What Happened to the "Information Superhighway"?

By Solomon, Norman | The Humanist, March 2000 | Go to article overview

What Happened to the "Information Superhighway"?


Solomon, Norman, The Humanist


A few numbers tell a dramatic story about extreme changes in the nature of media fascination with the Internet.

After the 1990s ended, I set out to gauge how news coverage of cyberspace shifted during the last half of the decade. The comprehensive Nexis database yielded some revealing statistics:

* In 1995, media outlets were transfixed with the Internet as an amazing source of knowledge. Major newspapers in the United States and abroad referred to the "information superhighway" in 4,562 stories. Meanwhile, during the entire year, articles mentioned "e-commerce" or "electronic commerce" only 915 times.

* In 1996, coverage of the Internet as an information superhighway fell to 2,370 stories in major newspapers--about half the previous year's level. At the same time, coverage of electronic commerce nearly doubled, with mentions in 1,662 articles.

* For the first time, in 1997 the news media's emphasis on the Internet mainly touted it as a commercial avenue. The quantity of articles in major newspapers mentioning the information superhighway dropped sharply to just 1,314. Meanwhile, the references to e-commerce gained further momentum, jumping to 2,812 articles.

* In 1998, despite an enormous upsurge of people online, the concept of an information superhighway appeared in only 945 articles in major newspapers. Simultaneously, e-commerce became a media obsession, with those newspapers referring to it in 6,403 articles.

* In 1999, while Internet usage continued to grow by leaps and bounds, the news media played down information superhighway imagery--with a mere 842 mentions in major papers. But media mania for electronic commerce exploded. Major newspapers mentioned e-commerce in 20,641 articles.

How did the United States' most influential daily papers frame the potentialities of the Internet? During the last five years of the 1990s, the annual number of Washington Post articles mentioning the information superhighway went from 178 to twenty, while such New York Times articles went from 100 to seventeen. But during the same half decade, the yearly total of stories referring to electronic commerce zoomed--rising in the Post from nineteen to 430 and in the Times from fifty-two to 731.

In other prominent U.S. newspapers the pattern was similar. The Los Angeles Times stalled out on the information superhighway, going from 192 stories in 1995 to a measly thirty-three in 1999. Chicago Tribune articles went from 170 to twenty-two. Meanwhile, the e-commerce bandwagon went into overdrive: the Los Angeles Times accelerated from twenty-four to 1,243 stories per year, while the Chicago Tribune escalated from eight to 486. …

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