Imagining the Internet Predictions Project

"Imagining the Internet: Personalities, Predictions, Perspective"
By Janna Quitney Anderson
Foreword by Lee Rainie
Published by Rowman & Littlefield

A look at the future and past of pervasive communications networks of all kinds, the 14 chapters of "Imagining the Internet" organize and put into historical context the publicly documented comments of hundreds of voices of technological change in the late 20th century. In the early 1990s, people predicted the death of privacy, an end to the current concept of "property," a paperless society, 500 channels of high-definition, interactive television, world peace, and the extinction of the human race after a takeover engineered by intelligent machines. The statements made then hold true today and continue to reflect expectations for our future.

To order the book, see the Rowman & Littlefield site.

Book Outline

Introduction - Why it is important to understand networks and their influence in history and your future.

Chapter One - The Internet at the Forefront: 1990 through 1995 were revolutionary, with changes surpassing any previous stretch of communications history. A look at what happened during the “Digital Big Bang.”

Chapter Two - From Bonfires and Bongos to the Web: People crave and benefit from connections, spurring communications networks to evolve. A comparative history of the developmental similarities of the telegraph, radio, television, telephone, and Internet.

Chapter Three - Web Gems: Social, political, and economic expectations inspired intriguing statements about the Internet. Stakeholders and skeptics say many standard constructs such as the ideas of ownership of property and geographic space are threatened, as are privacy, free speech, and free will.

Chapter Four - The 'Highway' Metaphor: Finding a way to tell (and sell) how the Internet could be changing lives. A comparison to the development of the transportation network of the United States, and a look at how the catchphrase was developed and spread and what it might mean for the Internet and society.

Chapter Five - Knocking the Net: Some warn the Internet is naughty, anti-nature, and nefarious; even supporters see negatives. Were the Luddites right? Problems accompany any new technology. A look at how technology has been perceived throughout modern history and how that ties in to statements about the Internet.

Chapter Six - Saddam, OJ, and the Unabomber: Playing off the news events and culture of the '90s. A look at the similarities of the decades of the 1920s (the radio boom years), 1950s (television boom), and 1990s (Internet); and the ways in which popular culture played a role in the defining of the Internet in the 1990s.

Chapter Seven - Nothing is Certain but Death and Taxes: And some predictions - including the death of taxes - may have been premature. In the awe stage of the Internet, people predicted that it would bring the end of the book, the CD, the recording industry, TV, e-mail, mainframe computers, copyright law, big corporations, political parties, conventional schools, commuting to work, major urban centers, and all institutions, behaviors and values that arose in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Chapter Eight - Aristotle, Jefferson, Marx, and McLuhan: Predictors use historic perspective to make their points on issues. Here's how people of the 1990s saw the coming of the Internet fitting into historical perspective.

Chapter Nine - Supporters Crow About '500 Channels!' Everyone Warns About 'Infoglut.' A breathless bromide about a video wonderland is used to promote digital information home-delivery, while information overload looms larger than ever.

Chapter Ten - Voices of the Net: Ten of the many people who made a difference by addressing future concerns. Negroponte, Stoll, Gilder, Sterling, Denning, and a number of others - who they are and what they said and did that was so important.

Chapter Eleven - The Threat to Freedom; to the Earth: As communications networks become all-seeing, thinkers/theorists expect Big Brother or a robot takeover. Orwell's ideas are scary enough, but others foretell an age of invisible robots that could decide humankind is unnecessary. From “intelligent agents” to biological/network robots, people in the 1990s were expressing optimism and fear about the potential of intelligent networks. One robotics expert even predicted the extinction of the human race after a takeover by intelligent machines.

Chapter Twelve - The Future of Networks. Some theorists believe networked intelligence will evolve into an omniscient “godmind.”

Chapter Thirteen - Nobody Knows You're a Dog; Or do they? All about the famous New Yorker cartoon that actually represents a key question about the Internet - will we have the security to retain anonymity, or will we have no privacy anywhere, anytime?

Chapter Fourteen - Hmm, Will It Happen? These predictions did not come true or seem unlikely to come to pass. Historic short-sighted predictions from people who should have known better (doubters made pronouncements against the telephone, airplanes, radio, talking movies, computers, the atomic bomb, the first Apple computer, the Beatles and the Windows operating system), followed by some statements made in the awe stage of the Internet that were off the beam.

Appendix A - Wired Inspired: The incredible influence of a pulp-based product. A look at the impact that Wired magazine had in its time, with a bit of history about the publication and a collection of some of its excellent headlines and brilliant direct quotations about the networked future.

Appendix B - Recording the Data

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©2004 Elon University/Pew Internet and American Life Project. All rights reserved.
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