Friday, September 30, 2011

A Really Bad Prediction


I quote from "The Internet? Bah!" by Clifford Stoll, first published in Newsweek in February 1995:
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.
This is one of many examples of smart people making mistakes in prognostication of the impact of a new technology by assuming that the technology will not become better with time and effort, that the technological system will not spawn flocks of killer apps, and that the technology and its social construction will not evolve to produce something more useful and more used that what exists at the time of the forecast.

On the other hand, I think it useful to consider the dark side of the force. Are there things to worry about with respect to the growth of the Internet? Sure! We have become very dependent on the Internet, and so exposed to threats of cyber war, cyber terrorism, and cyber crime. The Internet is full of threats to public morality, and many of the ways that culture can evolve in the Internet era will be less than optimum. We are seeing systems of curation (e.g. librarians and expert booksellers providing advice), news gathering and the editing of news deteriorating as their old financial models are undermined by the Internet.

The question is how to worry about the realistic threats from the dark side without worrying unduly about  current failures in the technology that will likely be corrected in time by the normal processes of cultural and technological evolution.

1 comment:

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