The Pros and Cons of the Internet, As Taught to Students in 1996

By  |  Friday, October 28, 2011 at 7:00 am

Last weekend, I was at my parents’ house in Connecticut for a family matter. As my sister went through some of the things in her childhood bedroom, she discovered a document from 1996, explaining the advantages and disadvantages of the Internet. This was apparently part of some high school handout packet; also included among the papers were tips on using Altavista and print outs of the Yahoo home page as viewed in Netscape.

Since we’re fans of tech nostalgia here at Technologizer, I thought I’d share the document with you. Surprisngly, many of the Internet’s perks and problems remain the same 15 years later, but some of them just seem silly in retrospect.

(Click on the image to view an enlarged version.)

Some thoughts:

  • Although the Internet is quite different now from what it was in 1996, its advantages–communicating with anyone around the world, consuming all kinds of content and getting information quickly–haven’t fundamentally changed. No one uses chat rooms anymore, though.
  • The rise of reputable sources on the Internet, combined with a more savvy user base, means reliability of information isn’t a huge issue today. Of course, you can’t believe everything you read, but that was true even before the Internet.
  • I suppose there are still “MANY” dead links on the Internet. But I rarely notice.
  • The paper seems optimistic that some day, the Internet will be secure. Hasn’t happened yet. And with users putting more information about themselves on the Internet than ever before, security is arguably a bigger issue than it was 15 years ago. One hack is all it takes for your personal details to get out.
  • The Internet is more organized today, but information overload remains, thanks to countless blogs and endless social network streams–none of which existed 15 years ago.
  • The idea that spending “hours” on the Internet was once classified as addiction now seems hilarious to me.

(Thanks, Heather.)



26 Comments For This Post

  1. David Hamilton Says:

    One major omission:

    The lack of a proper website revenue model (e.g. micro-cash payments using built-in secure wallets allowing pageviews for 10 cents or even less) has not only been highly destructive to web commerce but also has spread, like a cancer, to destroy existing business models (such as recorded music and newspapers).

    Our entire economy is based on persuading people to move money around – to pay money to buy stuff that is largely unnecessary (which is why the fashion industry is such a brilliant flag-bearer for capitalism!). It is the rate of flow of money around society that makes us all rich, not how much money that actually exists.

    The web's enforced habit of giving things away for free not only risks directly destroying many established industries, but in the long term threatens to destroy our entire economy by undermining that circular flow of money.

    Free may well end up making us all poor. And the lack of a proper revenue model for the Internet will ultimately be to blame for that.

  2. henry Says:

    Great response Davide!

  3. JDoors Says:

    It's disappointing to see how little has actually changed. It only seems to be a matter of degrees. This much time has passed and there's been no life-altering paradigm shift? What? Where's my Star Trek computer?

    OK, mobile computing might qualify, but as far as the topics covered in that document are concerned, it's still only a matter of degrees.

  4. קינוחים אישיים Says:

    New things are not always better. Why changing things that are working?

  5. Lylej2k Says:

    Love the spelling error. "Yung" children. That aside, this is pretty interesting. I would have been 16 at the time, and I can remember stuff like this being passed out in school. One thing I remember is teachers wouldn't allow us to use the internet to do research for a paper, because there was no way to fact check the material.

  6. Steve Says:

    It's not a spelling error. They were referring specifically to the children of Han and Jinghua Yung. They run The Golden House chinese takeaway in Ealing. 🙂

  7. Steve Lovelace Says:

    What gets me is that "speed" is both an advantage and a disadvantage. On one side it says that the internet is fast, and on the other, it says that the internet is slow.

  8. Paul Says:

    It actually says "some internet activities can take a long time" – Something that is very true today. The "some" s the big caveat.

  9. internetpolice Says:

    obvious troll is obvious
    this is not from 1969.

  10. Steve Says:

    Correct… it's from 1996, as stated…

  11. Marc Says:

    On the dead link issue, with the popularity of URL shortening services, how long will it be before one of them goes the way of Geocities and much of our archived links are dead?

  12. Max Says:

    May I just say I am very thankful the web was not created by people looking only to monetise things, such as David Hamilton, but rather by those who wanted to benefit humanity by creating an amazing communications network.

    The entertainment industry is the only one that can even be claimed to be ‘harmed’ by the internet. The established industries inability to innovate and their delay in doing anything at all is no ones fault but their own. Their insistence on changing consumers about the same amount for internet distributed content as they do for retail content is quite telling. There are none of the inherent costs of selling packaged goods (only tiny by comparison bandwidth) and no wholesalers/retailers taking a cut. Physical products also come from a time where lawyers had not yet changed things so I don’t actually own a copy of a movie I purchase (lending, resale etc).

