When Manuel Castells predicted that Nokia would rule the world

Monday, 2 July, 2012

Nokia phone The true hoarder never throws anything away. This obsession leads to all kind of complications, though, not the least of which is domestic strife. Still, there are moments when the hoarder’s passion is vindicated. This is one such instance. We have here a faded newspaper clipping dated 18 June 1999. The publication is The Observer newspaper and the title is “Seer of cyberspace symbols”. According to the writer, Simon Caulkin, “Manuel Castells understands the internet economy” and the report contains the following fatuous gem:

“‘Mobile internet leadership will be shaped by Nokia and Ericsson, and its norms, usages and customs will be European. These are the ones which will be taken into the US,’ he says — a positive development because, while all new applications in the US are driven by commerce, in Europe the possibilities will be defined also by public services and even social movements, allowing a wider range of uses to appear.”

The “norms, usages and customs” of the mobile internet leadership are overwhelmingly un-European today. For confirmation of this, check out Mary Meeker’s “Internet Trends” presentation at the D10 Conference on 30 May. Where’s Nokia? Where’s Ericsson? Exactly. And Manuel Castells? Despite his embarrassingly wrong 1999 prediction, the Spaniard continues to ride the academic gravy train along the tracks of North America and Europe. Nice work if you can get it.

Foot note: Although The Observer article quoted here was dated 18 June 1999, it appears online with the date 18 June 2000 and under the rubric of “Madeleine Bunting’s working lives column“. The Guardian has its own logic. Still, it does retain Simon Caulkin’s immortally absurd observation that because Castells “is European” and “a social theorist” he is ideally equipped to with “useful correctives for the simplistic, US-centric way in which the web is usually viewed.” Google, Twitter, Facebook, the iPhone et al turned out to be the products of sophisticated Europe. Not!

The morals of the story are that one should never throw anything away, and that one should pay particular attention to the prejudices of academics and journalists when it comes to their predictions.

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