How the Wrongest Column About the Internet Was Actually Right

Clifford Stoll’s 1995 Newsweek column is the worst thing ever written about the internet. Or is it?

Colin Horgan
OneZero
Published in
5 min readAug 13, 2021

--

Clifford Stoll’s column in the February 27, 1995 edition of Newsweek

“After two decades online, I’m perplexed. It’s not that I haven’t had a gas of a good time on the Internet. I’ve met great people and even caught a hacker or two. But today, I’m uneasy about this most trendy and oversold community.”

In 1995, Clifford Stoll wrote for Newsweek what has been frequently called one of the “worst ever predictions” about the Internet, a column titled Why the Web Won’t Be Nirvana. In it, Stoll famously ridiculed the idea that “cyberbusiness” would outstrip the local mall, or that we’d “order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts.” All of it, Stoll wrote, was baloney. In 2010, Stoll admitted that “of my many mistakes, flubs, and howlers, few have been as public as my 1995 howler. Wrong? Yep.”

Generally speaking, Stoll’s dismissals were clearly premature. All the things he figured would never catch on are today commonplace. But while some of the specific predictions Stoll made have grown increasingly inaccurate over the years, his general discomfort with the internet’s vaunted promises has begun to feel more and more prescient, particularly those…

--

--