Casting the Web. (Web Hype in Education) (Viewpoint) (Internet

Article excerpt

Recently, I have found myself at educational technology conferences where a huge proportion of the sessions focus on the Internet and the World Wide Web. True, the Web has been on more magazine covers than Madonna. And yet, IMHO (Net-speak for "in my humble opinion"), the Web is too embryonic, over-hyped, and revenue-driven to deserve so much attention.

In the rush to ramp onto the Information Superhighway, there are old lessons worth remembering from an earlier hot medium-television (with its VHS and cable siblings). Compared to the Web, television delivers more information in less time, and is more widely available, cheaper, and more heavily researched. In fact, television more closely resembles what the Web will be when it finally matures. For all that, it is almost totally ignored. Should the fickle cold shoulder toward one cathode ray tube temper our new online embrace of another? Or, to use a film metaphor from All About Eve, what can television, old Margo Channing, tell the young Net, Eve Harrington?

Reality, Check

Begins with the numbers. Estimates of "Netizens" have sometimes gone higher than 30 million. An accurate number was difficult, like estimating the number of people who actually use their Veg-o-matic. But in the fall of 1995, O'Reilly and Associates did a methodological survey that revealed there were a mere 9.8 million online users. It was, to put it in perspective, less than the number of people who watched the premier of Dweebs (which didn't win its time slot and never earned a magazine cover). This tells us that the roar is not coming from a tsunami of satisfied users but from the ocean of money to be made.

The O'Reilly report revealed that the largest group online is not scientists, or teenagers, or educators, but salespeople and marketers. Bill Gates has called the Net a "goldmine," and we all know that education is not a prospector's first concern. Revenue seduced the older medium down a road that led to pervasive social injury. Margo would tell Eve to tread carefully.

Billboards on the I-Way

Wonder what bad old American highways looked like before Ladybird Johnson cleared away the billboards? Browse the Web. Remember when Chris Whittle wanted to give televisions to schools but was turned down by the Department of Education in my high-tech home state of California because schools were required to watch a program containing two minutes of ads? …