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“Imagining the Internet: Personalities, Predictions, Perspectives” Book Excerpts

Brief excerpts from the 307-page book

Copyright 2005 Janna Quitney Anderson
No reprints without permission of author and publisher

Excerpts include bits from…

Chapter One- The Internet at the Forefront. 1990 through 1995 were revolutionary, with changes surpassing any previous stretch of communications history.

Chapter Two- From Bonfires and Bongos to the Web. A comparative history of the developmental similarities of the telegraph, radio, television, telephone, and Internet.

Chapter Three- Web Gems. Stakeholders and skeptics say many accepted 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. 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. 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. 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. People predict the internet will bring the end of the book, the recording industry, TV, copyright law, big corporations, political parties, conventional schools, 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- 500 Channels! and 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. Others foretell an age of invisible intelligent entities that could decide humankind is unnecessary.

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? A famous New Yorker cartoon 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? Some predictions seem unlikely to come to pass. Historic short-sighted predictions from people who should have known better followed by some statements made in the awe stage of the Internet that were off the beam.

From Chapter One: The Internet at the Forefront

The prophets who seek to foresee the consequences of a new technology often do so in the hope of making a profit. Many others are motivated by the ideal that better social choices can be made if the coming impact of a new tool can be accurately pre-assessed. An observance of what stakeholders and skeptics were saying at the dawn of a new communications age is as revealing as a study of past wars and the making of the peace that followed. This book is a look at the potential future of networks and an examination of the social, political, and economic history of the Internet, as seen through the eyes of the stakeholders and skeptics of its early boom years…

People who make predictive statements of any sort do so at the risk of being mistaken. Of course, mistaken forecasts may hinder society’s efforts toward understanding the best uses and potential impact of a new technology. As our world becomes more complex with each passing year, it becomes simultaneously simpler and more difficult to come up with prescient forecasts about the future.

It is revealing to look back at what forward-looking people were thinking during the “awe” stage of the Internet from 1990 to 1995.

From Chapter Two: Bonfires and Bongos to the Web

All modern networked communications technologies have evolved from the work of many individuals riding a wave of creativity and competitiveness. French historian Fernand Braudel proposed the idea of projective history. He said those who wish to foresee the future can only learn so much from the changes the world has seen in leadership and economies and through wars and peace. Rather, the future can be found by studying the things that do not change; in finding eternal truths we can extrapolate that which is to follow. He said we should scrutinize the fixtures to envision the coming wave.

The developmental years of the telegraph, radio, the telephone, television, and the Internet followed identical plotlines: first came a period of innovation, as inventors struggled to find a way to make their ideas work and then found the backing to finance their practical development and push for public acceptance; next came commercialization, as opportunists and entrepreneurs sought and found – often through a process of trial and error – the angles that would bring financial gain; and, finally came the grudging acceptance of regulations necessitated by fights over patents, standards, and the avoidance of monopolies.

The innovators tend to be young and often are only able to further their ideas with the help of entrepreneurs and/or political backing. Marconi was 20 when he first pushed his idea of radio; Philo Farnsworth was 20 when he first demonstrated his television; Marc Andreessen had just turned 21 when he developed the first Internet browser, a breakthrough nearly as important as the development of the World Wide Web, which began as an idea in the mind of Tim Berners-Lee when he was 35. Innovators generally build upon the work of other inventors and earlier theorists, finding a better way.

The entrepreneurs and/or political backers who team up with the innovators during the commercialization phase and build on their ideas are generally older and well connected. They step in at an early stage and try to corner as much control of the market and/or financial gain as possible, before competitors join the fray. Their rush to capitalize on the financial and social possibilities offered by a new technology is often joined by pirates – in the mid-1800s, for example, many people stole patented telegraph plans to start their own lines, and pirates of the late-1900s hacked their way into private Internet accounts.

