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The Internet - Where You And I Will Be Spending The Rest Of Our Lives
February 21, 2010 5:32 PM   Subscribe


 
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.

Let's all point and laugh now.
*points*
*laughs*
posted by deacon_blues at 5:38 PM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Uh, Mosaic came out in 1993, and the first version of Netscape Navigator was late 1994. Not to mention that we had graphical access to online content through other software (I think either Gopher or some really early version of WWW existed for Prodigy for DOS -- in either case, it definitely supported graphics).
posted by spiderskull at 5:39 PM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Haha, I felt this way too. Which is why I missed The Bubble, and am not rich and retired and doing two chicks at the same time.
posted by orthogonality at 5:39 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not into the pointing and laughing, I thought it was interesting that 1995-96 was when The Internet As We Have Come To Know It was born, and how alien and unpredictable it seemed from the other side of that line. Thanks *to* the internet, we can easily read about the forecasts and mindsets about it before it got to be all over.
posted by The Whelk at 5:41 PM on February 21, 2010


I like the way (almost) everything he says won't happen, happens.
posted by jeoc at 5:41 PM on February 21, 2010


Sure, he had a whole book of that shtick (of which this article appears to be essentially an indifferently disguised plug). Plenty of what the starry-eyed cheerleaders of the internet had to say fifteen years ago has turned out to be a sack of crap too.
posted by nanojath at 5:43 PM on February 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Like how I think it would be great if we could just as easily read people's first impressions of representational painting and oils as a way to communicate (Which, BTW My Name Is Red is great for)
posted by The Whelk at 5:43 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


The result? Every voice is heard. The cacophany more closely resembles citizens band radio, complete with handles, harrasment, and anonymous threats.

Not much has changed, it seems.

no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher

While his predictions on the news are pretty much wrong, he's got a point here. The online classes I've taken don't actually assess whether students have watched the lecture videos or read the material or even learned anything, they assess students' ability to search on Google. And you can't just raise your hand and ask a question. Strangely, the classes cost the same, even though grading is done by computer and the professor seems to be only minimally involved.

E-learning is a proverbial crock.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:44 PM on February 21, 2010 [10 favorites]


Back issues of wired are usually great for hilariously wrong predictions of the future, all this one:

Push

is starting to look a hell of a lot more prescient than it did just a few years ago.
posted by empath at 5:44 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


(err, alTHOUGH this one:)
posted by empath at 5:44 PM on February 21, 2010


Well, his main model for "online community" was USENET.

Bad idea.

Oh well. Isn't this the same Stoll who wrote that book about helping the FBI catch that German hacker who was breaking into government and university nets? In the book he came across as a bit naïve and myopic on how technology intersects with culture.

I wonder what he thinks now?
posted by clvrmnky at 5:45 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


What the Internet hucksters won't tell you is tht the Internet is one big ocean of unedited data, without any pretense of completeness. 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. 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. None answers my question, and my search is periodically interrupted by messages like, "Too many connectios, try again later."
Where to start?

Real life is also one big ocean of unedited data. We've just evolved mechanisms to help us navigate it. (Appeal to authority being a big one.) That those mechanisms hadn't evolved in 1995 should not have been surprising. The completely irrelevant error message is a deliberate smokescreen and, ironically, his Newsweek editor should have edited it out.
posted by DU at 5:45 PM on February 21, 2010


I wonder what he thinks about 4chan.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:45 PM on February 21, 2010 [9 favorites]


Some background on Stoll might be useful.

This was also discussed over at reddit the other day.
posted by sien at 5:45 PM on February 21, 2010


(I mean the article was one of those "hey look at my provocative opinions! Oh have I mentioned I wrote a book?" pieces at the time it was published - not an issue today).
posted by nanojath at 5:45 PM on February 21, 2010


Clifford Stoll of Newsweek? Surely his authorship of The Cuckoo's Egg is far more relevant to his technology prognostication.

