five myths of the internet [sent by Sonny Covington] FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 13 Apr 1998 03:07:04 -0700 (PDT)


FWD from "H. C. Covington" <ach1@sprynet.com>

H. C. Sonny Covington  @  I CAN! America
427 St. John Street - Lafayette, LA  70501
(318) 235-7005  Fax 318-234-0953
-----Original Message-----
From: Michael Gurstein <mgurst@ccen.uccb.ns.ca>
Date: Sunday, April 12, 1998 6:08 AM
Subject: fivemyths.html (fwd)



---------- Forwarded message ----------

                          Five Myths of New Media

   Mark Twain once said "It's not the things you don't know that will
   hurt you, it's the things you think you know that ain't so."

   The Internet explosion has spawned quite a few popular myths. In this
   article we'll take a look at what may be the top five.

1. Business use is driving the growth of the Internet.

   Don't you believe it. Business use of the Internet is important, sure,
   but the Internet has always been led and is still by social and
   expressive use. For every two corporate types soberly exchanging
   business data there are ten swapping personal email and twenty hanging
   out in Usenet forums or IRC. The ratio of corporate to personal web
   pages is similarly lopsided.

   These ratios are well known to every ISP and form the basis of their
   cost structure; $19.95/month flat rate pricing simply wouldn't fly
   economically if most customers weren't occasional social users.

   Then there are the long-term residents. Many people don't realize that
   the standards that define the Internet, and a lot of the software that
   embodies those standards, are maintained by a cadre of long-term
   volunteers. These people, the Internet hacker cadre, have
   engineering-driven ideas of their own about where they want the
   Internet to go. While most are not hostile to commercial use of the
   Internet per se, they have no intention of letting corporate America
   control its future.

   These facts have implications about the culture of the Net. It's not
   an unformed void waiting to turned into a cyberspatial shopping mall
   by eager entrepreneurs. It's already got a large native and transient
   population with their own agendas, habits, and history. Business is
   finding it has to adapt to that, not the other way around.

2. The Internet is the future of mass entertainment and news.

   Of all the myths surrounding the Internet this one is probably both
   the most amusing and the most thoroughly exploded. There's a certain
   kind of media mogul that can only comprehend the Internet as a mass
   medium with accidental interactivity, cable television's smarter
   brother, a stronger opiate for the couch potatos of America.

   Every year or so since 1985 this kind of myopia has spawned yet
   another grandiose media consortium intenting to turn the Internet into
   a money-spinning bundle of pay-TV channels -- HBO and MTV on steroids.
   Or else into a captive news outlet a la CNN (MS-NBC is the latest
   example of this thinking).

   Trouble is, nobody's buying. Every market test of the video-on-demand
   concept has crashed and burned. Net-based news operations have a
   history of hemhorraging red ink to collapse. Their putative customers
   have simply never found continuing value they can't get from older
   media -- the neighborhood video store, the music CD-ROM, the news
   magazine.

3. The techno-literacy problem can be solved in isolation.

   There's been a great deal of viewing-with-alarm lately about the
   "technology gap" -- the fear that the Internet is going to widen an
   achievement divide between educated white and Asian haves and
   disadvantaged black and Hispanic have-nots. This is generally followed
   in the next breath by a demand for specific government interventions
   to get Internet access into the hands of disadvantaged kids.

   The trouble with this kind of thinking is that the "technology gap" is
   a consequence, not a cause. If we can solve the larger problem, which
   is the near-complete breakdown of education and civil society in the
   inner cities, this specific illiteracy problem will go away. If we
   can't, the kids who won't bootstrap themselves out using the Internet
   are probably going to be the same ones who wouldn't have had the
   brains and drive to do it without the Internet.

   The "technology gap" crusaders are earnest and well-intentioned, but
   their plans have a potential to do little good and grave harm.
   Commercial Internet access now costs less per month than a meal at a
   medium-priced restaurant; it just doesn't make any sense to crank up
   the engines of bureacracy, raise taxes, and issue another long ton of
   regulations in order to try to mandate Internet access from the poor
   from the top down. Not when the real problems are welfare dependency,
   schools that don't teach, drug addiction, and pervasive crime.

   In fact, most Internet old-timers are frankly terrified at the thought
   of seeing the Internet co-opted by the public-education and
   social-welfare crowd. And well they might be. If those people did the
   same job of good management recommended by the state of our public
   schools and minority neigbhorhoods, they'd destroy the network
   infrastructure and have the rest of us reduced to a virtuous equality
   of paper cups and string before long.

4. On-line magazines can make money.

   Well, perhaps they can -- but nobody's done it yet, and not for any
   lack of trying. Since Internet magazines can be and are carried by the
   net's present bandwidth, this is not quite the pipe dream that
   video-on-demand has been. But the fact remains that attempts like
   Slate don't even seem to be making enough subscription revenue to pay
   even a decent fraction of their operating costs, let alone to amortize
   their startup costs.

   Nor is there any reason to believe this will change in the near future
   soon. The brutal truth is that the Web 'zines, requiring as they does
   the specialized high context defined by you sitting at attention at
   your computer, cannot replace the experience of leafing through a
   magazine with your feet up. It's not as comfortable, the graphics and
   fonts are poorer, and you can't take them with you (at least not
   without an absurdly expensive and fragile combination of laptop and
   radio modem).

5. Paper will be history soon.

   Myth #4 is often considered a consequence of this one; paper-media
   types are rushing to the net because they fear onrushing obsolescence.
   But because familarity with technology breeds taking it for granted,
   people tend to undervalue some of the things paper can do better.

   It's a safe bet that paper will never be obsolete until we have
   computers or network terminals as inexpensive, light, robust, and high
   in display resolution as a paperback book. And we're still a very long
   way from that point technologically.

   It may sound like I am saying the Internet isn't really good for
   anything older media can do. That's not true; rather, I am asserting
   the Internet (like other media) has a natural ecological/economic
   niche which it fills better than its competitors, but that said niche
   is different from any of its competitors. We won't serve anyone by
   trying to fit the Internet on a Procrustean bed of old-media forms,
   nor by assuming any of them is inevitably going to be completely
   subsumed by the Internet.

   Historically, all of the media revolutions since the Industrial
   Revolution have supplemented older media rather than supplanting them.
   The telephone didn't kill off the postal service and television failed
   to do in either radio or the movies; and none of these media, despite
   predictions, have smothered the printed word. With this perspective it
   seems silly to wax apocalyptic about the Internet.

   The best way to get beyond the mythology is to look at the media
   channels invented by the Internet culture itself. Electronic mail;
   Usenet news; Internet Relay Chat; personal pages on the World Wide
   Web. These are the things people actually use and the things customers
   pay for. They're not much like comfort to anyone who believes our five
   myths of new media, but they are the future.

    Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>