The establishment of common structures, rules, and governing bodies evolves out of concerns and conflicts over property rights and patents, often driving entrepreneurs to grudgingly accept some form of regulation. There is generally a turf war, with each technology developer looking for the most advantageous (commercially profitable) position. They regularly go so far as to request a government investigation of a rival … Multiple devices and or systems associated with each new communications tool are usually developed at the beginning of commercialization, competing for use …The multiple forms of an innovative technology coexist for a time until consumers adopt the one option offering the best quality, ease of use, and/or most economical cost. Standardization results when consumers flock toward the most attractive of the alternatives available. In the U.S., firms often start up industry associations or arrange summits at which representatives of the various competing companies work toward standards or operating agreements. Government standards or regulation often result because those in an industry can’t come to agreement…

Taking a closer look at the history of the telegraph, radio, the telephone, and television will bring the similarities in their invention, dissemination, and regulation to that of the Internet into better focus.

From Chapter Three: Web Gems

Writer Douglas Coupland commented in a 1994 article in Wired magazine: “There’s a big cinder block stuck on the technology accelerator pedal, and we’re only gonna go faster and faster, never stopping.”

Leaders of the early 1990s knew that the decisions made in the developmental stages of the Internet would come to change people’s sense of self, of space, of community, and of relationships – even down to the molecular level. Communications theorist Marshall McLuhan’s global village, in which “centers are everywhere and margins are nowhere” had come to pass. This new technology would not only reshape our social spaces, its ability for embeddedness would also come to consume our social spaces.

In 1990, Mitchell Kapor and John Perry Barlow founded the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation to address political issues surrounding the Internet. In their founding statement, they wrote: “What is free speech, and what is merely data? What is a free press without paper and ink? What is a ‘place’ in the world without tangible dimensions? How does one protect property which has no physical form and can be infinitely and easily reproduced? Can the history of one’s personal business affairs properly belong to someone else? Can anyone morally claim to own knowledge itself? These are just a few of the questions for which neither law nor custom can provide concrete answers. In their absence, law-enforcement agencies such as the Secret Service and FBI, acting at the disposal of large information corporations, are seeking to create legal precedents which would radically limit Constitutional application to digital media. [It] threatens to become a long, difficult, and philosophically obscure struggle between institutional control and individual liberty.”

Technology experts and theorists Esther Dyson, George Gilder, Jay Keyworth and Alvin Toffler, wrote a 1994 article titled “Magna Carta for the Information Age” for New Perspectives Quarterly. In it, they said, “The central event of the 20th century is the overthrow of matter …  The powers of mind are everywhere ascendant over the brute force of things. As humankind explores this new electronic frontier of knowledge, it must confront again the profound questions of how to organize itself for the common good. The meaning of freedom, structures of self-government, definition of property, nature of competition, conditions for cooperation, sense of community and nature of progress will each be redefined for the Knowledge Age – just as they were redefined for a new age of industry some 250 years ago.”

Futurist Jim Dator looked far into the distance at the 1991 conference of the World Futures Studies Federation, saying, “In the early 21st century, the electronic ‘information society’ will be replaced by societies based on genetic and molecular engineering … This portends forms and processes of ‘participation,’ and ‘democracy’ that are presently beyond my ability to imagine in sufficient detail.”

… Fellow author William Gibson observed in a 1995 Maclean’s magazine interview: “We are being shoved up against futurity with such violence that science fiction may become a historical term … The Internet may be important because we are seeing something akin to what we did when we invented cities.”

From Chapter Four: The Highway Metaphor

The word “infrastructure” has long been used for common systems shared and maintained by a culture. In a 1991 article for MIT’s Technology Review, Michael Dertouzos of MIT said, “Computers will become a truly useful part of our society only when they are linked by an infrastructure like the highway system and the electric power grid, creating a new kind of free market for information services.” In 1993, the United States passed the National Information Infrastructure (NII) Act and printed the government report “National Information Infrastructure: Agenda for Action.” The official NII phrase was rather stiff, so for public-relations applications the highway metaphor took hold and grew…

Over time, transportation networks have gradually altered the ways people relate to one another, the methods by which they conduct business, and the laws by which they govern and are governed; our continually improving waterways, highways, railroads, and air routes have been responsible for changes in property law, the reduction of consumer prices, the easing of migration from place to place and job to job, increased variety in and quality of the available supply of consumer goods, and a tighter network of interpersonal connectedness (just as the development of the Internet is changing economic, social, and political systems)…

While the information highway analogy did work well, and there is no doubt it helped sell the concept of networked communications to the masses, it was also a useful tool for those who saw the down side of the technology. Those who opposed the build-up of the Internet took great pleasure in pointing out the detrimental aspects of blanketing the world with highways…

Computing pioneer Alan Kay expressed his concerns about the new medium in a speech at UCLA in 1994 that was reprinted in Wired magazine under the headline “The Infobahn is Not the Answer.” In his speech, Kay said, “Another way to think of roadkill on the information highway will be the billions who will forget there are off-ramps to destinations other than Hollywood, Las Vegas, the local bingo parlor, or shiny beads from a shopping network. Not couch potatoes but mouse potatoes! It’s not the wonderful things they could do with new media, it’s what they will be convinced they should do. This is a new tragedy in the making. No democracy that is less than 10 percent literate can survive in the driving forces of society.”

