"SIlicon Snake Oil"

Brad M. Biglow (bmb@DANA.UCC.NAU.EDU)
Fri, 7 Jul 1995 10:23:18 -0700

Recently, the new book by Clifford Stoll entitled "Silicon Snake Oil:
Second Thoughts on the Information Superhighway" became a discussion item on
this list. Having sifted through the book in a ravenous evening of hyper-
reading, largely out of curiosity and the attention this book has been
receiving from the media and public alike, I'd like to post a few of my

This book lacks all the passion & intrigue of "The Cuckoo's Egg." Geared
toward a mainstream audience, Stoll fills the pages with his personal
reflections on technological development and social/cultural change. While
this is fine and dandy in a postmodern sense, he presents little in the realm
of the "new." The destruction of family, reorganization of the business
world to computer technology and its subsequent human employment loss
(anyone ever think about life-long learning or building new skills?), the end of
printed media (books, journals, etc), and the retreat into our own "personal
online worlds" have been discussed by more serious researchers and futurists
for decades. If one looks at the destruction of the traditional "Anglo"
nuclear family, one also must look at where it is headed, how it is changing,
and why it is changing. Whiling away our free-time online is not necessarily
a coerced result of changing communicative methods, but there is also the
factor of human "choice" in the matter. VR immersion can be a powerful drug,
as many say an "escape from reality and the problems of the real world."
On the flip side of the coin, I hear little about the benefits of such media:
differing spousal interests accomodated for online, the redisovery/reworking/
rethinking of what makes a 'family' or a 'community' [a topic I will be
addressing at the upcoming AAAs]. Some say VR communities are *not*
"real" communities (see February's (?) Utne Reader), including some
anthropologists. What serious research can be conducted by "newbies" when
there are those of us who have been immersed in online culture, watching it
evolve for many years? I have seen friendships gained (and lost), contacts
developed, and yes, families formed 'online' be it through e-mail, newsgroups,
listservers such as this, or online social, educational, or combat
simulations. The telephone has been accepted as an adequate communication
device not requiring f-2-f contact. Electronic communication is little
different, only requiring people to be open-minded, just as they were with
the first telegraphs and telephones.
Beyond my pontification here, Stoll still does an o.k. job of
dispelling some myths about "bookless libraries" and ultimately confiding
in human thought to "save us from our sins (or potential sins)." My response
is: read the scholary research, *then* read (or TRY to read) Stoll's book.
That way you may find some serious scientific answers to the questions Stoll
addresses, but fails to fully rationalize. Oh, and at $22 for the hardcover
edition, I'd strongly suggest waiting for the paperback...save yourself a
potential letdown, and your pocketbook.

Brad M. Biglow
Cultural Science Intern
and Educational Futurist
Mesa Community College, Mesa, AZ

upcoming AAAs]