Oh, hindsight bias. Looking back on Clifford Stoll’s article “The Internet? Bah!,” it’s easy to laugh at his prediction that the Internet wouldn’t become a part of every day life.
“Nicholas Negroponte…predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Internet. Uh, sure,” Stoll says smugly. Well, just take a look at all of the newspapers and bookstores going out of business, falling victim to the ever-expanding Internet.
Maybe back in 1995 it didn’t look like the Internet would succeed, but trying to say now that the Internet won’t continue to obsolete things we use today just sounds like a refusal to move with the changing times. I do find it sad that newspapers are closing (I mean, I am a journalism major!) and that stores like Borders are shutting down, but it’s not something we can avoid.
It’s all about adaptation, as we’ve seen throughout history. The radio was the go-to source for news and entertainment, and then along came the television. The television, while it became the primary source of information and entertainment, did not obsolete the radio. Instead, radio stations adapted, and now, they play music and host talk shows.
One comment Stoll makes is that human contact is missing from cyberspace—a statement that gives me chills because I think about how much time we stay plugged in and lose ourselves in cyberspace. The Internet will never be a satisfactory replacement for the relationships we need as human beings. As comforting as it can be to talk to someone on Skype when you’re away at college or on a business trip, there’s nothing like being able to talk to someone face to face in person. What scares me is that we’ll become so absorbed in our digital worlds that these in-person relationships will get lost. I’m hoping this will never happen, but it is a thought that lingers in my mind sometimes.
I find it interesting that once the Internet truly started becoming a reality in the mid 1990s, people dismissed it. However, looking back to the 1980s, when William Gilbson’s story “Neuromancer” was published, it was predicted that people would not only use an Internet-like tool but also become addicted to cyberspace. Flash forward to the year 2011, and we’re running around with our laptops and smartphones, checking emails and updating statuses. I think it’s fascinating that people predicted the long-term future better than they were able to when the future was becoming the present.