From Chapter Five: Knocking the Net

The explosion of networked digital communications in the 1990s led to an unprecedented level of scrutiny and criticism of the technology – never before had a new medium been so thoroughly and publicly debated. As is typical in the modern world, the majority of the voices spoke out in favor of new technologies tied to a new form of networked communications, but there were detractors. Heading up public opposition to passive acceptance of a networked world were Neil Postman, Paul Virilio, Sven Birkerts, Kirkpatrick Sale, and Clifford Stoll. Because it was still an early stage of the Internet’s development, even the supporters and curious experimenters were finding some faults.

Technology writer Steven Levy illustrated several prime issues of concern in a 1995 article in Newsweek magazine titled “The Year of the Internet” in which he wrote: “The revolution is only just begun. It’s already starting to overwhelm us, outstripping our capacity to cope, antiquating our laws, transforming our mores, reshuffling our economy, reordering our priorities, redefining our workplaces, putting our Constitution to the fire, shifting our concept of reality.”

… Physicist and network user/critic Clifford Stoll wrote in his 1995 book “Silicon Snake Oil”: “The medium is being oversold, our expectations have become bloated, and there’s damned little critical discussion of the implications of an online world.”

From Chapter Six: Saddam, OJ and the Unabomber

An examination of America’s pop culture, fads, and news events during radio’s boom stage in the 1920s, TV’s takeoff in the 1950s, and the introduction of the Internet in the 1990s can be instructive. As 20th century communications technologies emerged over these decades, the personalities, politics, and policies of the times were shaped by and reflected in them. It’s easy to see the similarities in the times and their patterns of growth.

As communications drew the nation closer over the course of the 20th century, and media outlets multiplied seemingly minute by minute, the number of recognizable personalities in the popular culture exploded. The constellation of famous folk recognized by the average American in the 1920s pales in comparison to the total number of such stars of the sports, entertainment, political, and corporate world of the 1990s.

As the communications forms began to mature between 1900 and 1999, the country’s population numbers grew larger, paychecks and the average person’s standard of living got fatter, and consumerism – thanks at least in part to the commercial interests propagated by modern media – drove the U.S. economy to greater and greater heights. In each decade, corporate greed was revealed in one or more national scandals.

At the same time, the world became smaller and more dangerous. The end of the 1920s brought Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich of the 1930s. The conclusion of the boom years of the 1950s brought the gut-wrenching 1960s: civil unrest, assassinations of major political figures, and the war in Vietnam. The end of the 1990s led into years of heightened religious and ethnic conflicts in many nations, including the wars in Afghanistan, Sudan, and Iraq.

In the beginning years of each decade in which a new technology began to boom, the American economy was strong and people were optimistic. In the closing years of each of these decades, the economy weakened or crashed and people clung to the hope that the good times would soon return.

From Chapter Seven: Nothing is Certain But Death and Taxes

People expect the Internet to transform our world in myriad ways, and one of the classic manners in which people have always expressed the likelihood of change is by predicting the death of existing tools, conventions, or social structures.

Researchers who have studied the diffusion of innovations (led by Everett Rogers, whose definitive book on the topic has been updated a number of times since it was first released in 1962) say that users of a new tool are naturally bound to pass judgment on that tool and then share their opinion. Users and other stakeholders – experienced with the tool or not – will identify what they foresee to be the individual and social consequences of the tool.