But Mosaic came out way before 1995!
posted by autopilot at 5:47 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


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. None answers my question, and my search is periodically interrupted by messages like, "Too many connectios, try again later."

To be fair, the World Wide Web before Google pretty much sucked. People take it for granted, but its true.
posted by empath at 5:47 PM on February 21, 2010


On a non-preview, clearly everyone else knows that he wrote a book, too.
posted by autopilot at 5:48 PM on February 21, 2010


I love Cliff Stoll's TED talk.
posted by /\/\/\/ at 5:49 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, I probably would have bet against wikipedia. Shows how much I know which is the sum total of whatever I look up on wikipedia.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:49 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: the Internet has become a wasteland of unfiltered data
posted by idiopath at 5:49 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I will say this - I searched Google for "date battle tralfager" (sic) and it delivered the (presumably) correct date thrice - and the fourth return was this, heh.
posted by nanojath at 5:50 PM on February 21, 2010


I'm trying to remember what I did on the web before google and wikipedia made it actually useful.

I looked up the 'cool site of the day', which was never that cool.

I read Suck, slashdot and aintitcool.

I ordered stuff from Amazon.

I looked for mp3s with altavista.

I read Delphi forums.

I think that's pretty much it.
posted by empath at 5:50 PM on February 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


Play him off, Keyboard Cat.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 5:51 PM on February 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


The Internet? Bah!
Hype alert: Why cyberspace isn't, and will never be, nirvana
By Clifford Stoll | NEWSWEEK
From the magazine issue dated Feb 27, 1995
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.
It's still a hodgepodge of sites, though some have risen above the noise. Salespeople are now friends and strangers, people who provide feedback on their purchases and automated suggestion algorithms ("Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought ..." or "Other customers suggested these items ..." or "What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing This Item?" - all as seen on Amazon).

Computers still haven't replaced teachers in classrooms, simply because teachers can adapt on the spot to how students react, and what they need. If they didn't understand a lesson from one viewpoint, the teacher can provide another. Maybe we'll get A Young Lady's (or Lad's) Illustrated Primer, maybe.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:53 PM on February 21, 2010


You know, I was on the Internet from the time it first started to get commercially viable for ISPs to exist. And I totally missed that enormous fortunes could be made. I just thought it was a neat, fun way to talk to people, and the commercial implications whooshed past far, far overhead.

Of all the mistakes I've made in my life, that was probably the one that tops the cluelessness chart.
posted by Malor at 5:55 PM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]




the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

Good!

There's a certain breed of people who looks upon the annoyances and vestigal features of any present era as a necessity. The salesperson is one of those annoyances: he's a gatekeeper whose interests are aligned with his own and his employer's, not yours. In certain cases, a salesperson may be a necessary evil whose self-interest may lie in serving a customer well, but when the internet was able to get rid of salespeople when it came to consumer shopping, it turned out to be a benefit, not a cost.

In the embryonic days of online commerce, I never thought to myself, "gee, I sure wish there was a salesperson to help me out here!" Stoll sounds like the sort of agèd crank who's bitter that he has to add his own milk and sugar to his coffee at Starbucks.
posted by deanc at 6:07 PM on February 21, 2010 [8 favorites]


and the commercial implications whooshed past far, far overhead.

Oh, man. As everyone was saying that enormous fortunes were going to be made -- and even while many were making them -- I kept thinking the Net was just a fad and would never grow mainstream.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 6:08 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


from article: “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.”

deacon_blues: “Let's all point and laugh now. ¶ *points* ¶ *laughs*”

Hey, don't laugh. He was absolutely correct. It's absolutely ridiculous: people buying books and newspapers straight over the internet? Never gonna happen.

I mean, buying? Seriously?
posted by koeselitz at 6:10 PM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Acme Klein Bottle: "Acme Klein Bottle by Cliff Stoll - since 1996, owned, operated, and mismanaged by Cliff Stoll ... I last updated this page on February 3, 2010"

I have very clear memories of being actively angered by both Silicon Snake Oil and Cuckoo's Egg, but I would never ever say that Stoll is not a member of the founding culture of the internet and in many ways a good-natured goof.

