Saturday, June 11, 2011

What Is the Internet, Anyway?

Over at LRC, Stephan Kinsella posts this great discussion about the internet that occurred in 1994 between Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric on the Today Show.

I think one takeaway from this clip is that it shows us how difficult it is to imagine how different products and technologies can develop, and that it is best to just let the free markets continue to innovate. A centrally planned society can never come up with the innovations that can occur as a result of one person adding something here and another adding something there. Pretty soon, with all these additions, you have everything from online trading, online travel bookings, and youtube to twitter and Facebook leading revolutions.

UPDATE Butler Shaffer makes this interesting added point at LRC:
What is most telling about the mainstream media's early response to the Internet is not its failure to predict where it would be in 2011, but its failure — as in so many other areas — to ask significant questions. That so much attention was given over to asking about the meaning of "@," instead of making inquiries into the possible social and political implications of this new system, is instructive of the point made by Thomas Pynchon: "If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers." This was not unlike the kind of questioning Gutenberg might have faced ("But what will the letters look like?")

These 1990s media people — whose employers faced the biggest threat from the Internet—- might have invoked L. Frank Baum's directive: "Pay no attention to those men behind their screens."
UPDATE 2: David Kramer posts to this incredible 1995 Newsweek article dissing the internet. It is a must read. It is not hard to imagine many people thinking the way this Newsweek writer did back then, which comes back to the point that it is best to allow innovation through free markets, rather than the necessary limited thinking of a central planner.


  1. The amazing thing about the Newsweek article is that Clifford Stoll, at that point, had quite a long history actually using it. So the fact that he didn't get it is even more astounding than some clueless talking head like Katie Couric not getting it.

  2. This is what everyone's discussion of bitcoins sounds like to me.

  3. Funny the Newsweek article was linked by Kramer, who just had a big long post about how Bitcoins aren't a medium of exchange. Wonder if we'll be pointing back to his post and chuckling in 15 years.