The first people to express their opinions in the diffusion of a new tool have been classified as “innovators,” “change agents,” “reactionaries,” “iconoclasts,” or “early adopters.” Innovators are the inventors of the tool – in the case of the Internet, this would be the many pioneers who built it, including Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee. Change agents are idea brokers for the innovation; they promote mostly the positive aspects of the change to come thanks to the innovation. Entrepreneurs, researchers, and people in government were change agents for the Internet. Reactionaries resist the adoption of the innovation, preferring the status quo prior to the innovation. Included in this group during the early days of the Internet in the 1990s would be opponents such as Sven Birkerts and Kirkpatrick Sale. Iconoclasts are silent partners to the innovator, hoping for change for the better – they are often journalists or social gadflies, as in the case of the Internet, such as Howard Rheingold and Bruce Sterling. Early adopters are also called transformers. They become users of the new tool out of excitement and hope for a positive change. The myriad “plain folks” who were the first to explore virtual communities online would fit into this category.

Between 1990 and 1995, the innovation of the Internet brought an unprecedented outpouring of opinions from stakeholders and skeptics representing all of the groups listed above. These opinion leaders, of large or small profile, were instrumental in diffusing the innovation known as the Internet. Since then, the Internet has become the most effective worldwide super-diffusion tool, allowing anyone to share information about ensuing innovations to a worldwide audience at no cost.

As the initial wave of awe regarding the potential of the Internet began to hit home, people happily, fearfully and/or warily predicted the death of taxes, books, the CD, the recording industry, TV, e-mail, mainframe computers, copyright and patent law, big corporations, political parties, conventional schools, commuting to work, major urban centers and all institutions, behaviors, and values that had developed since the 18th century. They predicted a paperless society and the extinction of the human race after a takeover engineered by intelligent machines; did you know you could be a museum piece yourself?

From Chapter Eight: Aristotle, Jefferson, Marx and McLuhan

In their support or criticism of the new Internet technology in the period between 1990 and 1995, stakeholders and concerned critics pulled personalities from the past into play, referring to Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, the Sumerians, the Medicis, Jefferson, Paine, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, King George, Marx, Thoreau, Verdi, T.S. Eliot, Rockefeller, Hitler, Stalin, and Einstein…

As knowledge communities, social webs, and communities of practice began to formally develop, people began learning how to create, organize, and access networked communications in ways that best suited their needs. It was evident that the emerging knowledge economy would be dependent upon trust. Linking the names of heroes of the past to the Internet was a way to build trust; linking the names of despots of the past was a way to tear it down. Linking the Internet to successful networks of the past was a natural, and it was played out to the hilt in the “information highway” metaphor…

The predictors also quoted respected theorists of the past, including Vannevar Bush and Marshall McLuhan. In a 1995 New York Times interview, science fiction novelist William Gibson said, “The present is more frightening than any imaginable future I might dream up … If Marshall McLuhan were alive today, he’d have a nervous breakdown…”

From Chapter Nine: 500 Channels and Infoglut 

“Information Superhighway” was a popular catchphrase for those wishing to describe the potential for a digital network communications grid in the early 1990s, any study of what was being written and spoken at the time turns up a second chant that became nearly as popular: “500 channels.”

Promoters of networked digital communications wanted everyone to know they could look forward to having “the entire Library of Congress” (another often-used Internet-age point of reference) at their fingertips, yet simultaneously even the most supportive backers of the rapid proliferation of the Internet warned that people were about to be swept away by untold amounts of data. “Infoglut” and “information overload” were the most popular shorthand references for describing the problem.

How could “500 channels” (in TV terms a high number, but actually an extremely low estimate that was not accurate in terms of the overall future of networked digital communications) and the realities of the incredible new communications network do anything but lead to infoglut?

…Individuals today and in the future will find that a great deal of their success in life will be based on how well they learn to sift through information and extract what they need, sharing the important bits with others when they can. In a 1995 white paper for the U.S. Department of Education titled “The Evolution of Learning Devices,” Chris Dede of George Mason University wrote: “The core skill needed in today’s workplace is not foraging for data, but filtering a plethora of incoming information. The emerging literacy we all must master requires immersing ourselves in a sea of information and harvesting patterns of knowledge, just as fish extract oxygen from water via their gills. In this environment, educators must understand how to structure learning experiences that make this kind of immersion possible. Preparing students for full participation in 21st century society will require expanding the traditional definitions of literacy and rhetoric to encompass ‘immersion-like’ experiences of interacting with information.”

