In what has to be one of the best “Boy I was wrong” moments in a long time, this Newsweek article from 1995 goes in depth about why the Internet will never be a big deal. The author, one of the foremost computer experts of the time, scoffs at the mere idea that the internet would be a big deal.
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.
Boy he is wrong. Not only is the trend towards the death of the common newspaper widely acknowledged, but we’ve also seen the growth of e-government.
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.
Not only does the growth of e-books and readers like Amazon’s Kindle and e-books in general, you don’t even have to buy newspapers online anymore! Most of the content is offered for free. And a pay-per-month subscription often takes care of the rest.
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.
My goodness how things have changed. E-commerce has taken off tremendously, with the big online retailers doing hundreds of millions of dollars in business. Stores aren’t necessarily obsolete, but we have seen some companies fall and become strictly online entities.
What’s missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact. Discount the fawning techno-burble about virtual communities. Computers and networks isolate us from one another. A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee.
This is one of the best quotes because the internet has become the dreamland of essentially avoiding human contact. The huge growth in online gaming from enterprises like World of Warcraft or Second Life suggests a way to socialize without physically being present. Tremendous leaps in social networking and the rise of the Facebook and it’s archaic counterpart MySpace suggest a growing desire for interaction without physicality. In fact, one would argue that we’re almost more connected than ever before. At a few clicks you can creep that person from your history class, or find out your cousin’s favourite band. All of a sudden we’re in this era of the complete lack of personal privacy, where people are more exposed than ever. It’s unbridled internet freedom.