Top critical review
Throwing the baby out with the bathwater!
on September 21, 2000
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.