Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Reflection on "The Internet? Bah!"

Summary: In his stirring 1995 Newsweek piece, Clifford Stoll claims that we will come to know and depend on the internet as some predict. Stoll argues that the laptop screen will never replace a book, and that the raw information feeds of the World Wide Web will render online research unusable. Technology, Stoll says, will never replace human contact.

Response: It’s a little pleasing to read this article, a piece that didn’t stand true to the test of time even though it’s a little over than a decade old. It’s like reading those far-flung rare writings criticizing the idea of aerial transportation, or those suggesting humanity in slavery.
I don’t think Stoll really could’ve seen what would’ve happened, what tools would’ve been offered, and just how easy everything could’ve been. I do believe, however, he should’ve spent more time piecing together more examples to support some of his statements.
The idea of buying books and getting your news online? “Uh, sure,” Stoll writes, walking away from this sudden statement, forgoing any kind of logic to fuel his argument. This, in my opinion, accented the ignorance we witness when we look back on this article.
No Stoll, the internet does not do as much business as your mall does in 1995, but there’s no reason for you to believe that there could be any number of factors that shift the scale. At the very least, you should’ve acknowledged that this was the internet in its extremely early prime, that it had finally become something an ordinary person could access.
Stoll didn’t want to compromise, didn’t want to acknowledge that technology could make a great teacher’s education experience ever better. Or, in the cases of bad teachers, more important.
I have faith that Stoll is right in that nothing we can produce with our hands will ever match pure human contact, that no virtual reality, no matter how detailed and realistic, will replace those that surround us. In today’s day and age, most humans would struggle to survive without the dependency of others. We still need food, water, health care, sex, and all those other encounters that make us feel alive.
But unlike Stoll, I’m far too cowardly to predict that human contact would never willingly be replaced with artificial simulation. Who knows the number of pale monstrosities spending their lives locked at a computer, taking their online universities, chatting with their World of Warcraft friends online, ordering their pizza and Pepsi without having to speak a single word, and indulging themselves in the bottomless sea of porn that can make all of their misery go away for a couple of hours.

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