From Chapter Ten: Voices of the Net

How can you distinguish which voices rose in public discussions of the Internet in the early 1990s to become the most influential? You can’t. It was the confluence of thousands of voices that gave the medium its form.

It is enlightening, however, to get to know a few of these key people a bit better, so here we zero in on 10 figures of the period between 1990 and 1995 who made a considerable mark on how the general public saw the Internet through their public statements about the revolutionary communications technology. These people had significant influence on the decisions of governmental and economic leaders of that time.

Included in the group are the two founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (John Perry Barlow and Mitchell Kapor); a trio of Internet illuminators (Howard Rheingold, Bruce Sterling, and Nicholas Negroponte) – some might call them gadflies – who crisscrossed the nation to give speeches and wrote reams of material about the networked world ahead; a researcher who was one of the few female voices prominent in press accounts at the time (Dorothy Denning); a technorealist who shared his concerns about the Internet (Clifford Stoll); a pair of forecasters/consultants who had firm views of what was to come (George Gilder and Paul Saffo); and a voice from the computer/networking industry (Gordon Bell).

From Chapter Eleven: The Threat to Freedom, to the Earth 

Today’s technology elite join the great authors of fiction in viewing the future as one in which our machines may surpass our abilities to monitor them thoroughly, and some contemporary scientists go so far as to express the belief that this process will lead to human extinction or a massive war.

It could be said that our society’s impressions of what a futuristic totalitarian government might look like were formed by George Orwell’s classic book “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” and our vision of a future world in which robots are powerful and possibly threatening have been built out of the many science-fiction works of Isaac Asimov…

A lot of the “Big Brother” talk was and still is generated by the complexities involved in retaining such freedoms as personal privacy while also enabling law enforcement agents to help prevent threats to national security, computer viruses, and crime. During the early 1990s, the key controversy in this conflict was a Clinton administration plan to allow the government to gain access to encrypted, private digital information. The encryption device involved was called the Clipper Chip. David Farber, a high-speed networking expert, expressed his opposition in a 1994 online forum. “Clipper and the new digital telephony bills are a first step into what Orwell should have called 1994,” he wrote during the digital discussion. “… I see the slide ending with more and more government intervention in our private conversations. It will be the equivalent in cyberspace of having mikes in our living and bedrooms.”

… And in 1995, lawyer and technology consultant Peter Huber wrote in a Columbia Journalism Review article headlined “Big Brother, Goodbye”: “Orwell’s world, the world of computer and communications monopolies, will not be seen again in our lifetime. The loose ends and the forgotten comers have taken over … The plugs and jacks and sockets have taken over the telescreen world; the Ministry is dead. Every untilled plug, every unconnected jack, is a loose end, a new entry into the network or an exit from it, a new soap box in Hyde Park, a new podium, a new microphone for poetry or prose, a new screen or telescreen for displaying private sentiment or fomenting sedition, for preaching the gospel, or peddling fresh bread.”

Prior to Asimov’s work, most writers imagining a future with robots saw them in black or white terms, as evil, corrupt, and dangerous or as benign and under control. Asimov saw the grey areas and made them important in his plotting.

…In reality, significant progress in artificial-intelligence research is necessary before any device can be programmed to follow Asimov’s laws. Interestingly enough, some of Asimov’s later novels are plotted so harm is done because robots followed the laws to the letter, thus depriving humans of some needed risk-taking and inventiveness…

Professor Hans Moravec of the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute created a stir in the 1990s when he published his book “Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence.” In a 1995 interview with Charles Platt of Wired magazine titled “Superhumanism,” Moravec explained his theory. He said that by 2030 robots will be able to learn and master skills and share the information with other robots throughout the network. Thus, the task of understanding the world will be shared among millions of robot minds, by 2040 robots will take over all work, and industry becomes hyper-efficient. Humans don’t have to work, they live in luxury, everything is really run by robots, and at this point, anything could happen.

From Chapter Twelve: The Future of Networks

Many theorists, philosophers, and scientists see the Internet as merely an early manifestation of what is to become what they describe as a collective consciousness, a neobiological civilization with a global mind – a godmind, or an unlocatable, omnipresent entity. Their concepts go far beyond the forms most world citizens would guess to be future of artificial intelligence.

