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Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway [Paperback]

Clifford Stoll
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 1 1996 0385419945 978-0385419949 1
In Silicon Snake Oil, Clifford Stoll, the best-selling author of The Cuckoo's Egg and one of the pioneers of the Internet, turns his attention to the much-heralded information highway, revealing that it is not all it's cracked up to be.  Yes, the Internet provides access to plenty of services, but useful information is virtually impossible to find and difficult to access. Is being on-line truly useful? "Few aspects of daily life require computers...They're irrelevant to cooking, driving, visiting, negotiating, eating, hiking, dancing, speaking, and gossiping. You don't need a computer to...recite a poem or say a prayer." Computers can't, Stoll claims, provide a richer or better life.

A cautionary tale about today's media darling, Silicon Snake Oil has sparked intense debate across the country about the merits--and foibles--of what's been touted as the entranceway to our future.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Computer expert Stoll presents a backlash account of the Internet, questioning whether its potential influence is as far-reaching and positive as supporters claim.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Stoll, a Berkeley astronomer who chronicled how he broke a computer spy ring in The Cuckoo's Egg (LJ 9/15/89) and who has been netsurfing for 15 years, does an apparent about-face here, warning that the technophiles are trying to sell us a bill of goods on the promise of the Internet?one on which it can't deliver and that, ultimately, both ignores the cost of forsaking human interaction and actual financial costs. His is a lone voice countering the mass of media hype that has been touting the national information superhighway and the rush of individuals and businesses to get connected. In chapters dealing with everything from education to E-mail (Stoll reports he lost less mail via the U.S. Postal Service) to the "virtual" library, he details the limitations of the networks. Though he is occasionally not quite up to the minute on some library implementations, his message nevertheless should be read as a caution to every librarian rushing down the information highway. [For an interview with Stoll and an excerpt from his book, see p. 100.]?Francine Fialkoff, "Library Journal.
-?Francine Fialkoff, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable book about the Internet Nov. 4 2001
Silicon Snake Oil is written by Clifford Stoll a Berkeley astronomer with extensive experience in the Internet and its development. It is written in a non-technical style that makes it very easy and enjoyable to read, but contains a tremendous amount of information about the Internet. His comments cover email, computerized education, bulletin boards, user groups and a wide range of computer topics. He provides a comprehensive analysis on why libraries should not be replaced by computer online information services. For those with extensive computer experience the books provides nostalgic memories of our problems we have had with computers and the Internet. For those new to computers it provides a different historical prospective to wonders of the informational super highway. For both it puts computers and the Internet into prospective, that computers and the Internet should not replace original thought, penmanship, letter writing, libraries or card catalogs, but should be just an additional tool. The books 1995 publishing makes its vocabulary a little dated, but the concepts are very relevant to today's computers users. I feel reading this book will increase the value I get out of technology and help me keep it in perspective.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Perhaps some third thoughts are in order.

Stoll is fascinating to watch and interesting to read. In a way, that's the point of this book: Genuine life experiences-- sights, sounds, tastes, touches-- are always richer than virtual life experiences, represented most obviously by the Internet.

Stoll hammers relentlessly at the absurdities of the connected life. He is, of course, right. One pictures the computer geek, alone with his machine, staring at on-line images of great art works, unaware of the museum down the street, or-- even worse-- unwilling to go there to experience the art first hand in the company of other people. So what? We are training a generation of children to do the same, to send e-mail to other students in their own schools rather than simply speaking to them and to paradoxically limit their worlds to the limitless world of the Internet.

This all has a oddly familiar ring: Over a hundred years ago, Emerson's "Self Reliance" warned that the machines of his day had already and irrevocably destroyed mankind's ability to function in the natural world.

Lets face it: Computers are simply machines. We determine their uses. At their best, they make our lives easier; at their worst, as Stoll sees it, they isolate us from our fellow humans and waste enormous amounts of our time.

Read this entertaining and provocative book. Then, before you sit at your keyboard, play with a puppy out in the snow. We can have it both ways.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, well thoughout Oct. 30 2006
If you're getting a little stir crazy with all of the hype surrounding the internet and the information, then give this book a read. Stoll does a good job of debunking a lot of the 'the internet is the greatest thing since sliced bread' thought, and does so in an eloquent manner. These aren't the ravings of a Luddite, but rather someone who has given the matter some serious thought and balanced his arguments with viable arguments.

