Twenty years ago, the Web was young, but it was hot. We were all trying to figure out what it meant. While a heck of a lot has changed since then, here are 29 quotes from 1996 that were truly prescient. (In each case, I have added emphasis.)


Ten years from now, America Online will have gone the way of the water-bed store” –Bruce R. Burningham, letter to the editor. (The New York Times, 14 January 1996.)

On Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser: “It’s the browser your mom will use.” (Time, 16 September 1996.)

Email is boring but good. Like pencils, it just works.” –Tom Jennings (Wired, April 1996).

“The Internet is the printing press of the technology era.” –Jim Barksdale, then CEO of Netscape Communications Corporation (Time, 16 September 1996).


“Thanks for accentuating the positive, but I'm afraid more people are interested in cybersex than bird-watching.” –Ann Landers, to a letter writer listing the positive aspects of the Internet. (The Chicago Tribune, 14 June 1996.)

"‘For better or worse, one of the most popular ways to look for a mate in the '90s is on-line,’ says Judith A. Broadhurst, author of The Woman's Guide to Online Services (McGraw-Hill, $19.95.) ‘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.’” –Article by Leslie Miller (USA Today, 13 February 1996).

“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!” –Dear Abby, to a letter writer who wants to pay for his online paramour from Australia to visit him in Michigan. (Via uexpress, 22 July 1996.)


“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 (Washington Post, 1 December 1996).

[U]niversities are considered hot zones for potential Internet junkies because they often give students free and unlimited Net access.” (The Chicago Tribune, 26 June 1996.)


Letting your e-mail address fall into the wrong hands isn’t exactly like having a maniacal stalker parked outside your front door. But it’s close.” (Spin, March 1996.)

“These technologies are going to profoundly affect the way we perceive our humanity. We all have ideas to share and stories to tell and now we really can.” –Anthony Rutkowski, on the potential of the Internet. (The Washington Post, 21 February 1996. Incidentally, the article describes Rutkowski as “a de facto global spokesman for all things cyberspace.”)

“The people decrying the Net are using technology as a scapegoat for the fact that we haven’t, as a society, addressed these problems. 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.’” –John Schwartz, on the ugliness of online behavior and content (Washington Post, 18 November 1996).

Aimless chat is the insidious seduction of the Internet; it can replace inward contemplation and real experience.” –Sidney Perkowitz (The American Prospect, May-June 1996).

“The Internet has the potential to raise students’ sensitivity. 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.” –Diane Romm, talking about the Internet in education (The New York Times, 2 June 1996).

“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. 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.” –Sherry Turkles (Wired, January 1996).


There's so much free content [online], it's going to be extremely hard to get people to pay.” –Marc Andreessen, quoted in article by Mike Snider (USA Today, 29 February 1996).

“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. 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.” –Paul Roberts (Harper’s, July 1996).

Sometimes, surfing along on the World Wide Web, you can cross the line from content to advertisement without even knowing it.” –Sally Chew (New York Magazine, 6 May 1996).

“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 (Time, 21 October 1996).


“The Web is a crazy quilt of both utopian and Orwellian possibilities. 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.” –Elizabeth Corcoran (Washington Post, 30 June 1996).

“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. 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.” –Esther Dyson (quoted in The New York Times, 7 July 1996).

“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 (Mother Jones, July/August 1996).


“I think the importance of interactivity in online media can’t be overstated [...] 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.” – Carl Steadman, co-founder of early web magazine Suck, which Time calls “an irreverent online daily” (Time, 21 October 1996.)

“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. [...] 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.” –Steven D. Lavine, letter to the editor (The New York Times, 22 March 1996).

“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. And why? The big ol’ Internet, as you might expect.” –William Casey (Washington Post, 22 July 1996).

“Just wait, says Microsoft chief technologist Nathan Myhrvold. Even your hot-water heater will become computerized and hooked to the Net. ‘Anything that can be networked will be networked,’ he says.” –Kevin Maney (USA Today, 18 November 1996).

“How many times have you received a message on paper and wished you could send quick reply back to the sender? 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.” –Frank Vizard (Popular Science, December 1996).

The Internet as we know it now will be quaint. 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.” –Timothy Logue, “a space and telecommunications analyst with Coudert Brothers in Washington” (Satellite Communications, September 1996).

“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.” –Bill Gates (Time, 16 September 1996).