In 1996, the Web was young, but it was hot, and everyone was trying to figure out what it meant. While a lot has changed since then, here are 29 quotes from 1996 that were truly prescient.
1. On the future of America Online
“Ten years from now, America Online will have gone the way of the water-bed store,” Bruce R. Burningham wrote in a letter to the editor published in the January 14, 1996 issue of The New York Times.
2. On Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser
According to the September 16, 1996 issue of TIME, “It’s the browser your mom will use.”
3. On email
“Email is boring but good. Like pencils, it just works,” Tom Jennings told WIRED in April 1996.
4. A comparison to the past
In September 1996, Jim Barksdale, then the CEO of Netscape Communications Corporation, said that “the Internet is the printing press of the technology era.”
5. Cybersex vs. Bird-Watching
When a reader wrote to Ann Landers in June 1996 to emphasize the benefits of the internet—which the reader said they used for graduate research, as well as to attend bird-watching meetings and support groups—Landers responded, “Thanks for accentuating the positive, but I'm afraid more people are interested in cybersex than bird-watching.”
6. On dating online
In a February 1996 article in USA Today, Leslie Miller interviewed Judith A. Broadhurst, author of The Woman's Guide to Online Services. Broadhurst told Miller, “For better or worse, one of the most popular ways to look for a mate in the '90s is on-line … I heard from so many women who met their husbands on-line ... that I began to wonder if anyone meets in any other way anymore.”
7. On catfishing before catfishing was a thing
When one reader asked Dear Abby if he should pay for his (married!) online paramour from Australia to visit him in Michigan, she responded in a July 1996 column that, “It sounds like asking for trouble to me. Aside from the fact that you are carrying on with a married woman, Kate may not be what you expect. I recently heard about a teen who was communicating online with a female he thought was about his age; when they met, he found out she was a 76-year-old granny!”
8. On being addicted to the internet (a.k.a. “Netaholism”)
“Dr. [Kimberly S.] Young said that if alcoholism is any guide to Netaholism, between 2 percent and 5 percent of the estimated 20 million Americans who go on line might be addicted,” Pam Belluck wrote in the December 1, 1996 issue of The New York Times.
9. College and internet addiction
According to a piece in the June 26, 1996 issue of the Chicago Tribune, “Universities are considered hot zones for potential Internet junkies because they often give students free and unlimited Net access.”
10. On losing access to your email
“Letting your e-mail address fall into the wrong hands isn’t exactly like having a maniacal stalker parked outside your front door,” the March 1996 issue of Spin noted. “But it’s close.”
11. On the potential of the internet
“These technologies are going to profoundly affect the way we perceive our humanity,” Anthony Rutkowski, “a de facto global spokesman for all things cyberspace,” told the Washington Post in February 1996. “We all have ideas to share and stories to tell and now we really can.”
12. On the ugliness of online behavior and content
“The people decrying the Net are using technology as a scapegoat for the fact that we haven’t, as a society, addressed these problems,” John Schwartz said in a November 1996 Washington Post article. “Yes, it’s a shame that there are pedophiles on the Internet. But the real horror is there are pedophiles in the real world and that pedophilia exists at all. ... Let’s face facts. To the extent that there’s a problem out there, it’s our society that’s sick—or at least, it has spawned a number of sick and broken people. The Internet, as the most personal medium ever developed, reflects that. I guess cartoonist Walt Kelly said it best: ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us.’”
13. On the internet’s “insidious seduction”
In the May/June 1996 issue of The American Prospect, Sidney Perkowitz wrote that “Aimless chat is the insidious seduction of the Internet; it can replace inward contemplation and real experience.”
14. On the internet in education
“The Internet has the potential to raise students’ sensitivity,” Diane Romm, one of the first librarians to use the internet, told The New York Times in June 1996. “Because it is international in its communication, people have to become more sensitive to the way what they say may be interpreted by people who come from different cultural backgrounds.”
15. On the virtual experience
“People can get lost in virtual worlds. Some are tempted to think of life in cyberspace as insignificant, as escape or meaningless diversion. It is not,” Sherry Turkle wrote in WIRED’s January 1996 issue. “Our experiences there are serious play. We belittle them at our risk. We must understand the dynamics of virtual experience both to foresee who might be in danger and to put these experiences to best use. Without a deep understanding of the many selves that we express in the virtual, we cannot use our experiences there to enrich the real. If we cultivate our awareness of what stands behind our screen personae, we are more likely to succeed in using virtual experience for personal transformation.”
16. On trying to get people to pay for content online
“There's so much free content [online], it's going to be extremely hard to get people to pay,” Marc Andreessen told USA Today in February 1996.
