The internet doesn’t suck as hard as Steve Maich

Sometimes you see a story so mind-blowingly moronic you just have to flame it. Today, that’s Steve Maich’s Pornography, gambling, lies, theft and terrorism: The Internet sucks.

It’s a long – very long – tirade against the web. It’s full of inaccuracies. It’s loaded with hyperbole. It’s jammed with bombastic nonsense. And it doesn’t even have the lovable stylistic cantankerousness of a Nick Carr to make it halfways bearable.

In short, it sucks. Here’s why:

Dark fibre sitting idle
According to Maich, the soils of the earth are just bursting with dark fibre:

They’re all still down there, out of sight and all but out of mind — hundreds of millions of miles of hair-thin strands of glass … And almost all of it sits empty, dark and idle — an unseen monument to every unfulfilled promise of the Internet.

Wrong: dark fibre is being lit up all over the place.

Internet not changing anything
According to Maich, the experts who predicted the internet would change many of our modes of communication have been proven wrong:

Billions would flood into cyberspace, changing everything about the way we communicate, educate and entertain.

They’re still selling the same old line.

Wrong. Over a billion have flooded onto the net. More are coming. And all of them are communicating, educating and being educated, and entertaining and being entertained in ways too numerous to count.

YouTube is just pirated media and assorted garbage
According to Maich, Google’s purchase of YouTube was stupid, and YouTube has absolutely no value whatsoever:

On Oct. 9, Google bought YouTube — an Internet site used primarily for the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material and minute-long clips of people singing karaoke in their basements. This titan of new media, we’re told, is worth US$1.65 billion. It’s just the latest step in our long descent into cyber-madness.

Wrong. Content owners are starting to see that keeping their content locked in digital barns is just letting it age poorly, making no money. They’re starting to do deals that will see returns with viewing.

And on Google’s “cyber-madness?” It was more than paid for the very next day.

The web is the seedy, wrong-side-of-the-tracks part of town
According to Maich, you wouldn’t want to go anywhere on the web at night, or without a bunch of friends to protect you:

The idealists who conceived and pioneered the Web described a kind of enlightened utopia built on mutual understanding, a world in which knowledge is limited only by one’s curiosity. Instead, we have constructed a virtual Wild West, where the masses indulge their darkest vices, pirates of all kinds troll for victims, and the rest of us have come to accept that cyberspace isn’t the kind of place you’d want to raise your kids. The great multinational exchange of ideas and goodwill has devolved into a food fight. And the virtual marketplace is a great place to get robbed.

Yup – it’s just like the real world: good, bad, and ugly. Get used to it. But be aware that while there’s bad areas, they are far outweighed by all the good neighborhoods.

(And by the way, if you use a Mac, you’re less likely to get hijacked.)

You can’t find any answers online
Maich says that good information is impossible to filter out online:

The answers to the great questions of our world may be out there somewhere, but finding them will require you to first wade through an ocean of misinformation, trivia and sludge.

How does he manage to tie his shoelaces? Is he able to chew gum and walk at the same time? Has he never heard of Google? Wikipedia?

Where there’s a lot of information we need good filters. Thanks to Google and others, we do – and they’re getting better all the time.

Web users are crude and stupid. So’s the web itself
Maich has very little respect for the billion or so people who are online:

Let’s put this in terms crude enough for all cyber-dwellers to grasp. The Internet sucks.

We’re crude? Can’t grasp complex topics? Friend, read a few blogs. There are more intelligent things being written online than virtually any other media today.

Experts who say the internet is a massive force for change are naive
Maich doesn’t believe the “hype:”

… Experts competed with one another to see who could attach the most outrageous superlative to the nascent technology … Bill Gates, in a famous editorial for the New York Times, called the Internet a “tidal wave” that “will wash over the computer industry and many others, drowning those who don’t learn to swim in its waves.”

Indeed it has, Steve. Indeed it has. Perhaps you haven’t noticed iTunes. Or the fact that investment in desktop software has been moving to online applications. Or Or .Net. Software-as-a-service. Regular security updates over the web. The multi-billion-dollar instant giant that is Google! The innovation and service we see in 37signals. The rise of a nothing like MySpace to a challenger of traditional media. The examples are too many to list.

The internet is not a significant invention
According to Maich, the internet is less significant than household appliances:

This year, the National Academy of Engineering released its list of the 20 greatest engineering accomplishments of the past 100 years. The Internet ranked 13th, but even that ranking seems laughably generous. For instance, it came in just ahead of imaging technologies like the X-ray, MRI and radar — breakthroughs that have allowed us to look inside the human body without breaking the skin, to predict the weather, and to see things invisible to the human eye. Has the Internet achieved anything remotely comparable? Next on the list are household appliances. Try going back to doing the family’s laundry by hand for one week, and then see if you’d gladly trade your Internet connection to get your washing machine back.

I know ignorance is invincible, but the fact is that the internet ties together many of those weather stations that help us predict the weather. Here’s a trivial, personal example – that power has even hit the average joe.

What’s more important – clean clothes or knowledge? Knowledge, after all, is a life-saver. And not just in one situation, either. I’ll take knowledge, thank you very much, and there has never been a better invention for sharing and communicating knowledge than the internet.