Much of his concern about both the hacker and the enlargement of internet culture seem to me to be founded on a sort of exclusionary exceptionalism which I abhor. I found his concern for access vetting and deploration of the impending great unwashed disorganized influx of commerce, superstition, self-aggrandizement incredibly aggravating; I took it far too personally and to this day don't quite know why.

I think I wanted to like the guy, but his own self-portrayal laid him out as a kind of hippy snob, and boy did that punch buttons.

I kinda like the Klein bottle site, I have to admit, but what I like about it is its' timecube / dr bronner unconcern for norms of presentation. I would guess that Stoll digs Dr. Bronner; it's sad to me that ten years ago he didn't see how the internet opened the door to a universe of Dr. Bronners.
posted by mwhybark at 6:11 PM on February 21, 2010 [7 favorites]


If that prediction were true, perhaps millions of people would have been spared Mafia Wars and Farmville addictions...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:30 PM on February 21, 2010


Stoll's main point in both Silicon Snake Oil and High-Tech Heretic and even, to some extent, Cuckoo's Egg is not "Computers suck" it's more "Be wary of anyone that pushes computers as a panacea for all that ails us."

And sure, some of the examples in the book are laughably quaint, but c'mon, what predictions aren't 15 years later?

But some really aren't. I'm still waiting for someone to make a good case for computers in the classroom rather than a human teacher. Electronic card catalogs do still suck. And you are better off planting an actual garden rather than a Farmville.
posted by madajb at 6:57 PM on February 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


Also, I have an Acme Klein bottle and it makes an excellent vase.
posted by madajb at 6:58 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth. A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where--in the holy names of Education and Progress--important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued.

Preach!
posted by MikeMc at 7:35 PM on February 21, 2010


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. No interactive multimedia display comes close to the excitement of a live concert... While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth. A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where--in the holy names of Education and Progress--important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued.

Truth.

That the network has become a shinier, more effortless, more seductive devourer of our time, that it grabs and holds our attention now in a way that it couldn't in 1995, does not change the fact that when you're sitting on your ass in the dark, staring at a computer screen, you're sitting on your ass in the dark, staring at a computer screen.
posted by killdevil at 7:36 PM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


spiderskull: "Uh, Mosaic came out in 1993, and the first version of Netscape Navigator was late 1994. Not to mention that we had graphical access to online content through other software"

Yes, Viola in the late 1980s was a nifty hypermedia browser for Next, and in 1992 --> 1993 it became fully HTTP-enabled to do graphics, stylesheets, and scripting.
posted by meehawl at 7:45 PM on February 21, 2010


Wait... This guy sells bottles with zero volume on an internet that will never be any good for selling things?

I can't wrap my head around that one.
posted by The Potate at 7:53 PM on February 21, 2010


The summer of 1995 was when I went from offline computer geek to internet nerd and web page programmer. I sort of understood that this was Something Special, and possibly a Goldrush, but rather than prospecting for gold, I stayed back at camp and made and sold shovels (translation - I've done nicely as a programmer for web back-ends)

I bought Clifford Stoll's book "Silicon Snake Oil",when it came out, you've reminded me that it's time for a re-read.

The Internet has become both a blessing and a curse to public discourse and politics. We know how it was a boost for Obama's campaign, but it's also been life-support for various kinds of stupid. I like to check out some Canadian conservative blogs, to see what's on their tiny minds, and to occasionally take potshots. One thing I've noticed is how their followers only visit like-minded websites, they do little or no corroborative research, and they're openly hostile to new viewpoints, however well-supported they may be.

It occurred to me that the Canadian conservative blogosphere was like a pack of dogs milling about and sniffing each others' butts continuously. They don't find out anything new, and most of what they do take in is crap.

I suppose the Tea Party scene is like that as well...

Conservative organisers are well aware of this, and, at least in Canada, some of the conservative blogosphere is run and managed by party hacks, who direct and seed the conversations with their party talking points.

