Originally published in The Clarion | September 14, 2011
In last week’s article, I introduced Cliff Stoll, an astronomer, speaker, thinker and computer geek. His book, The Cuckoo’s Egg, both inspired and motivated me as a college student struggling to achieve a degree, and probably more importantly, direction in life. In February of 1995, Newsweek Magazine published an essay by Stoll, one that has recently resurfaced and in many circles has become quite a good laugh. While his ideas, thoughts and predictions do seem quite outlandish in 2011, the essay offers tremendous insight into the Internet and Web of the mid-1990’s. Some, if not most, of his specific predictions have proven faulty yet as a whole, there is a substantial amount of validity in the general ideas and theories he presented.
It would be advantageous to read Stoll’s essay for a full understanding of his thoughts and ultimately my examination of them. I have linked his article on my website at http://jimsharp.net/stoll, please feel free to click over and read the essay before proceeding. For starters, the title and subtitle of Stoll’s essay are typical for a work by him – The Internet? Bah! – Hype alert: Why cyberspace isn’t, and never will be, nirvana. Just like The Cuckoo’s Egg, his choice of title for this essay catches my attention and makes me want to read on. Let’s begin by defining the key word in his subtitle – nirvana is a state of perfect happiness; an ideal or idyllic place. Chalk one up for Cliff. I feel it’s fair to say that even after all of the technological breakthroughs and maturation of cyberspace since 1995, the Internet and Web are most certainly not ideal or idyllic places.
Unfortunately for Stoll, after such a fantastic title and subtitle, his essay begins with and almost entirely encompasses predictions that have proven mostly false. For starters, Stoll’s essay begins with quite a revelation about himself. The first sentence of his essay tells us that he has been online for two decades. Considering the essay was published in 1995, this should really put his viewpoints into a good perspective. He experienced the Internet essentially from its infancy, watching it grow from nothing more than a tool for academia to a commercial product that, to be fair, was not very commercial even in 1995. The world’s first graphical Web browser was only introduced in 1993 and in 1995 there were only a little over 6.5 million hosts on the worldwide network. It should be fair to say that the Web in 1995 was an infant in diapers.
Stoll’s first paragraph continues by mocking visionaries of the time who predicted telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms, electronic town meetings and virtual communities, and a more democratic government thanks to the technology. It should go without saying that Stoll’s idea of the future Web was skewed by blinders over his eyes. Nevertheless, a closer look at his ideas is in order. We will continue next week.