Digital Life in 2025
The Less-Hopeful Theses
9) Dangerous divides between haves and have-nots may expand, resulting in resentment and possible violence.
Many expert respondents used the terms “gap,” “haves and have-nots,” and “divides” while describing concerns about the impact of the Internet by 2025. Some said Internet access is a basic need that should be considered to be a human right.
Pietro Ciminelli, director of finance for BOCES, wrote, “Significant numbers of people will become structurally unemployed because they were unwilling to keep up their skills with the changing technology or unwilling to accept the changing technology. The Internet will be the primary communication device for society. The biggest concern is if it will increase the divide between the wealthy and the poor.”
Anonymously, a professor at the University of California who teaches in a discipline that combines ICT with social sciences responded, “Among the elite, identification with nations, nationalities, and ethnicities will disappear. Their identification will be with this international elite and with the companies through which they build wealth. Already, people in a certain stratum move around and live all over the world, enabled, to a large degree, by the Internet. The educated, capable, innovative populations from which local and national leaders have traditionally been drawn will be less involved with geographically-oriented communities and institutions — to the detriment of those communities and institutions. This will increase disparities between developed nations and others and between underprivileged local areas, such as between the wealthy urban areas and poorer communities. There will be people who are concerned with the civic sphere, but fewer and fewer of those will be from the better-educated and most accomplished ranks. The less-well-resourced countries will be markets for the other countries’ companies — i.e., the way companies now are selling information technologies in the third world. This trend will accelerate — fewer in-country entrepreneurs and fewer educated and capable people from third-world countries will stay there and try to address their countries’ needs.”
Anonymously, the director of operations for MetaFilter.com wrote, “The Internet will help the rich get richer and become a tool to further marginalize people who are already living with poverty, mental illness, and other serious challenges.”
George Lessard, information curator and media specialist for MediaMentor, wrote, “The most significant impact of the Internet is its impact on the dissemination of knowledge and information. We have only seen the smallest real impact of this process. It is greater than the invention of the university, the printing press, and the electronic media. The battle between those who wish to control it and those who wish to have it as open as possible has only just begun and will intensify for many years. The only way that the Internet can continue to have an ongoing and significant impact is if there is a worldwide recognition of the individual’s access to and use of the Internet as part of one’s basic human right to communicate. Access to and use of the Internet as a basic human right (or not) will be the biggest change to human society.”
Top communications researcher Oscar Gandy, an emeritus professor at the Annenberg School of the University of Pennsylvania, said inequality is being amplified, and he predicted hostility due to divides could lead to “great and lasting harm” writing, “I have taken note of the rather dramatic changes in the levels of inequality within and between nations. It seems likely to me that the benefits and harms that will be generated in part as a function of changes in the network and the systems connected through it are likely to be maldistributed. The anger, hostility, and resentment that will be generated in response to this inequality seem likely to be expressed in ways that will cause great and lasting harm. We have to think seriously about the kinds of conflicts that will arise in response to the growing inequality enabled and amplified by means of networked transactions that benefit smaller and smaller segments of the global population. Social media will facilitate and amplify the feelings of loss and abuse. They will also facilitate the sharing of examples and instructions about how to challenge, resist, and/or punish what will increasingly come to be seen as unjust. The network infrastructure and key service providers are likely to become targets of actions meant to punish this misbehavior.”
Sophia Bekele of DotConnectAfrica responded, “The Internet is self-generating as well as rejuvenating. Its increasing importance in daily interactions makes it close to a basic need. It has shifted to being an enabling platform where everything else thrives. Academia, commerce, health, science, and all other facets are continually dependent on this resource. Issues and concerns that have to now be properly governed include privacy, digital gap reduction, green technology, digital waste management, and data proliferation.”
Mike Osswald, a futurist at Hanson Inc., made the case, “ The rapid pace of technological change will only hurt the poor and lower-middle class (and third-world and mass-labor markets) who will not be able to benefit fully from the improvements, and will only continue to be displaced by technical/robotic solutions that limit their ability to earn a living and provide for their families. To this extent, technology will make society as a whole worse than in the past.”