I found the book to be a good page turned, and didn't really want to put it down. A well written, enjoyable read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars can we turn our backs on computer network ? Sept. 23 2002
The book is about Stoll's perspective on the hidden costs of new information technology, especially on the role of computer networking in our lives. Instead of viewing computers and networks as good components to make a better society, Stoll's commentary actually supposes that computers and networks are frustrating, expensive, and unreliable.
Can we just simply turn our backs on the network? Why? Because according to Stoll, [computer networks] isolate us from one another and cheapen the meaning of actual experience. They work against literacy and creativity. They undercut our schools and libraries(p.3). Although the Internet provides easier life to our society, a society deals with people, not computers. Human interactions and contacts involve with belonging. Of course, computer networks may also establish a community with the interaction, such as cybersex and cyber-relationship. However, this type of community is without church, cafe or theater. Yes, it has plenty of human contact, but no humanity. Then, what is missing from this neighborhood? We chat without speaking, smile without grinning, and hug without touching. We lose the real life experience and the humanity!
Throughout the book, Stoll's basic mode of argument is to compare two functional techniques: a computational technique (ex. email) and a less-computational technique (ex. postal service). Stoll intents to highlight various positive aspects of the latter technique that are missing in the former. For example, the post office allows a variety of style on envelops, signatures, letterheads, checks, and logos. With the email technique, everyone and every business use the same and uniform style to communicate - ASCII text. The only difference between your messages and others' is the contents.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Stoll is right about certain points. Oct. 26 2000
This book by Clifford Stoll was intriguing and entertaining. Although a little outdated by today's computer standards, the real message of the book is that while the Internet and the computer is helpful and entertaining, they are not necessities of life. I believe that Stoll thinks that everyone is so pro-computer, that they don't look at the negatives of computers. He believes that the increased use of computers in an individual's life takes away from someone's life. He states that "Life in the real world is far more interesting, far more important, far richer, than anything you'll ever find on a computer screen." I totally agree from where he's coming from. I believe that there's more to life than just using the Internet or computer for work. I am a big fan of face-to-face communication and like to see someone actually smile instead of seeing :) typed on the screen. But I also believe that while believing this way has its advantages, being able to use a computer in this world is becoming a necessity. Everyone is moving towards a technological advancement, that not being able to use the computer and the Internet sets an individual back somewhat, and that's sad to say. I think the world is placing the skill of using the computer and the Internet up there with the skill of reading, writing, and even eating. I agree with Stoll when he implies that using e-mail is impersonal. It very much is, because there is a lack of emotion. In face-to-face communication, it is the emotion that makes the communication personal. Stoll states that the Internet is a false society, that nothing can compare to the real thing.
Stoll believes that the Internet is mainly used for an entertainment purpose.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars The Art and Science of Logic Takes a Fatal Blow
This book contains a veritable catalogue of every fallacy known to the art and science of logic. As a treatise meant to persuade the reader, its reasoning and language is nothing... Read more
Published on Jan. 22 2004 by Auliya
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great
Stoll wrote one of the best spy books of the information age before anyone knew that it could even happen. This follow up is very interesting reading, and I agree with most of it. Read more
Published on Nov. 7 2001 by Eric G Ensminger
1.0 out of 5 stars Endless tirade without constructive suggestions
Being absolutely fascinated by the author's book "Cuckoo's Egg", I was extremely disappointed by this book. Read more
Published on March 21 2001 by Ralph Janke
2.0 out of 5 stars Increasingly Dated effort
Stoll's book is showing the effect of time. While much of the info may have been cutting edge when written, it has now been surpassed by events. Read more
Published on Feb. 26 2001 by T. Stone
4.0 out of 5 stars Let the Buyer Beware
Cliff Stoll writes in such an engaging folksy style that you want to spend the evening with him at a cozy neighborhood restaurant. Read more
Published on Jan. 16 2001 by bub hub
3.0 out of 5 stars Good points - weak arguments
Clifford is certainly in a good position to debunk the hype of the Internet, and I looked foward to reading this book. Read more
Published on Oct. 20 2000 by "mjpatto"
3.0 out of 5 stars Throwing the baby out with the bathwater!
Stoll, once an enthusiastic internet pioneer who helped construct the information highway, has published a warning to those following in his footsteps. Read more
Published on Sept. 21 2000 by David E Werner
5.0 out of 5 stars What is wrong with the internet
Clifford Stoll is surely right in all of his discussions about the internet and computers and computer usage. Read more
Published on July 14 2000 by Maurice S. Cahn
4.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling Novel- Barrenness of Web Technolculture
An impressive, multi-facetted, meandering chaotic, sometimes repetitive exploration of the barrenness of web technolculture. Read more
Published on June 20 2000 by Prof David T Wright
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