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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highways-- even information superhighways-- have exit ramps.
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...
Published on Feb. 4 1997

versus
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. After years of exploration and development, he indicates that the reward at the journey's end is largely fool's gold.
His story is one of connectivity exuberance slowly soured by the seductive but disorganized,...
Published on Sept. 21 2000 by David E Werner


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable book about the Internet, Nov. 4 2001
By 
This review is from: Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway (Paperback)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Highways-- even information superhighways-- have exit ramps., Feb. 4 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway (Paperback)
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
This review is from: Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway (Paperback)
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
By 
Jackie I-Ning Chu (University of Hawaii at Manoa, United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway (Paperback)
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. Similarly, Stoll applies this style of argument on the comparisons of libraries with and without computer networks, a classroom with and without computers, and typewrites versus word processors.
It is an entertaining and a thought-provoking book. Stoll cares about what happens to our networked neighborhood, and more importantly, what is happening in our larger society while facing the wave of computer networks. "Computers themselves don't bother me; I am vexed by the culture in which they are enshrined(p.3). No one who is interested in such issue will regard reading Stoll's book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Stoll is right about certain points., Oct. 26 2000
This review is from: Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway (Paperback)
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. That may have been true in 1996, but the amount that e-commerce has grown since 1996 is an indication that the Internet is not only for entertainment purposes. The Internet has grown so vast that I believe that Stoll's comments are outdated. However, his statements about how secure and private the Internet is still applies today. Although companies have made the Internet a little more secure, I still know of some people who don't send private information over the Internet because of their lack of faith in a site's security. Stoll also goes into the dangers of using computers in the classroom. Having just completed a totally on-line course, I think that having classes on-line is a good idea for probably only college students. I think that having teachers in the classroom with students is necessary to promote learning in lower-level grades of education.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Throwing the baby out with the bathwater!, Sept. 21 2000
By 
David E Werner (Pearl Harbor, Hawaii) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway (Paperback)
Stoll, once an enthusiastic internet pioneer who helped construct the information highway, has published a warning to those following in his footsteps. After years of exploration and development, he indicates that the reward at the journey's end is largely fool's gold.
His story is one of connectivity exuberance slowly soured by the seductive but disorganized, dehumanized, empty, and one-dimensional web. He makes the case that the internet is not the communications panacea advertised, and pleads with those who call cyberspace home to rejoin him in the tangible world.
Whimsically written, Stoll pulls from his personal experiences to chronicle example after example of how the internet's alleged allure ultimately results in dissatisfaction and disappointment. From web browsing to email to education to e-business, the writer argues that the web's applications and even potential are exaggerated. Chief among his criticisms is that the internet simply fails to excite all human senses - and arguably all other shortcomings he lists can be derived from this premise. Other classic complaints include the unreliability and costs of the associated equipment and systems, the vast disorganization, the faceless ambiguity of those participating in virtual communities and the perils of "edutainment." He reminds - even urges - the reader to again employ and enjoy more traditional mechanisms leveraging information now usurped by the internet.
In nearly every example, he pines for the days of information past. Despite his self-proclaimed ambivalence, the reader can infer that he wishes society would - if it could - put the genie back into the bottle.
His cynicism seems borne through disillusionment of the Frankenstein he helped create, and his arguments merit special consideration. As a forerunner in the development of the information highway, he commands instant respect as a subject matter expert. Although dated, most of his arguments supporting traditional systems of communications are well grounded and valid.
The reader may find, however, that his distaste for the communications means upon which society increasingly relies is not as well grounded. While clearly articulating the web's shortcomings, he diagnoses these infrequent aliments as a potentially insufferable, if not fatal, plague on the human condition. Based on today's expanding technical and conceptual development of the information highway, his prognosis may be a bit premature.
Merely a warning, it's worth the reader's time to hear out a knowledgeable, albeit seemingly bitter, internet pioneer.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling Novel- Barrenness of Web Technolculture, June 20 2000
This review is from: Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway (Paperback)
An impressive, multi-facetted, meandering chaotic, sometimes repetitive exploration of the barrenness of web technolculture. Such books should be read for balance (with 'Small is Beautiful' by Schumacher on appropriate technology) against the ultra-hyped Web-is-all techno-imperialism seemingly practised by global media and vested interests. Despite now being dated, it still happens to be a good-read (bonus!).
