't had a gas of a good time on the Internet. I've met great people and even caught a hacker or two. But today, I'm uneasy about this most trendy and oversold community. 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. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.
Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? 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.
Consider today's online world. The Usenet, a worldwide bulletin board, allows anyone to post messages across the nation. Your word gets out, leapfrogging editors and publishers. Every voice can be heard cheaply and instantly. 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. 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.
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This comes via Chris Geidner. And to give Stoll his due, the Web hasn't lived up to the full maximum capacity of its dreams. Relatively few people are full-time telecommuters, for example, and efforts to genuinely replace traditional teaching with online instruction have been disappointing so far. But already we're at a point where computer networks have changed the way government works enough that the inability to execute a major IT procurement initiative correctly has been the dominant political story of the fall. The publishing and media industries have been completely transformed. Almost everyone who learns things uses the Web as a useful supplement to classroom instruction.

Correction, Dec. 2, 2013: This post originally stated that Clifford Stoll's article appeared in Time magazine. It was published in Newsweek.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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