Still, others said that if the capacity to use online tools can be extended globally it can help facilitate progress toward peace.
Vytautas Butrimas, a chief adviser for a government ministry with 23 years of experience in ICTs and defense policy, responded, “A great impact will be the decline of ‘fundamentalism.’ Many irrational/extremist beliefs will be openly discredited as the ability of people to find information and evaluate these beliefs increases. One caveat: education needs to be improved. People cannot be brought up to be just consumers of content. People with critical thinking skills who can make rational judgments based on that information and learn to pick out the pearls from the pebbles are key to fulfilling the promise of the Internet. The Internet is a tool to be used in fostering and preserving respect for human rights and promoting democratic processes. Tools are needed to govern a peaceful progression toward a higher level of civilization.”
While many expressed fears over gaps, there were some survey respondents who said Internet-enabled tools will close them. Susan Brudvig, a professor at Indiana University East, wrote, “The digital divide between people in more developed nation-states and lesser developed nation-states will be non-existent, or at a minimum, non-consequential.”
Nick Wreden of the University of Technology in Kuala Lumpur, wrote, “Wireless broadband and computing capabilities will be available to even the poorest and most remote regions of the world. Imagine the collective intelligence locked up in the minds of the rural poor. Providing them the tools for creativity, collaboration, and learning will produce significant benefits.”
10) Abuses and abusers will ‘evolve and scale.’ Human nature isn’t changing; there’s laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, crime, and those who practice them have new capacity to make life miserable for others.
For these respondents, trust is the largest issue when it comes to trying to create a complete system of global connectivity. Humans have wreaked havoc upon one another or let each other down in one way or another consistently over time in the communities they have created, and the online community is no different. Terrorists, criminals, bullies, liars, tricksters, pornographers, sadists, misanthropes, and other bad actors are enabled by the Internet, and it seems that being online augments humans’ tendencies toward all of the “seven deadly sins”: envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath.
Many survey respondents chose to express their dismay and concern with people’s negative behaviors online, and they said these negatives will have the most impact by 2025.
Stewart Baker, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson, a Washington law firm, wrote, “In the long run, criminal activity will swamp us if we do not find a better way to identify and then punish antisocial action on the Internet. The Chinese will realize this first, because doing so does not challenge their ideology the way it challenges ours. But some time close to 2025, we’ll give up on anonymity and begin building attribution into the fabric of the Web.”
Valerie Bock, technical services lead for Q2 Learning, LLC, wrote, “Information tech enables all kinds of wonderful things, but it is only used within the context of human nature, which doesn’t seem to be changing all that quickly!”
K.G. Schneider, university librarian and blogger, focused her answer on her concerns about the possibility of human detachment, “As technology continues to permeate our lives in the context of growing environmental disasters and climate change, we may be vulnerable to creating barriers of consciousness to the larger world around us. There is much great potential in technology, but the tale of the Good Samaritan reminds us of the need for those of us with access to the best technology to be fully awake to the plight of others and fully aware of what is happening to what one prayer book calls “this fragile earth, our island home.”
A large number of survey respondents preferred to remain anonymous when they answered this question. They evidently preferred not to take public credit for their expression of doubts about humanity.
An employee of the US government based in Washington, DC, said, “The Internet has brought out the vanity and narcissism of humanity in an unprecedented way. That will only continue and will be the biggest social impact.”
A leader of Pro6 Networks in India wrote, “Too much adult content will be flooding around, cyber-bullying will rise, cyber-stalking will rise, and child pornography might increase if not controlled.”
Another respondent wrote, “I’m very concerned about the increasing isolation and the resulting lack of meaningful and courteous human interactions.”
A community information resources manager wrote, “I expect the world to grow smaller and more tightly knit via the Internet, but humankind can be very willfully divisive and aggressive, so I don’t know if it will be enough to offset that stupidity that we too often indulge in.”
