The good people at BoingBoing recently noted
the 15-year anniversary of astronomer Clifford Stoll
's painfully inaccurate prediction that the Internet will fail. Stoll argued in a 1995 Newsweek story
, "The truth is, no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher, and no computer network will change the way government works."
Fifteen years later, the newspaper industry is dying, people earn degrees online, and we read incredible facts about Chuck Norris
But we're not here to skewer Stoll. He's a talented person who made a bad call. He even left a lighthearted comment
on the story: "Wrong? Yep. At the time, I was trying to speak against the tide of futuristic commentary on how The Internet Will Solve Our Problems." He added, "Now, whenever I think I know what's happening, I temper my thoughts: Might be wrong, Cliff ..."
Stoll is definitely not alone with his 1995 "howler," as he describes it. Check out this roster of other bold predictions that completely whiffed. We predict that you will be amused.
"Using Twitter for literate communication is about as likely as firing up a CB radio and hearing some guy recite 'The Iliad.'"
-- Bruce Sterling, a science-fiction writer and journalist, told The New York Times
Although Newsweek has said, "All the world's a-Twitter," and John Stewart has made light of it, not everyone has praised the 140-character platform. Still, Twitter has more than proven itself in the eyes of many, thanks to roles in breaking news and helping organize massive protests in Iran.
"For the most part, the portable computer is a dream machine for the few ... On the whole, people don't want to lug a computer with them to the beach or on a train to while away hours they would rather spend reading the sports or business section of the newspaper.
"Somehow, the microcomputer industry has assumed that everyone would love to have a keyboard grafted on as an extension of their fingers. It just is not so ... Because no matter how inexpensive the machines become, and no matter how sophisticated their software, I still can't imagine the average user taking one along when going fishing."
-- Erik Sandberg-Diment, the founder of the early computer magazine ROM, said in a Dec. 8, 1985, op-ed in the New York Times
In fact, there are now fishing apps for the iPhone.
"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance."
-- Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft
Speaking of the iPhone, not everyone was as convinced as Steve Jobs that the device would become a cultural icon, or that it would garner such impressive market share in just a few years.
"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out."
-- Decca Recording Co., rejecting The Beatles, 1962
, Decca's record executive, uttered the fateful prediction
to Beatles manager Brian Epstein, who pleaded for Rowe to reconsider. Decca reportedly went a step further and said
, "The Beatles have no future in show business."
Well, not exactly. The Beatles released a ridiculous 19 albums in the ensuing seven years
and have sold approximately 140 million copies and a gazillion singles to date. Perhaps more impressive, they inspired "Beatlemania
," and their presence reduced thousands of teenage girls to hysterical crying. Dick Rowe did sign the Rolling Stones and Van Morrison, by the way.
"TV will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn't time for it."
-- author unknown, from The New York Times
It's all too easy to take pot shots at the boob tube, and this was true long before the idiots of "Jersey Shore" or the lowbrow antics of "Celebrity Fear Factor." We've been told TV rots our brains and turns our kids on to sex and violence. But is it just a fad?
Bonus: In a 1994 speech to the National Press Club in Washington, Viacom and CBS Chairman Sumner Redstone said, "I will believe in the 500-channel world only when I see it," according to Ken Auletta's book "Googled
"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?"
-- the heads of RCA respond to David Sarnoff's pitch for investment in radio
The Golden Age of Radio (no, not the time before Howard Stern moved to satellite) might never have galvanized a nation during WWII and the Great Depression had everyone listened to David Sarnoff's powerful bosses at RCA in the 1920s. An immigrant from what is now Belarus, Sarnoff would eventually found NBC, and was one of the most influential executives in radio and TV in a career that spanned from the nineteen-teens to his retirement in 1970.
Of course, after a few years, RCA would own radio stations and produce listening devices, so the bosses soon "got it."
"The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon."
-- Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873
How far we've come. Heart-bypass surgery is a fairly routine operation
, and neurosurgery is an entire field of medicine, although the procedures are often very risky.
"Printed books will never be the equivalent of handwritten codices, especially since printed books are often deficient in spelling and appearance."
-- the 15th-century monk Trithemius wrote In his treatise "In Praise of Copying"
In a recent feature story on the history of handwriting
, Miller-McCune magazine points out that the European monks who toiled over exquisitely copied manuscripts weren't all too thrilled with the invention of the printing press. In addition to the fact that they were losing the medium to show off their prowess in drawing ornate, and largely illegible, illuminated letters, they worried that printing "was too liable to foibles and the idiosyncratic mark of the man helming the press. A hand-copied manuscript was, for them, the authoritative, exact, regularized text," according to Miller-McCune.
Tell us your favorite awful predictions in the comments.