You can lead a horse to the web, but you cannot make him Google.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:01 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


"The first graphic browser" was also the first browser, Tim Berners-Lee's own browser for the NeXTstation. Text browsers came significantly later, in fact.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:07 PM on February 21, 2010


Here's my Cliff Stoll story. There was once this long-running phone conference of phone phreaks who got ahold of Cliff's home number. So they called & chatted with him about what he was doing, such as painting his closet (purple) & baking cookies (oatmeal raisin). Another time they called & got his answering machine, so they used a social engeineering trick to charge an operator-assisted call to a third party to his line, with one of the phreaks playing the role of Cliff talking over the machine. When they called back about a week later Cliff wasn't home & his machine again picked up & announced this message to callers in a slow, deliberate voice: "No no no no no no no". He was taking no chances.
posted by scalefree at 8:31 PM on February 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Electronic card catalogs do still suck.

Whaa? I haven't even seen a physical card catalog in years, but being able to access a library's catalog from anywhere and reserve a book just like that, that's great! You can't do that with cards in a wooden box.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 8:40 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Crazed-woman-at-a-Cliff-Stoll-Silicon-Snake-Oil-reading-at-Printer's-Ink-in-Palo-Alto: Keep the computers out of the school for the hearts of the children!
Cliff Stoll: Say that again!
CWAACSSSORAPIIPA: Keep the computers out of the school for the hearts of the children!
posted by stevil at 8:49 PM on February 21, 2010


Stoll tangent: My wife (then girlfriend) and I were students at Berkeley when The Cuckoo's Egg came out, and we both read it and enjoyed it, along with PBS's Nova adaptation of the story. Some time later, she was working at a local stereo store when Stoll came in to buy something. When he was paying at the cash register, he started to pull out his ID to show it to her, but she stopped him, saying, "That won't be necessary, Mr. Stoll. We know who you are."
posted by The Tensor at 8:51 PM on February 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


Stoll's TED talk was fantastic. Thanks for that link.
posted by bokane at 9:06 PM on February 21, 2010


Man, hindsight's a bitch, innit?
posted by Target Practice at 9:13 PM on February 21, 2010


That the network has become a shinier, more effortless, more seductive devourer of our time, that it grabs and holds our attention now in a way that it couldn't in 1995, does not change the fact that when you're sitting on your ass in the dark, staring at a computer screen, you're sitting on your ass in the dark, staring at a computer screen.

Well, yeah.

But when I'm sitting on my ass in my room reading, I'm still sitting on my ass in my room reading. There are great number of things we do alone that are actually part of a greater social context. Watching TV. Renting movies. Listening to music. We do these things alone, often sitting on our asses, and then we go on the internet and tell people they are wrong about what they are sitting on their asses reading or watching.

Pervasive computer networking is a wonder (and still limited to a tiny part of the world's population) and still has the sheen of newness on it for us. We have generations of kids growing up who are younger than the internet, and that's great. Some of us remember a time before that, however, and I specifically remember how cool it would be to connect my computer up to the world. And it /is/ cool. Way cooler than the little steps we took along the way, like FidoNet and CompuServ. (Though that CamelCase stuff was never cool. When are we going to be done with that?)

I think one would be foolish to read too much into this shine. But I think one would also be foolish to assume that just because most of us "participate" by sitting on our asses in the dark, that this pervasive network of information isn't just as world-changing as pervasive media or pervasive publishing.

Think about the world before the telephone (and I'm specifically thinking of the picture drawn by Bruce Sterling at the beginning of "The Hacker Crackdown") and how mundane and full of idiocy telephony is now. But it is still a wonderful and awesome technology -- still the killer app of the modern world -- and few were able to project how wonderful and awesome it was to become back in the those early, but not-too-distant days.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:13 PM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Electronic card catalogs do still suck.

