Virtual sceptic disrobes the Net

November 10, 1995

WASHINGTON

The Internet will not bring a cultural revolution and has been grossly oversold. Dinty Moore, a short-story writer and teacher of creative writing at Pennsylvania State University, comes to this conclusion in a new book, The Emperor's Virtual Clothes: The Naked Truth about Internet.

The message resembles that of another of the new breed of sceptics, Clifford Stoll, the Berkeley, California author of Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway.

While Stoll has been online for two decades, Moore earned his book contract on the grounds that he was a neophyte to the Internet with a fresh eye. But his point is similar: that the while the Internet opens many doors, a lot of them lead to empty rooms.

Commercial opportunities on the Net seem continually hampered by the difficulty of securing email, credit details, and electronic cash from hackers and eavesdroppers. Swapping information and software programs are threatened by copyright lawsuits.

Politicians in the United States harp about pornographers and child molesters preying on innocent users, or far-right groups making bomb-making recipes available to millions.

"Right now it is just a lot of words, but if the American government takes these words too seriously and starts shutting down or regulating, it would be very serious indeed," Moore said.

His book is published by Algonquin Press of North Carolina with a first printing of 10,000 and is selling well, he said.

He is using the Internet and the increasingly popular World-Wide Web, which transmits audio and even video clips, as a research tool for his next book, on Buddhism in the US. But the Web is more a storehouse of static images than an interactive community, he said.

He pours scorn on the notion that a new town-hall style of democracy is in the works. You may be able to send an email to the White House and get an instant response, but it is still just a form letter, he said. And if they take your question seriously, for security reasons the staff use regular mail.

But Moore does not offer modern-day Luddites much reassurance. "I honestly think that in 10 or 20 years not having an email address will be similar to not having a home phone number," he said. Employers, he predicted, will "look at you oddly" if you do not have one.

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