In 1995, a group of 5th grade kids in Helena, Montana got together and made a PSA for the Internet (above). And, man, were they hip, with their techno music and their “by the time I’m in college, the internet will be your telephone, television, and workplace.” In the annals of overblown predictions and technological hubris, mid-nineties internet-fever will go down as the ultimate exception. These kids even anticipated the cute cat mania that would infect the internet forever. Of course, none of them could have foreseen the Twitter revolution, the Facebook decline, rubbable gifs, or spherical panoramic views of Mars, but that’s just quibbling.
It really is astonishing to look back a mere seventeen years at what a primitive technology the internet was. Of course it wasn’t necessarily evident at the time that the online world would indeed become our “telephone, television, and workplace,” and some naysayers, like astronomer and hacker-catcher Clifford Stoll, called BS on the hype. In a 1995 Newsweek article titled “The Internet? Bah!,” Stoll wrote:
The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.
In 2010, Stoll was forced to retract, commenting on Boing Boing coverage of his sourpuss skepticism with:
“Of my many mistakes, flubs, and howlers, few have been as public as my 1995 howler.
But who could blame him? This was the age of such clunky Web services as AOL, which promises much in a 95 ad below, but ultimately delivered little.
Not all web advertising in 1995 looks so dated and silly. AOL’s competitor Prodigy, which fared even worse, certainly had a better ad agency. Their 95 ad below, featuring Barry White, is a romp.
All of this reflection warrants more wisdom from a chastened Clifford Stoll, who in a 2006 TED talk says: “If you really want to know about the future, don’t ask a technologist, a scientist, a physicist. No! Don’t ask somebody who’s writing code. No, if you want to know what society’s going to be like in 20 years, ask a kindergarten teacher.”
Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.