A colleague here at The Media Kitchen just forwarded me a link to a Newsweek article written by Clifford Stoll from the February 27, 1995 issue. If you are in anyway attached to the technology/Internet/digital media world, you probably have read it… or should go back and read it. My colleague wanted me to verify that the article was real as it was so ridiculous. Sadly so, Clifford was waaaay off on his assumptions and it is real.
Here are some tidbits:
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.
We may not have electronic town meetings, but our meeting recap is certainly online. The community that I live in (in Westchester) has it’s own social network. Yes, that’s right. Commerce and business has certainly shifted online… just look at Amazon, Zapatos, [amongst others] and all of the mortar stores that have digital counterparts. We believe in Amazon and it’s online presence so much, that we attribute$36 billion dollars to it’s company (marketcap). ShopBop, eLuxury, BlueNile, and such all have setup digital only presence but many traditional fashion retailers, as traditional as they are (Nordstrom, Neimans, etc) have all setup e-commerce sites.
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.
I’ve said it time and time again… I rarely read the newspaper. My newspaper are my RSS feeds. While a teacher may not be replaced by a CD-Rom, look at University of Phoenix and Rosetta Stone. Learning through online platforms are powerful. And why can’t teachers exist on CD-Roms? Oh wait, I’ve not seen a CD-Rom in years! (other than music CDs)
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.
The man’s still right. We may not be using Usenet any more… but there is a lot of clutter online. This is where proactive and predictive filtering comes in… we’re not quite there yet, but we’ve started to see what is coming down the pipeline. I mentioned RSS above… this is what I’d call filter 1.0. While it’s not a great content filter, it’s a great site/feed filter. I know some content filters exist, but I’m not too privvy to them and I’ve not heard anyone speak really highly about them. Feel free to educate me in the comments section about this. I’m actually shocked that 13 years after this article comes out, we’ve not come a long way in the filtering aspect… but I can see why… due to needing structured information (say hello to the semantic web). There are a few A-list bloggers who shout louder than everyone else… but all-in-all, if you asked the average person in upstate NY who Michael Arrington is, they’d probably not know.
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.
Need I say more? Amazon Kindle. Sony Reader. Even a NY Times article on the future of electronic books.
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.”
You know, in 1995, Clifford was right. It has certainly come a long way since. Before booking a trip, I go to TripAdvisor.com to check out hotel reviews and information. Crowdsourced editing. We didn’t really have that back in 1995… but it’s here today. Look at Shopping.com or Cnet.com for reviews. Voila. Even my wife reviews restaurants over on HermanWeb. The content is now out there… the search engines, which are the new homepages btw (more on that in subsequent posts), determine which pages come up first… so if there are good reviews, they should come up higher because of people linking to them. As for the technical limitations of server requests… I think we’re pretty much over that by now… if your site is on Digg or TechCrunch, hopefully you can survive the massive traffic surge, but generally, most sites are experiencing majority of uptime. Before I leave the topic of reviews, I do believe the majority of current digital review systems are flawed – as a review is fairly subjective and if someone of a different demographic/HHI background reviews something, should their review equal your review? You need to compare apples from apples. There are some very smart people working on this right now…
These expensive toys are difficult to use in classrooms and require extensive teacher training. Sure, kids love videogames–but think of your own experience: can you recall even one educational filmstrip of decades past? I’ll bet you remember the two or three great teachers who made a difference in your life.
Every classroom since 3rd grade for me has had at least one computer. If computers in education wasn’t important, then OLPC (one laptop per child) wouldn’t exist… but wait, it’s hotter than ever.
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.
Point is made above. Also, add in Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak….
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. And who’d prefer cybersex to the real thing?
Twitter. AOL IM. Gtalk. FriendFeed. FriendFinder. LavaLife. Jdate. Match. eHarmony. Facebook. MySpace. Bebo. ASW. AlwaysOn. You get it.
It’s amazing to look back into history. Someone is going to read this post 20 years from now and laugh at me. I can’t wait to read it.