Other people’s disastrously-bad predictions make a great start to presentations.
We’ve all heard of Decca Records, which famously rejected The Beatles because “guitar groups are on the way out.”
And the chairman of IBM who, in 1943, said “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
But few people have been so spectacularly wrong as Clifford Stoll.
In a now hilarious 1995 article for Newsweek, The Internet? Bah!, Stoll maintained that the online world was absurdly overhyped. It was all “baloney”.
“Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms,” he wrote. “They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems.
“Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper…
“Then there’s cyberbusiness. We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts… Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.
“What’s missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact. Discount the fawning techno-burble about virtual communities. Computers and networks isolate us from one another…”
And so on.
Stoll’s mistake was to see the internet as it was, not what it could be.
It’s true that, in the dial-up world of 1995, much of the web was pretty clunky. But he neglected to recognise that, if something’s a bit crap, people will always find a way to make it better – and build a business by selling that improvement to others.
I’m sure that, in 15 years, we’ll be using the internet in ways we haven’t yet imagined. And I don’t mean to be rude to Clifford: after all, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
But real-life examples of calamitous prophecies always go down well with any audience (unless they’re professional clairvoyants). You can find lots more examples by clicking here.
And Clifford Stoll? He now sells blown glass bottles… on the web.