Rumors on the Internets

From The Book of Lists #2, in section 21, “Loose Ends,” item #6 (“The Wired Nation”) in the list “6 Outrageous Plans that Didn’t Happen” (on p. 483 of the Bantam Books paperback, which came out in 1980, and which I was completely obsessed with for years):

In his book The Shadow Presidents, author Michael Medved relates the extreme disappointment of H. R. Haldeman over his failure to implement his plan to link up all the homes in America by coaxial cable. In Haldeman’s words, “There would be two-way communication. Through computer, you could use your television set to order up whatever you wanted. The morning paper, entertainment services, shopping services, coverage of sporting events and public events.… Just as Eisenhower linked up the nation’s cities by highways so that you could get there, the Nixon legacy would have linked them by cable communications so you wouldn’t have to go there.” One can almost see the dreamy eyes of Nixon and Haldeman as they sat around discussing a plan that would eliminate the need for newspapers, seemingly oblivious to its Big Brother aspects. Fortunately, the Watergate scandal intervened, and Nixon was forced to resign before “the Wired Nation” could be hooked up.

This paragraph has been reproduced elsewhere on the Internet at least twice that I’ve been able to find (on two different weblogs; first in a post from October 12, 2004, here, and also in a post from October 28, 2004, here).

When I first reread this quote myself, my reaction was something along the lines of: How funny that Haldeman would seek to bring about something not too dissimilar from the home-computer-and-cable-modem-and-World-Wide-Web future as it actually evolved from (what my rusty mental history of technology in America tells me would have been the then-discrete) ARPANET and the cable television industry of the early ’70s; and how funny that David Wallechinsky (one of the editors of the book, and the co-author who wrote that particular list) would, in the late ’70s, conclude that such a system would naturally be totalitarian, when the reality has proven, rather, to be successfully anarchic!

More recently, though, it’s occurred to me that maybe Wallechinsky was onto something.