One of the more exciting things about following the tech world is that its nearly impossible to predict where things are headed. Sure, we know that 2017 will usher in more powerful smartphones and endless stream of Internet connected devices, but attempting to anticipate, in a broad sense, how current technologies will evolve and which new technologies will soon take the world by storm is nothing short of a fool’s errand.
Looking back, it’s always funny to take stock of which tech predictions happened to miss the mark by a mile. Whether it’s John C. Dvorak in 2007 predicting that the iPhone was going to be a flop and that Apple should pull the plug to IDC’s bizarre 2011 projection that Microsoft’s Windows Phone would have a nearly 20% share of the global smartphone market by 2015, the tech world is predictably unpredictable.
Having said that, I recently stumbled across what might very well be the worst tech prediction of all time. While some old predictions, such as Ken Olsen’s famous 1977 statement that “there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home” can be excused given the state of technology at the time, it’s much harder to forgive what MIT Economics Professor and current New York Times columnist Paul Krugman said about the future of the Internet back in 1998.
The growth of the Internet will slow drastically, as the flaw in “Metcalfe’s law”–which states that the number of potential connections in a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants–becomes apparent: most people have nothing to say to each other! By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.
What’s crazy about this statement is that the Internet in 1998 was already off and running. To be sure, it was plainly obvious to any tech-head at the time that widespread access to the open web was nothing short of revolutionary.
Krugman has since addressed his inaccurate prediction, noting that he doesn’t hold any “special expertise in technology.”
Regardless, the next time you run into a prediction that attempts to forecast how the tech landscape will shift over the course of many years — like this analyst who recently predicted that Apple is on the verge of entering a 10-year period of stagnation — you might be well advised to laugh it off at first glance.