February 19, 2010

Future of the Internet IV

Overview of responses

In an online survey of 895 technology stakeholders’ and critics’ expectations of social, political and economic change by 2020, fielded by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center:

»  Google won’t make us stupid: 76% of these experts agreed with the statement, “By 2020, people’s use of the Internet has enhanced human intelligence; as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information they become smarter and make better choices. Nicholas Carr was wrong: Google does not make us stupid.” Some of the best answers are in Part 1 of this report.

»  Reading, writing, and the rendering of knowledge will be improved: 65% agreed with the statement “by 2020 it will be clear that the Internet has enhanced and improved reading, writing and the rendering of knowledge.” Still, 32% of the respondents expressed concerns that by 2020 “it will be clear that the Internet has diminished and endangered reading, writing and the rendering of knowledge.” Some of the best answers are in Part 2 of this report.

»  Innovation will continue to catch us by surprise: 80% of the experts agreed that the “hot gadgets and applications that will capture the imaginations of users in 2020 will often come ‘out of the blue.’” Some of the best answers are in Part 3 of this report.

»  Respondents hope information will flow relatively freely online, though there will be flashpoints over control of the internet. Concerns over control of the Internet were expressed in answers to a question about the end-to-end principle. 61% responded that the Internet will remain as its founders envisioned, however many who agreed with the statement that “most disagreements over the way information flows online will be resolved in favor of a minimum number of restrictions” also noted that their response was a “hope” and not necessarily their true expectation. 33% chose to agree with the statement that “the Internet will mostly become a technology where intermediary institutions that control the architecture and …content will be successful in gaining the right to manage information and the method by which people access it.” Some of the best answers are in Part 4 of this report.

»  Anonymous online activity will be challenged, though a modest majority still think it will possible in 2020: There more of a split verdict among the expert respondents about the fate on online anonymity. Some 55% agreed that Internet users will still be able to communicate anonymously, while 41% agreed that by 2020 “anonymous online activity is sharply curtailed.” Some of the best answers are in Part 5 of this report.

‘Tension pairs’ were designed to provoke detailed elaborations

This is the fourth “Future of the Internet” survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center. The surveys are conducted through online questionnaires to which a selected group of experts and the highly engaged Internet public have been invited to respond. The surveys present potential-future scenarios to which respondents react with their expectations based on current knowledge and attitudes. You can view detailed results from the first three surveys here: http://www.pewinternet.org/topics/Future-of-the-internet.aspx and http://elon.edu/e-web/predictions/expertsurveys/default.xhtml. Expanded results are published in the “Future of the Internet” series published by Cambria Press.

Respondents to the Future of the Internet IV survey, fielded from Dec. 2, 2009 to Jan. 11, 2010, were asked to consider the future of the Internet-connected world between now and 2020 and the likely innovation that will occur. They were asked to assess 10 different “tension pairs” – each pair offering two different 2020 scenarios with the same overall theme and opposite outcomes – and they were asked to select the one most likely choice of two statements. The tension pairs and their alternative outcomes were constructed to reflect previous statements about the likely evolution of the Internet. They were reviewed and edited by the Pew Internet Advisory Board.

Please note that this survey is primarily focused on eliciting focused observations on the likely impact and influence of the Internet – not on the respondents’ choices from the pairs of predictive statements. Many times when respondents “voted” for one scenario over another, they responded in their elaboration that both outcomes are likely to a degree or that an outcome not offered would be their true choice. Survey participants were informed that “it is likely you will struggle with most or all of the choices and some may be impossible to decide; we hope that will inspire you to write responses that will explain your answer and illuminate important issues.”

Experts were located in two ways. First, several thousand were identified in an extensive canvassing of scholarly, government, and business documents from the period 1990-1995 to see who had ventured predictions about the future impact of the Internet. Several hundred of them participated in the first three surveys conducted by Pew Internet and Elon University, and they were recontacted for this survey. Second, expert participants were hand-picked due to their positions as stakeholders in the development of the Internet.