So build a better one.
posted by joedan at 9:22 PM on February 21, 2010


I seem to remember a book, which I can't remember now and it's killing me, all about predictions by leading lights concerning the new technologies of the early 20th century like the telephone and I remember how opponents of the telephone rallied against it and laid out the various ways it would it would undermine society (people could use to to set up things in secret, you couldn't now exactly who you or anyone in your house was talking to, people you did not know could talk to you, plans could be changed rapidly, etc) and how each of those dire predictions came true and we just evolved around them to accommodate them - and the idea that those people would think our society was horribly fallen and depraved for doing so.
posted by The Whelk at 9:25 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


The online classes I've taken don't actually assess whether students have watched the lecture videos or read the material or even learned anything, they assess students' ability to search on Google. And you can't just raise your hand and ask a question.

I'm not sure most state-school college courses are any different. More importantly - what about the Internet makes it inherently incapable of giving students a good test, or facilitating real-time communication amongst a class and with a professor? Colleges have no interest in investing in online education and making it equivalent to the offline experience because it'll mean the death of their niche market - millions will take psych 101, econ 101 and calculus from the school that will offer it the cheapest, and they'll be left without their big profit centers.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:41 PM on February 21, 2010


Electronic card catalogs do still suck.

Compared with what? Not only can I search by title, author, subject and call number at my local library from anywhere, but I can also find the book by searching inside it for the relevant text and then find the library closest to me that has it.

My university had a million book library - not bad by any means, but just large enough to be a pain to search through by card catalog, just small enough that there wasn't always the book you needed. As part of the Washington Research Library Consortium, I got access to all of the books in all of the other university libraries in the area - now, from my dorm room, I could browse among 7 million+ volumes (good luck sorting through a card catalog that big, not to mention keeping it up to date as the collections at seven other libraries shifted), check to see whether the book was out, put in an order to retrieve the book from another library, get an e-mail when the book arrived, walk over to my library and pick it up at the front desk. I can't tell you how much more learning I got done as a result.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:50 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Still, at least all attempts at virtual reality still suck.
posted by Artw at 10:00 PM on February 21, 2010


I'm youthful and stupid and entirely too optimistic about the Internet. I know this already. But that aside, I've got to say I think the Internet is pretty freaking sweet.

Yeah, I spend a lot of time in front of this screen. If you want to be so reductionist about my life, then yes, that is what I do. I also spend an uncomfortable amount of time lying down, eight hours a day at most, and if you were to look at me then you could say I'm not using my twenty-four hours productively enough. We can be really absurdist and say something like "The fact is that if you're spending sixteen hours a day obeying electrical impulses that manifest themselves as consciousness, you're spending sixteen hours a day obeying electrical impulses that manifest themselves as consciousness."

I look at the computer screen. As I look at it, I am reading. And I am writing. I am studying design, or studying music, or studying cinema. I'm doing research into nearly everything in my life, whether it's fashion or cooking or preference of comedy, and learning more than it would've been possible for me to learn ten years ago. Again this might be youthful stupidity, but I feel this generation is going to see an outright boom in intelligence and talent. Not from everybody, perhaps, but there're a lot of people my age who've been afforded a comprehensive and extraordinary education in a variety of fascinating fields.

Whether it's the guy who got me reading Gladwell at fifteen when I was working on his start-up social network, or it's the people here on MetaFilter who got engaged in an argument over avante-garde music and introduced me to Lydia Lunch and No Wave, I've learned a frightening amount by essentially fucking around on the Internet. Heck, if it wasn't for Facebook and my ability to snoop on happy friends while I was wallowing in depression, I would never have transferred to the place I am now, and I'd be in the middle of spending a semester feeling like I'd killed myself.

As for the Internet not being able to educate people: I think the people doing "online education" missed the boat. They're doing it wrong. If they're still doing it wrong three years from now, I'll make myself a pile of money from their mistakes. Online education works not through textbooks, but through interactions: You get people who are curious about learning together with people excited about talking, and you have them converse with one another. I dunno how you'd do that more efficiently, but it works. I've learned more about the complexities of politics and economics from those rare, comprehensive, readable Internet comments written by brilliant people with some free time on their hands than I could have possibly learned from my peers.

