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My (digital) crystal ball

Hot on the Web

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on December 15, 2000
(Issue 1850, New Technology/Predictions)

Predicting the future is tricky at best. Doing so in a field like computers or the Internet, where change comes so rapidly as to make predicting the present doubtful, is sheer lunacy.

But what the heck ...

As I write this, we are two days away from Election Day, with the presidential race too close to call. Control of the Congress is also too close to predict at this point, with dozens of races across the country ready to go either way.

The election is likely to have real impacts on the Internet, though. If either party manages to get a large majority in Congress, look for new efforts to regulate online expression. If it's the Democrats, there will be quick moves to further punish so-called "hate speech." If the Republicans, it will be yet another attempted crackdown on smut. The Republicans are more likely to be thwarted by the Supreme Court; Democratic efforts at online nannying of the rest of us may get Court approval.

Fortunately for the rest of us, it appears (as I write this, anyway; I may already have been proven wrong by the time you read it) that Congress remain fairly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The American people wisely trust neither party with full power.

Under President Clinton, the White House has taken a strong leadership role in charting the future of cyberspace. That is likely to continue throughout the next administration.

If Al Gore is president-elect as you read this, we're probably in for new assaults on free speech on the Internet. Gore has never shared President Clinton's commitment to the First Amendment, and has long been amenable to banning certain unpopular opinions under the rubric of "hate speech." Gore is likely, however, to maintain federal scrutiny of Microsoft's business practices. It has only been the specter of the ongoing antitrust investigation that has lifted Microsoft's otherwise oppressive grip on the new economy to allow the current explosion of innovation to happen. Gore can be expected to let that continue, although he may get unjustified criticism if he decides to lift the inexplicable prohibition on taxing online commerce.

If George W. Bush is now president-elect, free speech will have a strong champion in the White House. However, Bush seems to buy into the questionable notion that commerce on the Web is somehow threatened by taxing it at the same rate as we tax commerce in the bricks-and-mortars world. Bush has also said he's inclined to lift the Justice Department's prosecution of Microsoft, likely resulting in Microsoft again trying to corner just about all e-commerce, which could mean an end to the current cycle of online innovation.

No matter who we elected, though, look for the next presidential election four years hence to include online balloting. It's being tried in some local races across the country right now, and next time we elect a president online voting is likely to be as common as mail ballots are now.

Broadband Internet connectivity (cable and DSL) will keep on its explosive growth curve, leading to ever-more-creative multimedia content on the 'Net as audience demand increases. We're also going to continue hearing columnists and other supposed experts predict a pending boom in the use of voice-activated software – and continue to see consumers shun it like Linda Tripp at a Washington reception.

Finally, 2001 just might be the year that the establishment types quit yapping about the mythical Digital Divide long enough to wonder if the kids who aren't spending all their time staring at a computer monitor might not have an advantage over their suburban counterparts who do. A lot of hubris, and maybe a touch of racism, in the white media's smug assumption that anything they do is inherently superior.

Hot on the Web archive

By the time this is published, I should have back copies of all my Hot on the Web columns available at the above URL. You'll also find my (really) old Online San Diego columns from ComputorEdge, as well as my Lost in Cyberspace columns that ran for two years on SignOn San Diego. I'm also building a fairly in-depth set of links to online computing resources that ought to steer you to help no matter your system or question.

And to answer the inevitable question the above provkes: No, I have no life.