Category: Technology

A View of the Internet from 1995

I just came across one of my favorite articles again today.  It’s a Newsweek feature from almost 15 years ago about whether the Internet would actually catch on or not.  The article, The Internet? Bah! Hype alert: Why cyberspace isn’t, and will never be, nirvana, attempts to bring a dose of reality to the “Internet craze” sweeping the nation.  Written in 1995, the author starts the article with this quote:

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. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic. Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense?

Reading it now, the first part seems like it has to be an Onion article.  While most are laughable now, I don’t want to focus on what he got wrong.  Here’s a quick taste of some of Clifford Stoll‘s predictions from 1995:

  • “The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper”
  • “No computer network will change the way government works”
  • “You can’t tote that laptop to the beach”
  • “We’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.”
  • We won’t be able to find the information we want
  • The Internet won’t be useful in government
  • Computers in schools? “Bah. These expensive toys are difficult to use in classrooms and require extensive teacher training.”
  • “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.”

He was clearly wrong about pretty much everything in the first section of the article, but I think he gets the second part partially correct:

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? While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth. A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where–in the holy names of Education and Progress–important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued.

I think he was right that ultimately, online connections are indeed “limp substitutes” for the real thing, but he missed that the Internet could help people make connections with people they never would have had the chance to meet in their non-Internet lives.  I’ve made connections with people though my blog, facebook, twitter and other networks like Brazen Careerist, who I never would have run across if I weren’t online.

This article brings up another interesting issue.  People love this article now because Stoll was so wrong about so many things.  How will people in my generation look 15 years from now?  We have created huge amounts of content on blogs and social networks, much more than previous generations.  Much of this content contains strong options.

Surely many of us will be as wrong as Stoll was in his Newsweek article.  In 1995, Stoll’s article was fairly reasonable.  He was well informed, involved in the industry and took a strong stand on an issue he believe in.  Unfortunately, today it looks ridiculous.  There is no way Stoll could run for office and win.  His opponent would have more fun than Republicans who make fun of Al Gore for “inventing the internet.”

If an informed stakeholder can get something so wrong, isn’t it likely that most of us will probably write something that will be completely wrong 15 years down the road?  Will articles like these preclude us from running for office?  How about getting a job?  Should we be worried about how history will view our blog posts?

Like unflattering pictures posted online, I hope that blog posts that history proves to be wrong are forgiven.   As long as the posts were well written, logical and thought out, posts where we are wrong should not count against us.  Knee-jerk reactions or Glenn Beckesque rants SHOULD be held against the writer.  If not, we will have some boring future leaders who weren’t even willing to take a stand when they were young!

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The Curious Case of Internet Anonymity

Marcus Fitzgerald, the younger brother of NFL star WR Larry Fitzgerald apologized for writing disparaging remarks about QB Kurt Warner on his Twitter account.  LB Nick Barnett, LB Robert Henson and C Kevin Love have their own Twitter snafus.  Two Wisconsin Deputy Sheriffs burn a dummy wearing a co-worker’s uniform and post the video on Facebook, leading to their dismissal.  Employees at the National Science Foundation were fired for looking at porn at work for 331 days.  What do these incidents have in common?  They are all examples from the last week of people doing something stupid on the Internet and being SHOCKED when they are caught.

It seems like I hear about another story like this every day and I can’t seem to figure out why.  When the Internet first starting becoming popular in the late 90s, it was not uncommon to hear about people being fired for looking at porn at the office, buying illegal items over the Internet or trying to meet up with underage children.  I chalked that up to stupid people bringing their shady offline behavior to the Internet and not understanding that the Internet is basically public.   I figured that people did not realize that pretty much anyone could find out about what they were doing since the Internet was new.

Fast forward to 2009.  It’s been a decade since people started to become familiar with the Internet.  Everyone in the United States should have heard hundreds of these stories in the last ten years.  It wouldn’t surprise me if most Americans know at least one person personally who has done something stupid online that has led to adverse consequences.  Why does it continue to happen and why are people who slap videos up on YouTube shocked when they are discovered?  Why do people have a sense of anonymity and privacy with the Internet, when in reality, the Internet is probably the least private place in the world?

