12 Responses

  1. This was a truly amazing prediction and already we see its realization not only in the United States, but throughout the world where more and more people have access to the Internet. Maybe we are not still making the best use of its potentials for education. There is a certain amount of snobbishness in some academic circles who look down on articles published on the web as somewhat inferior to those published in some established journals, but some institutions such as the Open University and other Online Learning courses are already making greater use of this amazing tool. The present blog is a very good example of academic leaning and discussion at a high level.

    I don’t quite agree with his last comments about mysticism. He perhaps meant quacks who make use of mysticism to mislead or of astrologers that he mentions. Although I do not believe in religious dogma, I believe that mysticism at its best is an effort to understand the mystery behind life. Science can tell us about how the universe has come into being and how it works, and mysticism and philosophy can address the questions of why and to what end. To me, literature and mysticism are closely connected and both of them emanate from Imagination in its widest meaning. Our lives would be poorer if we do not at least speculate about the mystery of life. Otherwise, like Omar Khayyam we would feel frustrated

    What, without asking, hither hurried whence?
    And, without asking, whither hurried hence?
    Another and another Cup to drown
    The memory of this Impertinence!

  2. It had better be 25 years ago, because 20 years ago it wouldn’t have been a prediction, but a news report.

    Within a couple years of that prediction, science fiction writers, readers, and fans were already using one of the first social media sites, the Science Fiction Roundtable of the Genie Internet service. It was text-based, but Facebook users would recognize the format immediately.

    The first Web page was created on Aug. 6, 1991, and the rest, as they say, is history.

  3. Well, the Internet was going strong by 1983, which was when I first got on, and things called “newsgroups” were the way people talked, argued, and spread knowledge about a lot of arcane things that no serious person would care about: science fiction, TV & movies, computer operating systems & code – the whole geek experience. It should not have been that big a leap of imagination to propose that people could, in the far distant future, use this capability to enrich themselves intellectually on an even wider set of topics, and that there might be a more user-friendly interface than email.

    But, in a larger sense, Asimov’s speculation is every bit as tragic as the famous Edgar R. Murrow quote, “This medium can teach” was about TV. Yeah, and 70 years later, most of what we get is Honey-Boo-Boo, a thin corporate gruel of “news”, and 24×7 year-round sports.

    Similarly, when Junior gets onto his Internet, he ain’t out there exploring new sources of knowledge and enriching his mind: he’s either playing computer games or viewing porn.

    • I’m sorry – I left out social media. Junior is also posting phone videos to his Facepage, cheeping semi-illiterately, and cyber-bullying the other kids.

  4. It wasn’t all that bold a prediction in 1988. By 1988 the internet was hot if you were a nerd.

    The French made online purchases and organized protests via Minitel throughout the 1980s and Asimov probably knew about it. He had written a book about France. Minitel strongly signalled the future long before 1988.

    In the USA Arpanet had been going since 1969. It seems unlikely that Asimov would have been unaware of it.

    By 1990 even I had dialup internet access. It was useless, and I concluded that it was all hoohah. Bad call.

    He seems so innocent. He had no inkling that internet development would be driven by porn.

  5. When I was a kid in the late seventies I told my friends that my aunt could type on a keyboard in her laboratory at Princeton and it would appear on her friend’s computer at UCLA. None of my friends believed me.

    This is still a brilliant extrapolation, and perhaps still new to a general audience at the time he spoke, but it is not a prediction.

  6. This guy is so smart and genuine. And look at the young Bill Moyers. Some echos of Bertrand Russell re mysticism (“Mysticism and Logic”). The way he paused, I bet Asimov was about to compare mysticism to religion rather the more tactful “con men”. Russell recounted that when his jailer asked his religion when serving conscientious time during WWI, he said “agnostic” and the jailer said, “Different faiths, but we all pray to the same God in the end.” (From memory) That made his day.

    For the record, WolframAlpha and Wikipedia are pretty impressive on mathematics. This video is my prompt to read the Foundation trilogy again, Paul Krugman says that is what sent him on his path.

  7. 25 years ago was a report, not a prediction. Though the web hadn’t yet been invented, the Internet had been in continuous operation for more than 15 years, with all of the basic services, including publishing publicly-accessible document. (The human factors of this were terrible, but the functionality was quite useful.)

  8. Development of the Internet was well along by 1988, it just wasn’t commercialized. Asimov was a respected science popularizer, science fiction writer and probably as good a futurist as anyone, but I’ll bet others were thinking about a fully commercial internet by 1988.

  9. More than the future predictive cast of this, what I find fascinating is the proposal that the internet could be a mass Plato, responding directly in its pedagogy to generation after generation of Aristotles, Alexanders, and ______s (submit the names of all the kids of today and the future who can now nerd out in their chosen fields).
    As many commentators above have noted, human sexuality is a big interest of humanity on the whole,and this is reflected in internet activity, but when I was in 4th grade I looked up dirty words in the dictionary and then just kept on reading. We don’t have to be celibate monks and nuns to be good pupils after all.

  10. The ubiquitous Internet of today was foreseeable but far from foreordained in 1988. Of course Arpanet had existed for some time and was likely to spread in academia. Asimov’s key insights were that:

    The network would be easily and cheaply reachable from every desktop in every home.

    Massive amounts of information would be available and retrievable from the above at each user’s discretion.

    Like telephones earlier, such communications technologies need to achieve critical mass to be really helpful and usable. A series of fortuitous events shaped the process, including that businesses saw early that they would be able to capitalize on the technology, but no particular business was able to control it. Cheap PCs was another – acquired as a word processor or spreadsheet number cruncher, but with lasting value as an Internet portal.

    Search engines and especially Google were important in the evolution. Even the naked ladies helped drive the image technology, important in its own right and intuitively attractive to everyone (the more so once broadband was available, another thing driven by and driving the Internet).

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