anti-internet texts from the 1990s

A collection of anti-Internet texts from the mid-1990s. Each of these were written at the point just as the net was unquestionably entering its stage of hyper-growth, absorbing more and more personal time as well as gobbling up independent networks into its own.

The Internet As Hyper-Liberalism (1996) argues against interconnectivity of networks.

Net-ism is wrong because it is coercively expansionist. There is no inherent or inevitable technical or historical trend to a single communication network. On the contrary: never before in history, have so many separate networks been technically possible. Linking all networks together is a conscious choice by some people, a choice then imposed on others. The logic is identical to that of colonial governments, which forced peasants into the agricultural market, by imposing cash taxes. (To pay the tax, the peasants had to sell cash crops such as sugar). This logic says in effect: 'no one is free to stay outside the free market'. Today, not just governments, but business, social movements, intellectuals and artists, all want to impose the Net. This broad movement is obviously more than profit-seeking (and a non-profit Net would also be wrong). It is an ideological movement seeking ideological imposition. That imposition itself, the universalism, the expansionism, their involuntary nature, the basic unfreedom to exit – that is what makes liberal structures wrong. That applies to the free market, and it applies inherently to the Internet.

From Pandora's Vox Redux (humdog, 1994)

many times in cyberspace, i felt it necessary to say that i was human. once, i was told that i existed primarily as a voice in somebody’s head. lots of times, i need to see handwriting on paper or a photograph or a phone conversation to confirm the humanity of the voice, but that is the way that i am. i resist being boxed and inventoried and i guess i take william gibson seriously when he writes about machine intelligence and constructs. i do not like it. i suspect that my words have been extracted and that when this essay shows up, they will be extracted some more. when i left cyberspace, i left early one morning and forgot to take out the trash. two friends called me on the phone afterwards and said, hummie your directory is still there. and i said OH. and they knew and i knew, that it was possible that people had been entertaining themselves with the contents of my directories. the amusement never ends, as peter gabriel wrote. maybe sometime i will rant again if something interesting comes up. in the meantime, give my love to the FBI."

Cliff Stoll in Newsweek, Why The Internet Will Fail (1995)

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. A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee. No interactive multimedia display comes close to the excitement of a live concert. And who’d prefer cybersex to the real thing? While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth. A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where–in the holy names of Education and Progress–important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued.

The mid-1990s were a good time to be high-mindedly anti-network.

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3 thoughts on “anti-internet texts from the 1990s

  1. Mark O'Brien

    I met Clifford Stoll, back in the early 1990s at the Dayton Hamvention – this was a few years after The Cuckoo’s Egg was a big hit, and his new book (which I thankfully, don’t remember) had recently been published. Cliff’s a smart guy, and a very enthusiastic person, and yet I had the feeling that he was “old-school” in his thoughts about the Internet. As someone who was thoroughly into the guts of “the machine” he was of course, not prescient enough to see how thoroughly enveloped we are by the web. However, his core belief that we need to pull ourselves away from the big electronic teat and actually “do things” is still valid, in my opinion. Whether it’s some sort of flash mob event, Flickr meetups, Facebook groups, etc., what was once thought of as isolationist, has instead become a way for like-minded people to meet and keep in contact. Yes, there are still dweebs sitting in the basement somewhere — but there always has been and will always be those types.
    I started the first web server at the Museum of Zoology in 1995, and it was a big enough event that it made the Michigan Daily — that server is still going. At the time I certainly did not imagine smartphones, ipads, Amazon.com, or Facebook, but certainly thought that the web was a BIG thing that was just beginning. That was the days of Netscape 1.0…

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  2. Ken Latta

    I put up the first public facing web server at Merit in 1994 and the audience was considered to be no more than other Network Operators and researchers. While folks on Usenet and of course the world of uucp had ideas about moving files around besides email, the notion of graphic interfaces for collections was somewhat elusive. The world of email and Conferencing we had in the 80s was largely unknown.
    In an earlier job at ISR, we hosted staffers from the future Governor Blanchards staff and introduced them to the notion of just how much work you could get done via email instead of phone calls (especially catching up with elusive research staff).
    Nowadays folks begin to get antsy if their postings aren’t replied to in real time almost all day.

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