The Internet will be a fad, claimed scientist in ’95

He thought the Internet had no future. Merely a fad. A passing fancy.

We were reminded of scientist Clifford Stoll yesterday when we posted a photo from when the Internet first came to NPR. MPR News reporter Curtis Gilbert recently stumbled upon a gem from the MPR archives, a 1995 interview with Stoll by MPR host Paula Schroeder. Stoll was promoting his book Silicon Snake Oil (at the same time he also published a Newsweek article titled, “The Internet? Bah!”)

We advise listening to the full interview (it’s short) because Stoll’s self-assured tone is at least half of the fun. A partial transcript is posted below for your reading pleasure.

Now the transcript…

STOLL: It’s (the Internet) a place for people to post both useful information and vicious, nasty messages. And they exist side by side. As a result, I expect the value of the Internet for communications in general isn’t very high. I don’t think it will ever replace face to face meetings and real rallies – things that get commitment and involvement from people. Rather, it induces a very shallow, ethereal and ephemeral involvement and as such, I think it’s grossly over-promoted and there’s a great deal of hyperbole surrounding it.

SCHROEDER: So you think, like, Newsweek magazine now has a page called “the virtual page” or something, and many newspapers as well, have a separate section devoted to technology and exchanging of information on the Internet. You think that it’s really not that important?

STOLL: I’d say it’s not that important. I think it’s grossly oversold and within two or three years people will shrug and say, ‘”Uh yep, it was a fad of the early 90’s and now, oh yeah, it still exists but hey, I’ve got a life to lead and work to do. I don’t have time to waste online.” Or, “I’ll collect my email, I’ll read it, why should I bother prowling around the Worldwide Web or reading the Usenet” simply because there’s so little of value there.

SCHROEDER: Well Clifford Stoll, there’s gotta be something of value. I know that we use it quite a bit for research here in our newsroom.

STOLL: Really? I’m sorry to hear that.

In 1995 Stoll had a lot to say about the future of the Internet. But in a highly energetic TED talk from 2006 (think Doc Brown from Back to the Future – only more scattered and frantic) he said:

“Asking me to talk about the future is bizarre…If you really want to know about the future, don’t ask a technologist, a scientist, a physicist. No! Don’t ask somebody who’s writing code. No, if you want to know what society’s going to be like in 20 years, ask a kindergarten teacher.”

Note: all research for this post was conducted on the Internet.

Molly Bloom