Magazine article Information Today

Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway

Magazine article Information Today

Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway

Article excerpt


by Clifford Stoll

1995, Doubleday

247 pages hardcover $22.00

ISBN: 0-385-41993-7

With this book, Clifford Stoll, author of The Cuckoo's Egg, shares his "Second Thoughts on the Information Highway." Stoll is an admitted computer-lover and user, so his comments on the Internet find an audience with both those who are infatuated with the Internet and those who are skeptical of its uses. Stoll's meditation takes the form of a thoughtful conversation focusing on his belief that the Internet "is being oversold, our expectations have become bloated, and there's...little critical discussion of the implications of an online world."

Stoll proceeds to explore some of the possible implications of widespread Internet access. According to Stoll there is a "wide gulf" between real networks and the promoted bounty of cyberspace. Having done his research on a multitude of networks and computers, Stoll stresses that computers and connectivity simply can't deliver everything they promise. Another problem troubles Stoll: the lure of the computer screen away from real life experiences. Stoll's point is while networks do offer support and information to those who need it, the "online community" cannot take the place of physical, human interaction. Stoll goes on to stress that a computer's usefulness as a tool limits our ability to recognize other solutions and use creative problem solving.

Silicon Snake Oil proceeds to debunk several myths that the Internet improves various aspects of life:

* Speed--During business hours the Internet is very slow.

* Shopping--There is a very limited selection of items and a general lack of confidence in businesses.

* Interactive multimedia--Only live experience is "interactive" and only a presentation using more than one medium is "multimedia," Stoll counts a computer as one medium.

* Relationships--Online relationships lack depth, commitment, and common courtesy.

* Literary Improvement--E-mail and university student papers give evidence that writing and communication skills have not improved.

* Efficient workplace--More time is spent fixing, learning, and updating computers than working on them. …

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