Hell, it's not infrequent that I find myself in a class talking to my professors about how I think something they said in class is shallow or misguided. And it's sure as hell not my personal experience that lets be say things like that, because I'm too young to have meaningful personal experience. But there're so many arguments and debates online that if you spend a few years reading what other people have to say, you assimilate a lot of knowledge from a lot of places at once.

Thanks to some things I'd learned online, I was able this summer to convince a lot of thirteen-year-olds to put down Twilight and give Ulysses a try. That's a pretty fucking huge leap. Now one of those kids Facebook message'd me saying Ulysses was too steep, so I'm gathering a group of people together on Facebook to spend a few months reading it chapter by chapter, pretty much so that one person can benefit from having a lot of people talk about something tricky and trying to simplify it.

(By the way: Any Joyce fans on MeFi want to join in the fun? Or people daunted by the book who want to give this a try? I'm inviting all of you, provided you're willing in turn to write lengthy rambling messages to me about what makes you love your favorite book.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:04 PM on February 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


Stoll's main point in both Silicon Snake Oil and High-Tech Heretic and even, to some extent, Cuckoo's Egg is not "Computers suck" it's more "Be wary of anyone that pushes computers as a panacea for all that ails us."

this
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:18 PM on February 21, 2010


Yeah, madajb & BP are correct - he's no idiot. And a lot of intelligent geeks through the ages have been smart about seeing where this was headed, and keeping their minds above a blind silliness. Alan J Perlis had it down even more succinctly in 1982, at the front end of the 'personal computing in the home!' boom: “Bringing computers into the home won't change either one, but may revitalize the corner saloon.”

I guess I don't have the numbers in front of me, but for my money he's right.
posted by koeselitz at 10:55 PM on February 21, 2010


One can read this polemic as the earliest lazyweb ever. Looking back, I think he was most right about the social contact aspect. I'll honestly admit that -- like Malor -- I never quite saw how to monetize my early adoption, and in retrospect one of the biggest reasons was that I didn't see how the internet could work as a communications medium rather than, well, a broadcast channel.

I must now go check Facebook before retiring.
posted by dhartung at 11:08 PM on February 21, 2010


To be fair, the World Wide Web before Google pretty much sucked.

I'm trying to remember what I did on the web before google and wikipedia made it actually useful.

RIP Yahoo. RIP AltaVista. RIP WebCrawler, JumpStation, Aliweb, and W3Catalog. And RIP their forebears - Archie, Veronica, and Jughead.

Lest We Forget…
posted by Pinback at 2:01 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


and in retrospect one of the biggest reasons was that I didn't see how the internet could work as a communications medium rather than, well, a broadcast channel.

Yeah, that's exactly it. I thought it was a fad, like Kraftmatic, and while I loved it to death, all I saw was what was there, instead of what could exist. I remember thinking that I didn't want to bother with HTML, because I didn't really have anything interesting enough to say.

That last part was true, and for that matter, probably still is, but I think I'm glad I didn't learn HTML. I stayed more down in the network/security/OS level, and ended up being happy there. HTML coding was initially extremely lucrative, but it was easy, so salaries went steeply downward after a few years. That would have been rough.

Still, missing how important the Internet was, financially, was small-town thinking. I'd grown up in a small town, and was working in a small town, and just had no conception of the sheer amount of money in the world. I didn't really have any business experience, being in my early and mid-20s, and without a large enough worldview, the Internet doesn't look all that interesting.

Even the Netscape IPO didn't entirely convince me, but eventually I decided I was going to go to Silicon Valley and see what was up, and ended up prospering. I got to see a very interesting time up close.... I actually attended the Mozilla launch party, and I still have the T-shirt somewhere. But the whole time I was there, I knew that there was no way these companies were worth this much money, and that started my digging into bubbles, manias, and crashes.