The tendencies for people to accept the first answer they find online and believe it or to only seek out the ideas of those who are of like mind is seen as a looming danger. A post-doc researcher in mechanical engineering responded, “The Internet makes it so much easier to spread lies and disinformation, as well as information. If people don’t have the skills to question and understand the motives of their sources, then the Internet could be in a position to do some serious damage.”
There will still be a problem with people finding misinformation and assuming that it is true, and then acting on that misinformation. While the Internet can foster international connections, the world will continue to splinter, with most people only seeking and finding what confirms their own views.Information science professional
A multiscreen (mobile + PC) shopper analyst for eBay wrote, “I don’t know that having 120,000 sources of information makes you any better informed than having one source of info. The ability to build a case based on what you find — which may be erroneous or slanted or incomplete — may do more to polarize people than the help it provides… Responsible use of information is going to be the biggest challenge.”
A technology developer and administrator wrote, “There will be more loss of privacy, more regulation, less face-to-face social communication, loss of local or geographical identity, and an onslaught of ignorance from being misinformed or believing what is being flashed to us from who knows where.”
A fund-raiser and webmaster for a public non-profit organization responded, “I am concerned about the level of incivility and violence that seems to be increasing on social media. I hope the social side of the Internet does not devolve into a virtual mob activity.”
A PhD who participates in civil society efforts to advance information and communication technologies for social development and democracy said, “We are able to develop technology but not justice, equality, and freedom. I am afraid the more advanced ICT of 2025 will not make the human being a better being.”
Some respondents noted that there are negatives but they retain hope for the best. An information-resources professional in a small Midwestern town wrote, “Mass group communication, easier and cheaper ways to interact, and a society that is becoming wise to the new technology will bring about a renaissance of thought. People will find others who think like them faster and they will be more able to work together. The evolution of a stable society will speed up. It may look a little rocky now, but new ways to have discourse with many voices will be the saving grace.”
A community information resources manager wrote, “I expect the world to grow smaller and more tightly knit via the Internet, but humankind can be very willfully divisive and aggressive, so I don’t know if it will be enough to offset that stupidity that we too often indulge in. I want to have faith in Gene Roddenberry’s vision of mankind’s future of cooperation and scientific advancement, but it can be difficult to keep that faith on a worldwide scale.”
John Saguto, an executive decision support analyst in the implementation of geospatial information systems for disaster response, also combined both positives and negatives, writing, “Truth and accuracy will be the challenge. The bad impacts include purposeful misinformation and nanosecond attention spans. Immediate satisfaction and ADD-type mentalities will be accepted as being normal. We will see mental illness from overwhelming information access, as well as degenerative body fitness. As our minds expand, our bodies and ‘stress’ seem to increase as well. Lethargic lifestyles are becoming socially ‘understood.’ If we are able to better communicate internationally, our ‘local village’ heritage will be replaced with massive media dilution of concerns that might otherwise cause a call-to-action. The good impacts include rapidly expanding international communications that will permit a much better understanding of global issues. Positive trends are crowdsourcing and peer-level discussions for truth. There is a desperate need for critical thinkers to help filter out the white noise. Immediate gratification will become normal. Creativity will expand, and the golden age of communications will flourish!”
A professor from The New School in New York wrote, “The thing to do is go out after finishing this survey and use the Internet to make a change, perhaps starting with yourself. I’ll do this by re-reading The Brothers Karamazov, and the wisdom of Father Zosima, starting with: ‘Each one of us is guilty before everybody for everything, and I am more guilty than anybody else,’ and moving on to, ‘Everything is good and magnificent, because everything is true.’”
A self-described geek with decades of survey research experience predicted, “People will return to keeping handwritten journals on acid-free paper, writing poetry, composing songs, playing parlor music, gardening, and knitting. Or, they will be locked in La-Z-Boy loungers on life support, streaming movies directly to a chip in their head.”