An overview of 'Silicon Snake Oil' contents follows.
Some drawbacks of vehicular highways in America, unforeseen include: the mass destruction and paving of the countryside; hour-long commuting faced by many workers; and pollution. Does the Internet similarly dehumanize through it's virtual world? Is it's use passive rather than active? How high (i.e. desirable) is the signal-to-noise-ratio? Is the amount of true productive output (from business processes) very low compared with the time spent (input) by the majority of users? The lemming-like hyped adoption of technologies impacts little on human, real and productive (mental, physical or other) pursuits such as cooking, driving, dancing, building and praying. The Internet in practice frustrates many with slow speeds during the working day; has poor navigation for finding quality information (even with the best efforts of search-engines and web-guides); is physically limited in the number of domain names available; has many fly-by-night companies trying to initiate electronic price-centred commerce; and is similar to television with many channels and much mediocrity. Interactive multimedia- the goal of many sites and intranet implementations- is essentially human-interaction-based (i.e. like real life). Limitations in human-computer-interaction limit creativity in games or business to linear progression through puzzlers/processes and increased hand-eye co-ordination (a crayon and pad is much more free-style). Where is the value for money- when a cheap pack of playing cards can be used in an infinite number of games, yet a computer programme costs 10 to 20 times as much and needs expensive computers/consoles to run on? Also, Internet-inspired mental-entrapment with physical interaction undermines social relationships (often gender-specific)- leading to a noted increase in computer-widows. Some pundits have claimed e-mail has inspired a literary revival- yet many messages and web-pages are mediocre at best. The speed of e-mail and on-line charges lead to informality and errors in e-mail (even through spell-checkers are common). The anonymity, untraceability and credibility through access, remove social constraints and can lead to cultural and personal insults. The metaphor of interaction in the web misses a permanence, warmth, and local history- it is not a reality. The computer and Internet are tools which should not replace critical thinking nor constrain solutions. We program computers and they program us- how many times have you wanted to "undo" a physical or verbal action in real-life? It is suggested that the truly creative are often not able to use computers.
Network/connection skills, due to the openness of connectivity all vary and change frequently- it's not a permanent skill- the need to keep up to date can be threatening and suffocating. Telecommuting, with the lack of physical meetings and personal interaction, often isolates workers and reduces loyalty. There is a concern for privacy in a connected and open electronic business world. Posting a few web pages, and joining as few mailing lists results in a few dozen messages per day- which need to be glanced at in case something important is enclosed- naturally an information and mailbox overload. A good proportion of "quality" information on the Web are lesser research results not worthy of publication in "real" academic journals. Computer technology elitism (the super connected North Americans versus relatively unconnected Africans) ignores the poor. Access to a universe of information can't solve all problems. The users are not paying for the infrastructure, which is subsidized.
The complexity of computers lead to frustration compared with similar technology yet simpler to use televisions and VCRs. There is a culture of exclusion, and jargon accessed through a keyboard designed to slow typists. All commercial software has bugs and crashes machines. Repetitive Strain Injury, TSV etc. are increasingly common. Perhaps computer users should work whilst using a treadmill (from fitness); say hello to 5 people prior to switching the computer on (for social skills); and read a novel after every computer manual (for sanity!). There is a 1000 page manual for using Microsoft Word- a simple program- which is more difficult to learn and more unreliable than driving a car. There is increasingly-fast obsolescence of technology- not sustainable in business even compared to cars; which includes a steep learning curve to be overcome with each new (often un-needed) version of software. Yet simplicity, reliability, and ease-of-training are more important than features. There is a barrenness of technoculture- what artifacts will be left for future historians? Even e-mail between different systems is unstandardized and often unreliable. Computerization can add a false staff credibility.
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3.0 out of 5 stars no title, April 9 2000
By 
Kevin Miller (St Marys, PA, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway (Paperback)
Stoll demonstrates that the Internet is not all fun a games. He shows the negative aspects of computers and the Internet on society. Although a few years old (1996), the book touches base with a few of today's main Internet problems. The first and foremost of these problems is Internet addiction.