…Danny Hillis, an inventor of massively parallel computing, said in a 1995 interview: “The Internet can be seen as an emergent organism. It wasn’t engineered; it has grown … Communication is taking place outside of the human mind. There is positive feedback from within the network. The technology starts to change as a result of its own processes. Communication takes place between computers that is meaningful to them. Just think, you’ll be able to say to your grandchildren, ‘I was there when all computers couldn’t talk to each other.’ But what is more likely: you’ll be explaining your time to an applet that your grandchildren created to deal with their grandparents.”

Simply described, a network is a collection of things that have a connection of some sort. Cutting-edge tech experts of the 1990s expected that in the future, networked intelligence would become so sophisticated it would begin to do most of our thinking for us. Information technology would become enveloped by biotechnology and nanotechnology, ushering in the use of self-replicating devices that are so small – made of thin films or extremely fine particles – they are at the invisible molecular or even subatomic size. The networked system would interweave and build upon itself.

These pervasive, powerful, intelligent devices could possibly be grown out of biological matter and would perform a multitude of sophisticated transactions at light speed. A self-organizing, autonomous tissue of networked intelligence would envelop the world. The sense of actively sitting and using a computer would disappear; human-computer interaction would be at the sensory level, built into our functions, built into our city structures and tools, and seamlessly networked.

If this is true and we wish to successfully survive the transition to such a world, we’d better come to an understanding of the ways and means of networks as soon as possible.

It’s important to pay attention to the work of biologists, psychologists, physicists, mathematicians, neuroscientists, engineers, and social scientists who have enlarged the study of what has been called “Gaia theory,” “the theory of complexity,” “dynamical systems theory,” “network dynamics,” or “the web of life.”

From Chapter Thirteen: Nobody Knows You’re a Dog 

If you type the joke line of Peter Steiner’s most-famous New Yorker cartoon into a search engine, you get thousands of potential links on which people have either reprinted the cartoon or made some sort of comment in relation to it.

After the cartoon was first published in 1993, the phrase became symbolic of the issues of personal identity and privacy on the Internet, and it will live forever as an online-culture touchstone because it first seemed to reflect the ability to be completely anonymous on the Internet and only a few months later became a tongue-in-cheek point of reference for people who wished to bemoan the fact that privacy is violated in the networked environment…

A two-panel sequel to Steiner’s cartoon by Buffalo News cartoonist Tom Toles appeared in 2000. It presented the updated view that there is no privacy on the Internet. In the first panel, two dogs are looking at a computer and one says, “The best thing about the Internet is they don’t know you’re a dog.” In the second panel of the Toles cartoon, both dogs are looking at the computer screen, which reads, “You’re a four-year-old German Shepherd-Schnauzer mix, likes to shop for rawhide chews, 213 visits to Lassie website, chatroom conversation 8-29-99 said third Lassie was the hottest, downloaded photos of third Lassie 10-12-99, e-mailed them to five other dogs whose identities are … ”

From Chapter Fourteen: Hmmm … Will it Happen? 

When you are trying to figure out the future, it’s understandable you will sometimes project things that just don’t come to pass in the way you had expected. As Steven P. Schnaars pointed out in his 1989 book “Megamistakes: Forecasting and the Myth of Rapid Technological Change,” a number of factors conspire to cause errant projections. According to Schnaars, these include: the tendency for forecasters to be personally smitten with the technology, ignoring the market it will serve; a bias toward optimism about new technology (despite the fact that most new products fail, there is always an enthusiastically convincing support structure behind their production); and the mistaken assumption that the issues and political and social concerns of the past will remain the issues and concerns of the future.

For instance, in the late 1960s most people, convinced by the success of the missions to explore the moon, were certain that Earthlings would send a manned mission to Mars before the year 2000. “A Report on Tomorrow,” published by National Underwriter in the late 1960s, claimed that the 1980s would see underwater hotels, orbiting space factories and pre-built houses delivered by helicopter. It could be that predictions about a robot takeover, or the development of biotechnology to the point in which a “godmind” runs the planet, will eventually wind up on the discard pile of failed prophecies. We certainly don’t know, but for now these are intriguing prospects. This chapter includes predictions that do not seem likely…

“Imagining the Internet: Personalities, Predictions, Perspective” (Rowman & Littlefield), can be ordered from most online retailers, including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com, or you can order it directly from the Rowman & Littlefield site.