    To claim the entire economy of a nation is jeopardised by the internet is just false. The USA and other western nations have harmed ourselves by giving the technology of production of goods to developing nations, the entertainment industry is a very small % of the world’s economies and we cannot somehow get the cat back in the bag with draconian DRM enforced by laws pushed on nations by private interests.

    Of course those making great profit (a far larger % than the artists who create the works they sell) by distributing physical copies of easily digitised information are the ones disrupted by the communications revolution that is the internet. We cannot hold back the advancement of technology to save established industries that are made largely irrelevant by it.

    Products like itunes and steam show that users will purchase their products (in a way that has a far higher profit margin than selling physical goods) if these companies actually wise up and deliver a fair product at a fair price. The key is to not make the pirated versions of things superior to the paid versions, eg region locked blu ray movies with un-skippable ads.

    The internet won out over other proprietary networks of the time entirely because of, not despite its, open nature. The proposal that the benefit to humanity would have been greater if somehow a locked down network designed by the entertainment industry is clearly untrue.

    Once again, let me state how thankful I am, and I feel we all should be, that the internet was created by people who wanted a better way to communicate and share information, not CEOs who want to squeeze every cent out of consumers.

  13. David Hamilton Says:

    Max: you've got me completely wrong if you think I am arguing for more profits to the huge corporates. Quite the opposite, in fact, as I believe huge companies to be the enemy of capitalism, reducing jobs and choice and making everyone except themselves poorer.

    What I was arguing for was a mechanism that allows everyone with anything unique to share to make reasonable revenues from the Net, without being forced to effectively give away their intellectual property.

    The entertainment industry is most definitely not the only the only one being undermined by the internet. The newspaper/media industry is being literally decimated every year (i.e. losing 10% circulation per year) by the shift to (free) online news.

    I agree that they have been slow to adapt to the internet, but that is the core of my case. That the lack of a mature revenue model for the Internet has led to people either giving things away for free (and hoping they can get some scraps through Google Ads) or to avoid the medium completely.

    The music industry is an area close to my heart as I know a number of professional or semi-professional musicians. And the truth of the matter is that the Internet has sucked all the money out of recorded music, and returned the industry to the state it was in the 1930s, with musicians scraping a living from live performances. (That's not to justify the amount charged for recorded music by the record companies, which was unjustifiable, as was the fact that they only gave artists around 14% of the money made by their CD sales.)

    And please don't tell me that Spotify is the future for musicians. It is estimated that an artist needs over 4 million plays per month to make US minimum wage –

    Finally, I think you're confusing Open and Free. Open systems encourage competition and help create healthy markets. Free, unfortunately, does nothing of the sort. For example, look at how Microsoft, with Internet Explorer, and Google, with Android, have used or are using Free to try to create a monopoly, sucking profitability out of a market sector.

    For the difference between Open and Free, think of those who charge to design and build websites: Their designs are Open to be seen by everyone (i.e. you can look at the HTML/CSS source), but (hopefully!) they're not creating them for Free.

  14. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Newspapers have been losing net circ since the 70's. The Web didn't cause their problems as evidenced by this fact.

  15. David Hamilton Says:

    Heraclitus: I notice that (as usual) you haven't posted any data to support your 'fact'.

    According to this in depth report, only evening newspapers have been in decline since the '70s.
    If you look at the numbers for the section "A 20-year slide in paid circulation" (ignore the title and look at the numbers) and exclude evening papers you find the following figures:
    1990 -> 103.9m
    2000 -> 106.2m
    2004 -> 104.7m
    2009 -> 86.5m

    In other words, circulation in 2004 was actually higher than it was in 1990, but then started to plunge by 18m over the next 5 years.

    I rest my case.

  16. The_Heraclitus Says:

    As usual, I notice that you are clueless. It is circ per capita you need to look up. I can tell that you have never been a senior exec in a large business.

    Leave analysis to those how understand the issues.

  17. David Hamilton Says:

    The population of the US would have had to have dropped by over 50 million in 5 years to make your per capita numbers work.

    Tell you what: you post some numbers that back your point, or I'll assume that you're just some teenager who is trolling.

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  19. Hornedrat Says:

    I have to disagree abut chat rooms, my mother uses a chat room to regularly talk to groups of friends and she prefers that to other methods,

  20. Mr Deeds Says:

    All those same pros and cons are still true today. Especially the one about it being addicting. I've literally spent over hal;f my life on the internet since I first discovered it in 1999.

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  23. Office design Says:

    Whichever points of disadvantages listed in the list of 1996 , has been solved and one point is true also that people spend too much time without realising.

    And these days the major cons of internet is that people be the dependent of the internet even for the small need and this can be the harmful thing in future for the human and suggest not to be the machine dependent.

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