We always overestimate change in the short run, and underestimate it in the long run. That's part of what causes manias, like the auto mania in the 20s. They were totally right that the car would change everything, but they expected it too soon. The car did end up completely transforming American life, but it took thirty or forty years, and probably didn't truly peak until the 1970s.

We've only had semi-universal broadband, now, for maybe three or four years, and look how quickly video delivery is changing. As bandwidth and reliability continue to increase, things are going to be very interesting indeed.
posted by Malor at 5:30 AM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


To be fair, the World Wide Web before Google pretty much sucked.

At least single-word searches didn't get you three million hits for fake web sites trying to game the PageRank system and trick you into playing redirect-pong across the internet to some crappy online web store.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:43 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


God! What a Debbie Downer of the internet. Just look up some porn, will ya, and leave the internet to us who love and enjoy it.
posted by stormpooper at 6:42 AM on February 22, 2010


As for the Internet not being able to educate people: I think the people doing "online education" missed the boat. They're doing it wrong. If they're still doing it wrong three years from now, I'll make myself a pile of money from their mistakes. Online education works not through textbooks, but through interactions: You get people who are curious about learning together with people excited about talking, and you have them converse with one another. I dunno how you'd do that more efficiently, but it works.

I don't know about "they", but I and my colleagues have been doing it this way at masters level for four years, and it works fine. I also sit down with a pile of marking at the end of each course, just like for face-to-face courses, and I mark it - there's no automated essay-marking program. But it's hardly the first one-to-one feedback the students have had from me; they get it all the way through the semester, which is more than can be said for every face-to-face course.
posted by rory at 8:32 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Salespeople have value. Anyone willing to lump them all into some category as unnecessary is naive, at best. Sure, there's lots of situations where they can be needless friction in the transaction. But there are a lot more where their expertise and familiarity with the products involved can save you a LOT of time and money. Why put yourself through the time and expense of becoming an 'expert' in something that's well outside your field?

To greatly oversimplify, what's your time worth, versus the commission a salesperson might be making? What's it cost you to spend, oh, say, 12 hours online trying to determine what's the best product and price for it? Versus calling up someone that sells products of that type, having a 5 minute conversation and having them get back to you with a price quote. Just how much did you save pissing your time away starting a browser screen? And to what end? Saving a pittance, learning a whole helluva lot more than you really NEED to know about it and squandering your time in the process.

Live a little longer and you start to appreciate the value of your time and the expertise of others.
posted by wkearney99 at 11:36 AM on February 22, 2010


I've been a little wary of Clifford Stoll since Silicon Snake Oil came out, but I just gotta say the title on this post is a great hat tip to the WORST MOVIE OF ALL TIME.
posted by redfisch at 12:14 PM on February 22, 2010


Interesting comment, Malor, but I question this:

We always overestimate change in the short run, and underestimate it in the long run.

Do we really? Sorry to be cliched, but where are the flying cars? I think a lot of the optimism of the 1990s was underpinned by the idea that the world would be completely and utterly unrecognizable by 2010. I don't think anyone -- Stoll included -- would have predicted that even with an instantly accessible, worldwide library database in place, most libraries would still have card catalogs too.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:17 PM on February 22, 2010


My Cliff Stoll story: in 1989 or so, just before I graduated, I interviewed at the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory for a position as a junior developer. One of my interviewers was a hyperkinetic frizzy-haired guy that somehow got me talking during lunch about my ideas for writing "better" computer viruses. During the interview, he wanted to see some of my code, so I tried logging into my Unix account back at school. My account was mysteriously disabled. So, I logged into a secondary account I knew and "talk"ed to the admin, who in angry realtime chat proceeded to chew me out for hacking the system... in front of Cliff Stoll... who had just published Cuckoo's Egg. (I hadn't heard of it at the time, and didn't realize until a year or so later who he was.)

I was surprised to still receive a job offer, but it was so low that I wouldn't have been able to afford to live in Cambridge on it.