The internet is nothing new
Maich sees no new technology in the networking of computers and servers:

The trouble with the Net, he says, is that it has produced precious little that is really new. Just about everything that’s accessible through the Web was available through other means before. Email is fine, for instance, but it pales next to the achievement of the telegraph, which shortened the time required to communicate over vast distances from weeks to minutes. The internal combustion engine, refrigeration, even air conditioning, had profound impacts on our lives, making the impossible practical. The Web does nothing of the sort. Emails replace faxes and phone calls. Online shopping replaces sales that used to be made through a catalogue. And for all but the most socially isolated, every hour spent trolling through chat rooms replaces an hour that might otherwise have been spent in real, live conversation.

I’m sorry, but here’s where you lose ALL credibility and betray yourself as just a lonely crank with an axe to grind.

I mean, comparing email to the telegraph – where you had to walk to some office, pay some money, enter some funky code, and send messages letter by letter (each costing you more) to someone else who would have to get a paper representation of your message delivered from the telegraph office in their town – is just beyond stupid. I could make similar arguments regarding faxes and phone calls and shopping, but I’m just too tired.

Nothing new under the sun
We’re not actually doing anything new, says Maich:

Even in the research and academic communities, which always had the most to gain from the Internet, Gordon says, the advantages should be kept in perspective. “It has made collaboration and communication faster and more efficient, but we’re still doing the same things,” he says.

No, of course not. We’ve always been able to videoconference with people a globe away. We’ve always been able to write a document with someone 500 kilometres away at the same time in the same application on the same document. We’ve always been able to send the plumber a picture of the pieces left over when we finished “assembling” the dishwasher in about 30 seconds. And average individuals with almost no income have always been able to publish to an audience of thousands with no more effort than writing a letter.

It’s the end of paid content
These guys all go to the same sources and get fed the same tripe:

In 1995, the U.S. government’s top copyright officer, Marybeth Peters, called the Internet “the world’s biggest copying machine.” She didn’t know the half of it. At the time, slow connection speeds and weak processing power meant the Web was still essentially a print medium. Within a couple of years, however, the full force of the Web’s assault on intellectual property rights would come into focus.

There is more content being produced now than ever. Every new technology means content industries have to adapt to new ways of doing business. The VCR was going to rape the movie industry. The reality is we’re entering an attention economy and content providers have to catch up – and they’re starting to.

There are inaccuracies online
Unbelievable as it may seem, Maich says that there is some stuff that is wrong online:

On Wednesday, July 5, Ken Lay, the former chairman and CEO of Enron Corp. died in Colorado. The news first hit the wires around 10 a.m., and at 10:06 Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that allows users to update and modify entries, proclaimed that Lay had died “of an apparent suicide.” Two minutes later, somebody changed the entry to say Lay had died “of an apparent heart attack or suicide.” Less than a minute later, some cooler head intervened and corrected the entry to say the cause of death was “yet to be determined.” At 10:11 the entry was changed again, this time asserting that “The guilt of ruining so many lives finally led him to suicide.”

Yes, it’s true. But sir, as we’ve seen in your lousy error-ridden article, that also happens offline. And, as Nature showed, Wikipedia accuracy actually rivals that of Encyclopedia Britannica.

The internet is full of rank amateurism
It’s distasteful, really. Those plebes, why won’t they learn their place?

In the place of hard information, the Net has ushered in the era of the amateur commentator. Rather than reporting the news, the Internet actually excels at allowing millions to analyze the news of the day on their blogs and message boards … Sounds spectacular, but what’s the great value of a participatory marketplace of mass speech if so few have anything to say that’s worth buying?

Bloggers broke the Sony DRM issue. Bloggers broke the Foley scandal. And bloggers are breaking more and more stories all the time, as well as providing the most insightful analysis you can find.

. . .
. . .

What’s the point?
I could go on and on, knocking down Maich’s points one by one. But what’s the point? It’s fairly obvious, I think, that he’s not being intellectually honest.

Instead, he’s picked a position and is sticking to it, ignoring all evidence to the contrary.


. . .
. . .

Other people discussing this post:

[tags] steve maich, macleans, internet, blogging, web, john koetsier [/tags]

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • We are only at the very beginning as far as what the internet can offer. It will eventually give people universal access to their data, no matter where they are. It will allow people to interact with most appliances… The internet will be far more than a collaboration of HTML documents (i.e. webpages) and social networking. However; I believe we won’t see the TRUE value until we can get most people on at LEAST a 20Mbps symmetrical connection.

  • The internet does suck. Steve’s own sister has been activly stalked on line for the last 2years. Because of the international angle nothing can be done to put a stop to it. Her life and business have been effected by the stalker. She knows who it is, she has the IP#. Canadian Police can’t help her because the person is an American, The American police won’t help her because she is a Canadian. I have spent the last 18 months watching a wonderful person die a little bit each day. So yes, I believe the internet does suck
    If we didn’t have the internet the person responsable would have no access to her or her business.

  • I feel horrible about that. I dearly hope that she can get the creep off her back.

    But I will not give up all the potential because of some risk of harm.

  • There is potential, but I think people for the most part are unaware of the risks. I think the laws need to change. But I guess that’s a whole new topic.