Time Capsule: "Why the Web Won't be Nirvana"S

I still remember the first time I heard a commercial on the radio for a camera phone, I was driving to class. The commercial was one of those strange "reader's theater" style things, a little radio play. A female voice was talking to her friends on her cell about which shoes she should buy (yes, feminism in advertising). And then she was like, "I'll send you a picture, I'll take it with my phone!"

I thought it was the dumbest thing ever. I'd had a cell phone since freshman year of high school, and I thought a camera phone was an idiotic idea that would go nowhere. What was the point?

So when I read a curmudgeonly anti-internet article written way, way back in 1995 by some dude named Clifford Stoll in the back files of Newsweek titled, Why the Web Won't Be Nirvana, I'm a little more than understanding. I'm empathetic.

But whoa, you guys. It's amazing how recently — 1995! — people thought things like...

On digital readers (Kindles, et al):

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.

On the internet and government:

Won't the Internet be useful in governing? Internet addicts clamor for government reports. But when Andy Spano ran for county executive in Westchester County, N.Y., he put every press release and position paper onto a bulletin board. In that affluent county, with plenty of computer companies, how many voters logged in? Fewer than 30. Not a good omen.

On the internet and business:

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 would be easy to pick on Stoll, who is just wrong after wrong after wrong. (I wonder how amazed he is today? I hope he's amazed.) But instead I'm mesmerized by the wrongness, the incomplete thinking...

His arguments depend — the business one is an especially good example — on stagnant value systems. An idea that worth of different constructs is the same across generations, and doesn't evolve with changing access to information, ie: technology. That's Stoll's failure. It was my same failure way back when I thought camera phones were stupid. I was only thinking of cell phones within their current framework.

It's a great reminder to open our brains up to thinking with really out of the box perspectives whenever we can. I think this goes for all things — not just up-and-coming tech. Social issues are fraught with people who can only think of problems in the value systems where they were introduced. We have to always be thinking about the changing cultural environment, too.