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Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway

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Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway [Paperback]

Clifford Stoll
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 1, 1996
In Silicon Snake Oil, Clifford Stoll, the best-selling author of The Cuckoo's Egg and one of the pioneers of the Internet, turns his attention to the much-heralded information highway, revealing that it is not all it's cracked up to be.  Yes, the Internet provides access to plenty of services, but useful information is virtually impossible to find and difficult to access. Is being on-line truly useful? "Few aspects of daily life require computers...They're irrelevant to cooking, driving, visiting, negotiating, eating, hiking, dancing, speaking, and gossiping. You don't need a computer to...recite a poem or say a prayer." Computers can't, Stoll claims, provide a richer or better life.

A cautionary tale about today's media darling, Silicon Snake Oil has sparked intense debate across the country about the merits--and foibles--of what's been touted as the entranceway to our future.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Computer expert Stoll presents a backlash account of the Internet, questioning whether its potential influence is as far-reaching and positive as supporters claim.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Stoll, a Berkeley astronomer who chronicled how he broke a computer spy ring in The Cuckoo's Egg (LJ 9/15/89) and who has been netsurfing for 15 years, does an apparent about-face here, warning that the technophiles are trying to sell us a bill of goods on the promise of the Internet?one on which it can't deliver and that, ultimately, both ignores the cost of forsaking human interaction and actual financial costs. His is a lone voice countering the mass of media hype that has been touting the national information superhighway and the rush of individuals and businesses to get connected. In chapters dealing with everything from education to E-mail (Stoll reports he lost less mail via the U.S. Postal Service) to the "virtual" library, he details the limitations of the networks. Though he is occasionally not quite up to the minute on some library implementations, his message nevertheless should be read as a caution to every librarian rushing down the information highway. [For an interview with Stoll and an excerpt from his book, see p. 100.]?Francine Fialkoff, "Library Journal.
-?Francine Fialkoff, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st Anchor Books Ed edition (March 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385419945
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385419949
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #896,470 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews
62 of 77 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dated Beyond Belief July 24, 2005
By dougom
Clifford Stoll wrote the highly-entertaining and engaging "Cuckoo's Egg," about his successful efforts to track down the person (or persons) who have hacked in to his computer network.

Unfortunately this book, which can be termed a cautionary tale about the internet and the world wide web (called back then the "information highway" or "information superhighway") has become outpaced by subsequent events to an almost absurd degree. While Stoll's writing is still engaging, and his contrarian views interesting, so many things he discusses are (in his own words about the Internet) "stale, incomplete, misleading...or simply wrong." The most prominent example is his assertion that " The Internet is a poor place for commerce." There are other assertions in the book that are equally dated. (Stoll, it might be noted, after calling the possibility of e-commerce "baloney," now sells Klein bottles on the Web. So much for his predictive abilities.)

