In February 1995, Newsweek published an essay by astronomer, scientist, author, teacher, and PhD Clifford Stoll titled, "The Internet? Bah!" A few choice quotes:
- "The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works."
- "How about electronic publishing? Try reading a book on disc. At best, it's an unpleasant chore... Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we'll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Internet. Uh, sure."
- "Who needs teachers when you've got computer-aided education. Bah. These expensive toys are difficult to use in classrooms and require extensive teacher training."
- And my personal favorite, "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 obsolete. 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."
(In 2017, a Newsweek writer hilariously red-lined the original essay.)
I was thinking about the power of the internet earlier this week. I went to Indianapolis for a night to see my friend Justin Castelli give a talk on living your authentic life. Without the internet, Justin and I wouldn't have become friends.
Taking Shane Parrish's online decision-making course forever reshaped how I approach decisions big and small.
I took another online course (it was during the pandemic – what else did I have to do?) called Supercharge Your Productivity, which has the tagline, "Come for the productivity, stay for the existential." Khe Hy runs the SYP course, and I have since spent lots of time learning from Khe and others asking life's Big Questions.
It's no exaggeration to say the internet has changed our lives. Justin, Khe, and the decision-making course were among the biggest influences on my decision to take the leap and stay home with the boys for a year. I'm planning a hiking trip with two friends: one I met in the SYP course and another I've mostly kept up with through email. During the pandemic, we could stay in touch with family and friends through FaceTime and Zoom. Remote work has freed us from daily commutes and having to wear real pants. No matter how esoteric an interest may be, anyone can find a community of like-minded people online.
There is a LOT of bad on the internet – just look at your local community Facebook page or my track record flirting with classmates via AOL Instant Messenger. But if you filter out the noise, there's also a lot of good, especially when the internet facilitates experiences that happen away from the screen.
The only other question I've been thinking about is: what am I as wrong about today as Dr. Stoll was about the internet in February 1995?