(I hadn't actually deliberately hacked the system, I'd just been poking around under the theory that as an unprivileged user I couldn't do any harm. It turns out that by running one of the "yp" utils on this Pyramid Unix system, I somehow became the only user that could log in to the system. Oopsie.)
posted by argh at 3:55 PM on February 22, 2010


Do we really? Sorry to be cliched, but where are the flying cars?

Well, that's a fictional advancement that didn't happen... what I'm talking about is the estimation of changes from real advancements that DO happen.

When something new is invented, especially if it's clearly important, like the Internet or the automobile, we imagine all the things that it will change, and we expect those changes to occur quickly. That doesn't happen; the rest of society, not to mention the economy, takes a long time to adjust to the new reality.

At the same time, there's a whole slew of secondary and tertiary changes that we typically don't see or badly underestimate. In the 1920s, they were probably imagining 'easy travel!' and being able to move goods around more quickly, but I bet virtually nobody foresaw the Interstates, the advent of the semi truck, the idea of eating bananas from Honduras on a regular basis, or the destruction of passenger rail and mass transit. And gridlock and global warming would have been right out. It took a long time for the rest of the economy to build the infrastructure to support the automobile, so the initial changes were much lower than forecast, particularly in economic activity, but over the long term, were much higher.

I suspect the same will prove true of the Internet. We can see that it's easy to talk to people and sell and buy things, but in the short run we wildly overestimated the amount of profit available in doing those things. (see: dotcom bubble). Some of the things we saw coming pretty clearly, like digital distribution of games and music, but I don't think very many people in 1995 would have predicted the success of Craigslist or Youtube or Hulu.

And I definitely don't think anyone saw the loss of a coherent cultural narrative; we are separating, online, into multiple separate cultures, full of hate and distrust of 'the other side'. With the nature of these self-reinforcing communities, and this groupthink is exceedingly obvious even on very intelligent sites like Metafilter, the participants become increasingly polarized, and increasingly unwilling to accept outside opinions. Witness, for instance, the absolute MeFi insistence that universal healthcare should exist, the absolute refusal to admit that we're already in a very deep fiscal hole, and the sheer level of rejection of those who simply said we couldn't afford it. I don't think MeFi of, say, 2003 would have been nearly so unanimous in the piling-on of divergent opinions. It's polite here, but it still happens. And it's a lot worse in most places on the Net. In a way, the Internet is tearing down the idea of America, the Great Melting Pot, instead turning us back into a bunch of tribes with tribal thinking.

I think it's entirely possible that the rise of the Internet is going to be a major driver in an eventual Second Civil War, because the sides aren't even talking to each anymore.... instead, they demonize their opponents, and talk only to themselves. That's one of the surest paths to violence I know, and I can't imagine anyone in 1995 seeing that coming.
posted by Malor at 7:03 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


*to each other
posted by Malor at 8:10 PM on February 22, 2010


Sorry to be late -- only discovered this thread today...
Electronic card catalogs do still suck.

Compared with what? Not only can I search by title, author, subject and call number at my local library from anywhere[google books], but I can also find the book by searching inside it for the relevant text and then find the library closest to me that has it.[worldcat]
So in order to effectively use your local library catalog, you have to visit 2 other non-related websites? Yeah, it pretty much sucks then. Granted, some library catalogs have in the past 2-3 years implemented some decent functionality, but it's still very expensive. No one on earth bends over and allows vendors to screw them like librarians do. (BTW, this site was still accurate at my university library until about 2 years ago.)
I don't think anyone -- Stoll included -- would have predicted that even with an instantly accessible, worldwide library database in place, most libraries would still have card catalogs too.
They don't.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:31 PM on February 26, 2010


They don't.

Hm, I'd like to see numbers on this. My data set consists mainly of San Francisco and rural South Dakota - which isn't a very big data set, but covers a pretty wide cultural range.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:51 PM on February 26, 2010


I live in Indiana and haven't seen a card catalogue in over a decade.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:45 PM on February 26, 2010


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