While it is certainly no crime to have gotten predictions about the growth and use of the Web wrong--after all, almost everyone did--this book, with its almost-Luddite overtones regarding the internet, is really not worth the time except as a nostalgia item.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dissapointing December 27, 1999
By A Customer
As an Internet junkie, let me say that I'm glad I read this book, and I encourage all computer and net-obsessed people to read this book.
He does bring up some very good arguements -- like his theory that networked systems are ruining public libraries -- but many of them are unsubstantiated and full of holes. He has complaints about everything computer-related, from how slow they are to how they look to the lack of noises they make. (He complains that his computer, unlike his trusty typewriter, doesn't make noises when he types some characters or advances to a new line... but I couldn't help thinking that if the computer *did* make these noises, he'd just complain about how loud it was.)
The most irritating thing about this book is that he paints himself (perhaps unknowingly) as a hypocrite. For example, he writes how the usenet is basically a waste of time and how you hardly ever find anything useful there, yet he keeps bringing up things he learned while reading the usenet and talking about how much time he spent there. He seems to love the Postal Service, yet when he wants to see newly discovered pictures of Saturn, he logs in online to get them, then complains about how he has to wait, rather than perhaps mailing away for them, as a snail-mail supporter would do. And I found it especially disturbing that for a man who uses computers every day for his job and pleasure, who owns five different machines, and who has obviously been a computer user since before many of us knew what computer were, he offers exactly ZERO suggestions on how to improve them. I realized this about 100 pages in and wanted to stop reading the book right then and there, but the only thing that kept me reading was my interest in seeing if he ever presented any suggestions for improvement.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars no title April 9, 2000
Stoll demonstrates that the Internet is not all fun a games. He shows the negative aspects of computers and the Internet on society. Although a few years old (1996), the book touches base with a few of today's main Internet problems. The first and foremost of these problems is Internet addiction.
I find Stoll contradicts himself many times throughout the book. He claims that newsgroups and Usenet is a waste of time, yet he also tells the reader how much information he got while spending countless hours on them. Another thing peculiar about the author is his attitude about the Internet in general. He comes off very anti-Internet, yet tells the reader about his 15 years prior to 1996 he spent on the Internet, and even starts off the book telling the reader he realizes he's addicted.
This is not a book for anyone who is "pro-computer." Stoll does make some interesting, realistic, points throughout the book, but in some instances, fails to back them up with evidence. However, if the reader approaches the book open-minded, he/she should walk away with a better understanding of how the Internet affects our society.
I find the book to be informative with respect to the negative aspects of the Internet, yet overdramatic about it. The Internet has changed a lot through the four years since this book has been in print, and so have Internet users. I am interested in how the author feels today the Internet, Internet users, and his comments made in Silicon Snake Oil.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting thoughts but too many tangents April 1, 1999
By A Customer
In Silicon Snake OIl, Clifford Stoll brings up several interesting and thought-provoking points. There is no plot in this meditative work, Stoll wanders from one idea to another, taking his mind wherever the next tangent leads. Howard Rheingold states Stoll's main theme effectively in his review of the book, "computer/online enthusiasts should turn off their computers and get a life." Stoll begins his labyrinthine mental trip by acknowledging his own weakness for computers. He makes it clear to the reader that he is addicted to the Internet and the information it holds, despite the fact that the information on the Web is not reliable, ungoverned, and mostly junk. He notes that there is a disregard for proper grammar, spelling and sentence formation that is accepted on the part of computer users. No one seems to expect anyone else to edit the phrases that spiral out from hundreds of thousands of keyboards every day. Stoll also notes the difficulty of using help features. Most of the early help programs were written in cryptic language that held novice computer users at arm's distance. Although Stoll is correct in his statement that few aspects of daily life actually require the use of a computer and that the beautiful parts of society, such as libraries, and schools are threatened with the advent of the computer, I find most of his criticism negated by his own admission of Internet addiction. Essentially, he criticizes others dependence on the computer as he surfs the Web and types his book on the computer. I also found his ramblings to be disjointed and repetitive though sometimes compelling. Overall, I would not recommend this book for those looking for a fast, gripping read or the type of reader who has to read every line. Stoll offers some interesting ideas but at the cost of lucid and organized prose.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
first book was better
Published 2 months ago by robert davis
5.0 out of 5 stars ... at our modern time and the obsession with the greatest invention...
A well thought out look at our modern time and the obsession with the greatest invention of our time. A wonderful book by Stoll.
Published 8 months ago by Amazon Customer
2.0 out of 5 stars An Outdated Snapshot of Somewhat Laughable Predictions
Written in 1995 - this is Stoll's perspective that the internet is a time-wasting, soul-sucking device that removes a lot of the best parts of Life by tying the user to the... Read more
Published on December 9, 2013 by TommyElf
3.0 out of 5 stars Learn from the author's mistakes
Through this book, you may receive a valuable lesson on the dangers of hasty judgments and making a long-term prediction in a rapidly evolving environment. Read more
Published on May 2, 2013 by Werdna
4.0 out of 5 stars Thanks !
The book was a bit "aged" some dog eared pages and discolored yellow tint pages. That is just since it was and old book. I am perfectly fine with it. Read more
Published on December 31, 2012 by Sean M. Metzler
1.0 out of 5 stars Worst gift ever
I was given the book as I am huge into emerging technologies and was excited to read the chapter on the postal service. Read more
Published on January 29, 2011 by Dave Smith
1.0 out of 5 stars Outdated
I had to read this for my English class, and I must say this might be the must frustrating book I've ever read. Read more
Published on July 13, 2010 by Airi Kawamura
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sane Perspective on Computers & the Internet
Clifford Stoll (California writer and astronomer who says he uses computers all the time) provides us with the ultimate, no-holds-barred written word on what we too more than once... Read more
Published on June 15, 2010 by ink & penner
2.0 out of 5 stars must have for pundits
I have this book 2 stars simply to try to turn the rating distribution to be uniform. Really it ought to be 1 or 5 stars depending on your point of view. Read more
Published on March 3, 2010 by Gary R. Bradski
2.0 out of 5 stars Like a literary time capsule
Clifford Stoll is not a terrible writer. His powers of prediction, however, leave much to be desired. Read more
Published on March 2, 2010 by Graham W. Jenkins
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