The Internet? It will never work!

Bah, humbug...

Ah, 1995, the early days of the Internet. Windows 95. The Clinton era. Apollo 13. The Unabomber Manifesto. And in Newsweek, a columnist says that the Internet is all hype. He said:

“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.”

I smell a fallacy. This is what we call, a straw man. Setting up ludicrous statements so that we can knock them down later. Who are “they”?

“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.”

True of the last two statements, but let’s not talk about how daily newspapers are faring these days.

“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.”

Exhibit A: The Kindle. Exhibit B: The Netbook. The prosecution rests m’lohrd.

“Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.”

OMG, imagine that, buying books online? Whoever heard of such thing?

“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.””

Hmmmm… Battle of Trafalgar on Wikipedia. How’s that for the unedited Internet?

“Then there are those pushing computers into schools. We’re told that multimedia will make schoolwork easy and fun. Students will happily learn from animated characters while taught by expertly tailored software.Who needs teachers when you’ve got computer-aided education? Bah. 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.”

So many links, so little time!

“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.”

Let’s quickly bypass the obvious straw man, has anyone ever claimed that e-commerce will make mortar shops obsolete? Anyway, e-commerce is doing nice and well, thank you very much. And yes, we use the Internet to shop, click for great deals, order airline tickets, make restaurant reservations, and negotiate contracts.

“And who’d prefer cybersex to the real thing?”

I will grant that one.

So kids, let this be a lesson. Never criticise a technology based on its current features.