Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Internet Will Fail--and 8 other predictions that didn't come true

That bold prediction was made by astronomer Clifford Stoll. He was quoted in a 1995 Newsweek story, "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."

Here we are, fifteen years later, and the newspaper industry is dying, people can earn college degrees online from accredited universities, and we can easily find information on anyone who has ever had their fifteen minutes of fame.

Lots of people make predictions, many of whom are considered experts in their field. And you have well-known prognosticators such as Nostradamus. Five hundred years later people are still referring to his predictions and debating the validity of the interpretations of his quatrains. And much more recently, there's the twentieth century offerings of Edgar Casey, among others.

Here's a list of eight bold predictions that failed miserably.

1) "Using Twitter for literate communication is about as likely as firing up a CB radio and hearing some guy recite 'The Iliad.'" – Science fiction writer and journalist Bruce Sterling.

Despite criticism, Twitter has proven itself to many thanks to its roles in breaking news and helping organize massive protests in Iran.

2) "For the most part, the portable computer is a dream machine for the few…on the whole, people don't want to lug a computer with them to the beach or on a train to while away hours they would rather spend reading the sports or business section of the newspaper." – Founder of early computer magazine ROM, Erik Sandberg-Diment as reported by the New York Times in 1985.

And today people are using portable computer devices at the beach and on a train to while away hours, many of whom are checking on sports scores and the stock market.

3) "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." – Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft.

Obviously, not everyone agreed with Steve Jobs' vision about the device that has become a cultural icon in a few short years.

4) "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." – Decca Recording Co., rejecting the Beatles in 1962. And Dick Rowe, the Decca recording executive who made that fateful prediction, went on to say, "The Beatles have no future in show business."

And as they say, the rest is history! The Beatles went on to release nineteen albums in seven years and sold approximately 140 million copies and I don't even want to guess how many singles. To give Dick Rowe credit for learning from his mistakes, he did sign the Rolling Stones and Van Morrison.

5) "TV will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn't time for it." – author unknown, quoted in The New York Times in 1939.

It's very easy to take cheap shots at television, especially with some of the truly low-brow programming that's out there. We've been told television rots our brains and turns our children on to sex and violence. But to consider it a fad that will fade away? And to add another television prediction: "I will believe in the 500-channel world only when I see it." – Viacom and CBS Chairman Sumner Redstone in a 1994 speech to the National Press Club.

6) "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" – RCA response to David Sarnoff's pitch for investment in radio.

RCA rebuffed Sarnoff's vision in the 1920s, and he went on to found NBC and became one of the most influential executives in radio and television in a career that spanned fifty years. After a few years, RCA did finally get it and jumped on the band wagon.

7) "The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon." – Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria in 1873.

We've come a long way, baby. Today heart surgery, organ transplant, and neurosurgery are common occurrences.

8) "Printed books will never be the equivalent of handwritten codices, especially since printed books are often deficient in spelling and appearance." – 15th century monk, Trithemius, wrote in his treatise "In Praise Of Copying"

And aren't we all glad his prediction fell flat? Printed books, and now eReaders (see item #2) are certainly an integral part of our world.

Have any of you come across any predictions that totally and completely bombed?


Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Your post is brilliant! If you don't mind, I'm going to mention in on my site. Very short-sighted individuals, eh?

Samantha Gentry said...

Julia: Thanks. I don't mind at all...please feel free to mention it.

Definitely short-sighted! :)

Mary Ricksen said...

Edgar Cayce did say that Florida would be underwater by now from earthquakes starting at the Bimini Wall. We're still here, wish he'd warned us about the oil thing!

Samantha Gentry said...

Mary: Cayce! I knew I spelled that wrong but didn't take the time to check. (bad me!) I lived in California and I think he had us falling off into the ocean in 1969. He had several big predictions that totally missed. And you're right...he should have mentioned the oil.

April Ash said...

Great incorrect predictions! How about all systems will fail in when we get to our new century 2000?
Now let's hope the 2012 prediction fails, too...I'm not ready to "leave"!

Samantha Gentry said...

April: Wow...I forgot about all the dooms day predictions about Y2K! Yes, great example.

Dalton Diaz said...

What a fun post! 2012 scares me about as much as George Orwell's 1984.

And didn't Led Zeppelin get their name from someone saying they were going to crash like a... lead zeppelin?

Samantha Gentry said...

Dalton: Yeah, all the 2012 predictions haven't been proven wrong yet. We still have 2.5 years until December 21, 2012. I didn't know that about Led Zeppelin, interesting bit of trivia.

katsrus said...

Loved your post. I guess I would say I have heard that paper books will be gone because of the new ebooks but; I really don't think. There is nothing like a paper book to hold and read. I remember those Y2K all to well. LOL.
Sue B

Samantha Gentry said...

Sue: I think it's going to be quite a while before even the possibility of paper books disappearing becmes a reality. One thing, in my humble opinion, that needs to happen first is a standard format for all ebooks and ebook readers. It's like when the vcr first came out, it didn't take off as an absolute necessity until the format battle between vhs and Sony's beta was resolved in favor of vhs. And then we had the dvd question for high definition. There were two different high definition dvd formats and Sony finally won that with their Blu-Ray format. Any time you have more than one format for something and they aren't compatible, you naturally have lots of people who hold back until they see which format is the winner so they don't end up buying one that disappears while a different one emerges as the winner.

Thanks for stopping by.