17. On the decline of print
“I can imagine a not-so distant future when a sizable fraction of professional writers won't ever enter the world of print but will go directly from school to digital publishing,” Paul Roberts said in the July 1996 issue of Harper’s. “Maybe they'll be constrained at first by the needs of older readers who were raised on print and who have only recently and partially and timidly converted to the nonlinear faith. But in time, this will change, as printing comes to be seen as too expensive and cumbersome, as computers become more powerful and more interlinked, and as they show up in every classroom and office, in every living room and den.”
18. On distinguishing between content and ads on the internet
“Sometimes, surfing along on the World Wide Web, you can cross the line from content to advertisement without even knowing it,” Sally Chew wrote in New York Magazine in May 1996.
19. On the internet amplifying individual voices
“The Internet has become the ultimate narrowcasting vehicle: everyone from UFO buffs to New York Yankee fans has a Website (or dozen) to call his own—a dot-com in every pot. Technology will only quicken the pace at which news is moving away from the universal and toward the individualized,” Richard Zoglin said in the October 21, 1996 issue of TIME.
20. World peace versus loss of privacy
“The Web is a crazy quilt of both utopian and Orwellian possibilities,” Elizabeth Corcoran wrote in the Washington Post in June 1996. “Its fans make wide-eyed predictions of world peace and democracy even as privacy advocates say that it will destroy the notion of confidentiality in our home lives.”
21. On internet decryption
“As for encryption, the Government keeps trying to do what governments naturally do: control people. They would like to ban encryption [which scrambles and unscrambles information on computers] to make it easier for law enforcement to listen in on people,” Esther Dyson told The New York Times on July 7, 1996. “In principle, all they want to do is stop crime. But the fact is that encryption is defensive technology against big government, big business, big crime. I’d rather have defensive technology than leave the power to snoop in the hands of people I might not trust.”
22. On Corporate America exploiting the internet
“Technolibertarians rightfully worry about Big Bad Government, yet think commerce unfettered can create all things bright and beautiful—and so they disregard the real invader of privacy: Corporate America seeking ever-better ways to exploit the Net, to sell databases of consumer purchases and preferences, to track potential customers however it can,” Paulina Borsook said in the July/August 1996 issue of Mother Jones.
23. On interacting on the internet
“I think the importance of interactivity in online media can’t be overstated,” Carl Steadman, co-founder of early web magazine Suck—“an irreverent online daily”—told TIME in October 1996. “When I can cheerfully scroll past the cyberpundit of the moment’s latest exposé to the discussion area that features the opinions of true experts like myself and my hometown’s own Joe Bob, I’ll feel I’ve finally broken free.”
24. On using the internet for piracy
“As the Internet’s capacity for data transmission increases and multimedia technology improves, it will become as easy to copy music, photos and movies as it is to copy text now,” Steven D. Lavine wrote to The New York Times in March 1996. “How can government hope to prevent copyright infringement without encroaching upon individual privacy rights? It cannot. Content providers must accept the loss of those customers willing to pirate content and concentrate on packaging their products with enough value added so that wealthier customers remain willing to pay.”
25. On CD-ROMs
“CD-ROMs have become so popular that virtually all new desktop computers are shipped with the ability to use them. But by the turn of the century, CD-ROMs could themselves become unused relics, just like those old 5¼-inch floppies,” William Casey wrote in the July 22, 1996 issue of the Washington Post. “And why? The big ol’ Internet, as you might expect.”
26. On an extremely connected world
“Just wait, says Microsoft chief technologist Nathan Myhrvold. Even your hot-water heater will become computerized and hooked to the Net,” Kevin Maney wrote in USA Today in November 1996. Myhrvold told Maney, “Anything that can be networked will be networked.”
27. On communicating on the internet
“How many times have you received a message on paper and wished you could send quick reply back to the sender?” Frank Vizard wrote in Popular Science’s December 1996 issue. “Motorola’s new PageWriter two-way pager lets you do exactly that—no need to connect to a telephone or computer as previous two-way pagers have required. To send a message, all you do is unfold a miniature keyboard and type in your text. [...] Just how big demand for the device will be remains to be seen.”
28. On the growth of the internet
“The Internet as we know it now will be quaint,” Timothy Logue, “a space and telecommunications analyst with Coudert Brothers in Washington,” told Satellite Communications in September 1996. “The Citizen’s Band radio phase died out, and the Internet is kind of in that CB radio state. It will evolve and mature in a couple of ways. It’ll be a global electronic city, with slum areas and red light districts, but it’ll also have a central business district.”
29. On the internet changing the world
We’ll leave you with a quote from Bill Gates, made in the September 16, 1996 issue of TIME: “The Internet is a revolution in communications that will change the world significantly. The Internet opens a whole new way to communicate with your friends and find and share information of all types. Microsoft is betting that the Internet will continue to grow in popularity until it is as mainstream as the telephone is today.”