Here are some of the respondents: Clay Shirky, Esther Dyson, Doc Searls, Nicholas Carr, Susan Crawford, David Clark, Jamais Cascio, Peter Norvig, Craig Newmark, Hal Varian, Howard Rheingold, Andreas Kluth, Jeff Jarvis, Andy Oram, David Sifry, Marc Rotenberg, John Pike, Andrew Nachison, Anthony Townsend, Ethan Zuckerman, Stephen Downes, Rebecca MacKinnon, Jim Warren, Sandra Brahman, Seth Finkelstein, Jerry Berman, and Stewart Baker.

Here are some of the institutions in which respondents work or have affiliations: Google, Microsoft. Cisco Systems, Yahoo!, Intel, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Ericsson Research, Nokia, New York Times, O’Reilly Media, Thomson Reuters, Wired magazine, The Economist magazine, NBC, RAND Corporation, Verizon Communications, Linden Lab, Institute for the Future, British Telecom, Qwest Communications, Raytheon, Adobe, Meetup, Craigslist, Ask.com, Intuit, MITRE Corporation

Department of Defense, Department of State, Federal Communications Commission, Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Social Security Administration, General Services Administration, British OfCom, World Wide Web Consortium, National Geographic Society, Benton Foundation, Linux Foundation, Association of Internet Researchers, Internet2, Internet Society, Santa Fe Institute, Yankee Group

Harvard University, MIT, Yale University, Georgetown University, Oxford Internet Institute,  Princeton University, Carnegie-Mellon University, University of Pennsylvania, University of California-Berkeley, Columbia University, University of Southern California, Cornell University, University of North Carolina, Purdue University, Duke University , Syracuse University, New York University, Northwestern University, Ohio University ,Georgia Institute of Technology, Florida State University, University of Kentucky, University of Texas, University of Maryland, University of Kansas, University of Illinois, Boston College, University of Tulsa, University of Minnesota, Arizona State, Michigan State University, University of California-Irvine, George Mason University, University of Utah, Ball State University, Baylor University, University of Massachusetts-Amberst, University of Georgia, Williams College, and University of Florida.

While many respondents are at the pinnacle of Internet leadership, some of the survey respondents are “working in the trenches” of building the Web. Most of the people in this latter segment of responders came to the survey by invitation because they are on the email list of the Pew Internet & American Life Project or are otherwise known to the Project. They are not necessarily opinion leaders for their industries or well-known futurists, but it is striking how much their views were distributed in ways that paralleled those who are celebrated in the technology field.

A wide range of opinion from experts, organizations, and interested institutions was sought, this survey should not be taken as a representative canvassing of Internet experts. By design, this survey was an “opt in,” self-selecting effort. That process does not yield a random, representative sample. The quantitative results are based on a non-random online sample of 895 Internet experts and other Internet users, recruited by email invitation, Twitter or Facebook. Since the data are based on a non-random sample, a margin of error cannot be computed, and results are not projectable to any population other than the respondents in this sample.

Many of the respondents are Internet veterans – 50% have been using the Internet since 1992 or earlier, with 11 percent actively involved online since 1982 or earlier. When asked for their primary area of Internet interest, 15% of the survey participants identified themselves as research scientists; 14% as business leaders or entrepreneurs; 12% as consultants or futurists, 12% as authors, editors or journalists; 9% as technology developers or administrators; 7% as advocates or activist users; 3% as pioneers or originators; 2% as legislators, politicians or lawyers; and 25 percent specified their primary area of interest as “other.” Results are divided into a column for invited experts only and a column that combines experts with general public.

The answers these respondents gave to the questions are given in two columns. The first column covers the answers of 371 longtime experts who have regularly participated in these surveys. The second column covers the answers of all the respondents, including the 524 who were recruited by other experts or by their association with the Pew Internet Project. Interestingly, there is not great variance between the smaller and bigger pools of respondents.