Along the Tracks

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Condensed version

In the Washington Post, Robert Samuelson declares AOL guru Steve Case’s prediction that this will be the “Internet Century” a bust - three years in.

Writing in opposition to natural gas drilling in Ohio’s waters, the Akron Beacon Journal wishes to keep Lake Erie “unspoiled” - except for the fishing boats, pleasure craft, commercial shipping, various pollution sources, invasive foreign species, and, of course, the drilling already taking place on the Canadian side.

The Toledo Blade - one of America’s worst newspapers - says war with Iraq is certain to cost more than the Bush administrations estimates because, well, it just has to!

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette makes a sensible argument that cutting child care vouchers for low income households actually costs states money by pushing more people onto welfare.

Finally, the Ann Arbor News says the fact that over a third of all traffic deaths in Michigan are alcohol related is “reason enough” for the state to lower the blood alcohol content standard to 0.08 - but provides no evidence that any of those deaths were caused by people falling between 0.08 and the present 0.10 standard.

Superfluous superhighway?

I want to get back to that Washington Post piece by Robert Samuelson, because the author is trying to argue the Internet is really no big deal, and never will be. He bases this claim on the following thought:

“[I]f the Internet collapsed tomorrow, most Americans would go on with their lives in a way that would not be true if, say, they could no longer drive their cars.”

On its face, this seems true; America is a mobile society, and the immobility caused by a loss of personal vehicles would be life-altering for the vast majority. But also consider this: We are an entire century into common automobile usage - and one could make a very good argument that the last 100 years were the “Automobile Century.” Samuelson is just one more vulture circling Steve Case’s corporate corpse, declaring Case’s trouble managing the unmanageable AOL-Time Warner as proof of his failure on all fronts, including predictions about the “Internet Century.”

The real kicker, though, is Samuelson’s parenthetical statement immediately following the above quote about the “life-goes-on” reaction should the Internet disappear tomorrow:

“(The same might not be true of businesses.)”

Excuse me, Robert, but if you agree many, perhaps most, businesses would come to a grinding halt if they no longer were able to utilize the efficiencies, communications and sales opportunities of the Internet, how can you claim it’s loss would not have a detrimental effect on Americans as a whole? Who do you think employs those Americans, pays their salaries, provides them goods for purchase - even Americans who don’t have Internet access in their homes?

If I was the Post’s editor, I’d toss Samuelson’s piece back on his desk and say, “Rethink, try again.”

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