Why do underage drinkers post pictures of themselves on Facebook for the police or school officials to find when they would not post those pictures on their lockers?  Why do teens send nude pictures of themselves to their classmates over their cellphones or on Facebook when they would never give pass around a hard copy?  Why do grown men go to chat rooms and try to proposition children and go to meet them, even after the popularity of Chris Hansen’s To Catch A Predator, when they would never approach a child on the street (or even on the phone) with the same advances?  Why do people post rants on their Facebook or Twitter pages when they would never put the same information into a newspaper or say it to the person’s face?  Why do people do illegal things and post them on Youtube or Facebook video when they would never send them to their local news station?  Why do people post all sorts of things online that they would be mortified to do in real life?  Why are they shocked when they are caught?

I truly don’t understand it.  They have to know better.  They have to have seen examples of people getting into trouble for posting things online.  I cannot figure out why people have a sense of anonymity online when in reality it is the exact opposite.

I think about 20% of the people who do these types of things are just stupid.  They are equivalent to the guy who walks into the grocery store and waits for an employee to walk by, then shoves a frozen turkey under his coat.  They just don’t get it.  There is another 5-10% of people who just want to be “YouTube famous” and will post just about anything to be popular.  There is no helping these people.

My hypothesis for the rest of the population is that people who are posting these types of things online are generally alone, in their office or their home, and are lulled into a false sense of security.  They think that they are alone at home, so how can anyone else see what they are doing?  I don’t think that they are crying out for help or trying to get caught.  I think there is something about the isolation that is caused by computers and the internet that gives people the idea that they being private and careful, when in fact, it is the exact opposite.  They view the Internet as their own personal world, without regard to the rest of the people who happen to inhabit their virtual world as well.

I wonder if this is the height of the problem and history will look back at 2003-2009 as the crazy years when people were naive about the Internet, posting whatever they wanted and doing whatever they wanted, without regard to the consequences.  It could also go the other way, where everyone becomes desensitized to the stupid things people do online, but I do not think so.

Help me understand.  What’s your hypothesis as to why people slap pictures on Facebook and videos on YouTube that can get them in trouble? Why do so many people have a sense of anonymity online?  Will it continue?

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Gmail’s Down…Now What?

I’m sure most people who depend on google for their email have noticed that gmail has been down for the past hour or so.  Its not that big of a deal for me today, since I can do most of my work offline today, but it has to be quite the inconvenience for lots of people.

I’ve seen seven Facebook statuses in the last 10 minutes bemoaning the fact that gmail is down.  It just reminds me how much we are all dependent on Google and of one of my favorite South Park Episodes, Over Logging.  Since you can’t work without access to email, you might as well go outside and enjoy the beautiful weather, or check out the South Park episode.

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I Trust Google With My Life…Almost

My internet went out the other day for a few hours when I wanted to get some work done (thanks Charter!). I couldn’t access my email, so I figured I’d do some work on my business plan. I quickly remembered that I store most of my documents on Google Docs, meaning that I couldn’t access them from home either. I spent the next few minutes writing this post on old fashioned college ruled notebook paper.

I trust Google with my life….almost. I have my email, calendar, documents, contacts, advertising campaign, photos and website analytics all in Google’s hands. I use Google maps to find out where I am going (google maps), view business reviews (search), and upload and view videos (youtube). I get my news in part from Google News. I used to use blogger, another Google service, to host my blog, but have since moved to hosting my own site on a wordpress platform. Google is so much more than a search engine and millions of people around the world trust google to protect and store their important data. Google Creep, as I like to call it, is Google’s amazing ability to become useful, if not necessary, to our daily lives.

I’ve never been one to put all of my eggs in one basket, but I realized I pretty much have with google. In the unlikely event of Google’s bankruptcy, failure due to hacking or natural disaster, I would be pretty much screwed. I bet millions of others would be in my shoes, too. Its amazing that we have not only allowed a company to permeate our entire lives as much as Google has, but we have embraced it, always asking for Google to do more.

Google is now pushing into electronic medical records, mobile phones and even renewable energy. It will be interesting to see if there is any backlash in the coming years about how much we depend on Google. As people move from hard drives toward storage on the internet, more and more people will become dependent on Google.

After I got my internet connection back up, I backed up all of my contacts and google docs onto my hard drive, which is backed up by Mozy. This is not an anti-google post and I doubt anything bad will happen to Google, but it was shocking to find how dependent I had become on Google and its services. I probably won’t change anything, but its pretty amazing. I can’t think of any other company that took over like Google has in the history of America.

What do you think? Are you as dependent on Google as I am? Do you have any strategies to combat Google creep as it takes over even more facets of our online lives? Do you think it is a bad thing?