I find Stoll contradicts himself many times throughout the book. He claims that newsgroups and Usenet is a waste of time, yet he also tells the reader how much information he got while spending countless hours on them. Another thing peculiar about the author is his attitude about the Internet in general. He comes off very anti-Internet, yet tells the reader about his 15 years prior to 1996 he spent on the Internet, and even starts off the book telling the reader he realizes he's addicted.
This is not a book for anyone who is "pro-computer." Stoll does make some interesting, realistic, points throughout the book, but in some instances, fails to back them up with evidence. However, if the reader approaches the book open-minded, he/she should walk away with a better understanding of how the Internet affects our society.
I find the book to be informative with respect to the negative aspects of the Internet, yet overdramatic about it. The Internet has changed a lot through the four years since this book has been in print, and so have Internet users. I am interested in how the author feels today the Internet, Internet users, and his comments made in Silicon Snake Oil.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Questioning the Value of the Internet, April 8 2000
By 
jamie martin (University of Pittsburgh at Bradford) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway (Paperback)
In this book, Clifford Stoll questions the value of the Internet and its effects on society. He warns that people have been sold the "snake oil" and that the Internet creates many problems. Once users are on the information highway, they may be paying a higher price than what they bargained for. He cautions readers that there are dangers and to consider the consequences. He believes the computer network isolates people, is no substitute for real experiences, and is hurting the funding and educational benefits in libraries and schools. He feels that not enough attention has been given to the drawbacks and that networked society cannot cure social problems. In fact, the Internet in his eyes creates more problems than valuable uses. While Stoll admits there are some good uses for the Internet, he points out how time consuming, frustrating, and dangerous the Internet can be. According to him, many users utilize the Internet for trivial things such as playing games while some are going to extremes with credit card fraud, pornography, hate sites, or sites that show step by step how to build a bomb. He challenges the reader to consider whether the pros outweigh the cons and how it is hurting society. Other problems addressed in this book that affect society is Internet addiction. People are spending large amounts of time on the Internet and neglecting social issues like spending time with their families and friends. Not only are people isolating themselves, but also some are creating virtual relationships and/or some pretend to be someone else which leads to interaction problems. Stoll strongly believes that the Internet is taking away from real life experiences by altering out thinking process. For example, he talks about email and how impersonal and unemotional it is. To him, it is not the same as reading or writing a hand written letter, and it is affecting people's creativity and capabilities. Virtual reality cannot be a substitute for real life experiences. In chapter 11, Stoll is concerned with how the Internet is affecting libraries and schools. He feels too much money is being spent on online card catologs and databases which do not provide a good enough search. Even information presented on the Internet is questionable, and to him the funding should be spent on additional books and not more computer terminals. He also fears the Internet will affect literacy with a window/icon screen. With a click of a mouse, information is presented and the Internet is a very visual tool. Lastly, he feels children will especially be affect in education via the Internet. Instead of interacting with other children and learning hands-on, children are in front of the computer to learn. The silicon snake oil is the line people have bought in hopes of improving society via the Internet, when in fact it is only hurting it. Stoll strongly believes people are accepting the Internet too easily without stepping back and seeing the big picture. He writes this book as a warning in hopes people will see the snake and heed caution.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A Blast From Internet Past, April 6 2000
By 
A College Student (Univ. of Pitt at Bradford) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway (Paperback)
Clifford Stoll's Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway, raises some legitimate concerns about the Internet for 1995-and I stress for 1995. Most of his warnings about the Internet were rather outdated, and seemed foolish in today's computer age. With computer technology advancing so quickly, books about the Internet can become dated quite quickly, and that is exactly what I found in this case. Stoll discusses some of the major concerns that people had in the mid-90s about the emerging Internet phenomenon, including issues centering around efficiency and security. Perhaps these arguments were realistic for computer users about five years ago, but developing technologies quickly remedied these, and made the Internet a much more efficient resource for business, communication, entertainment--you name it. I hate to criticize a book merely for the fact that it is far outdated, but I just can't give a great review to a book full of statements and suggestions that no longer hold any weight!
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Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway
Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway by Clifford Stoll (Paperback - March 1 1996)
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