There's certainly a need, as people get caught up in the excitement of all this stuff, to have someone who can take the opposing viewpoint and point out, in some cases, correctly, how, 'hey, it's still all fairly hard to use and still fairly expensive. Let's not use sight of what was good about the previous ways of doing things.' There's definitely a role there and I think he's done very well positioning himself for that devil's advocate-type role. Sometimes I think he underestimates how, over the next few years, the industry will do a very good job getting rid of some of the limitations he criticizes. His book, Cuckoo's Egg, was my favorite of his two books.
"When I'm online, I'm alone in a room, tapping on a keyboard, staring at a cathode-ray tube. I'm ignoring anyone else in the room. The nature of being online is that I can't be with someone else. Rather than bringing me closer to others, the time that I spend online isolates me from the most important people in my life, my family, my friends, my neighborhood, my community."
Two years have passed, during which time Cliff has become a father - twice. He's the one who stays home and takes care of the babies. The digital agenda has faded into the background. "I love computers and I use them all the time," he says. "I've got a half-dozen computers in my house. But this cult of computing gives me the heebie-jeebies, the sense that if you don't have an electronic-mail address, if you don't have your own customized homepage on the World Wide Web, if you don't have your own domain name online, then you're being left behind, that progress is going on without you. Human kindness, warmth, interaction, friendship, and family are far more important than anything that can come across my cathode-ray tube. While I admire the insights of many of the people in the world of computing, I get this cold feeling that I speak a different language."
CLIFF STOLL is an astrophysicist and the author of Silicon Snake Oil (1995) and The Cuckoo's Egg (1989).