Doc Searls, journalist and director of ProjectVRM at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, author of The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge and co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, said all of this is survivable. “It is impossible to overstate the influence of the Internet on all it connects, including people, companies, governments, institutions and things, because it is now a prevailing condition of our existence on the planet. Everything that depends on communication now must adapt to the fact of the Internet in its midst. Same goes for every person, company, government, institution and thing that depends on connected technology. Of course, there will be bad acting by some, taking advantage of organizational vulnerabilities and gaming systems in other ways. Organizations in the meantime will continue rationalizing negative externalities, such as we see today with pollution of the Internet’s pathways by boundless wasted advertising messages, and bots working to game the same business. But, as Clay Shirky says, the sign of a good idea is that it’s easy to imagine bad uses of it. Civilization deals with bad acting through development of manners, norms, laws and regulations. Expect all of those to emerge and evolve over the coming years. But don’t expect the Internet to go away. It won’t, and it can’t, any more than language, mathematics, art, and music will go away… Will the Internet make it possible for our entire civilization to collapse together, in one big awful heap? Possibly. But the Internet has already made it possible for us to use one of our unique graces — the ability to share knowledge — for good, and to a degree never before possible. I’m inclined to bet on the former and hope for the latter. I expect we’ll get both in the long run.”
11) Pressured by these changes, governments and corporations will try to assert power — and at times succeed — as they invoke security and cultural norms.
A recurring theme found in the Future of the Internet surveys over the past decade is the concern that leaders serving government or corporate interests will not make decisions that serve the global public good. As the exchange of most information, goods, and services has moved online, as some political entities see the Internet as a threat to their survival, as the power of Internet-enabled corporate giants such as Google and Amazon continues to be magnified, concerns over security and trust have arisen, regulation of online interaction has begun to emerge and a battle for control is being waged.
Anonymously, a self-employed writer and editor responded, “The Internet will be everywhere by 2025 — the question is, who will control it, and for what end?”
Barbara Simons, a former president of the Association of Computing Machinery who worked at IBM and is currently board chair for Verified Voting, wrote, “The question is, first, will the same open access to information still exist in 2025 and, second, to what kind of surveillance will Internet users be subjected? It’s difficult to know how the Internet will develop, now that aspects of it have become significantly politicized. I suspect that policy decisions will have at least as much impact on the development of the Internet as technology.”
Some of the survey respondents say they believe the Internet has already been transformed or fragmented by the battle for control or at least it will be by 2025.
Anonymously, a retired engineer and IETF participant responded, “The Internet is just a tool. By 2025, it will have become even more of a Rube Goldberg creation than it already is, and while it will probably be the technology of the masses, the technological visionaries will have moved on to something else. Governments will no longer pretend that their massive and targeted surveillance efforts are covert. Controlling access to the Internet will become a means of social control, just as controlling access to transportation is today.”
Glenn Edens, research scientist at PARC and the IETF area chair in networking, distributed systems and security, wrote, “We have many opportunities to solve significant problems of education, health care, democracy, and promoting freedom throughout the world. At the same time, the Internet is fragmenting into many ‘private Internets’ with different policies and business motivations. It could go either way at this point.”
Richard Forno, director of the UMBC Graduate Cybersecurity Program and affiliate at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, wrote, “I do worry that increasing concern about Internet control, privacy, and surveillance may lead to the much-feared ‘Balkanization’ of the Internet along regional or national boundaries, thus fracturing the global Internet and its benefits, thereby making it easier for information and interaction to be censored, constrained, or controlled by the traditional centers of social authority.”
Anonymously, one respondent predicted the rise of police states, writing, “The Pandora’s Box has been opened, and there is not much we can do to stop the stream of private information pouring in the public online venues. The biggest change will be dystopia-like changes for freedom around the world. I forecast the rise of police states in many parts of the world. If the NSA can do it now, then China/North Korea/Saudi Arabia will be able to do it in a decade, and those governments will not restrain themselves.”
One reason cited for the likelihood of more government control is the expectation of heightened future security threats and the need for a trusted system of exchange of ideas and commerce. As this happens, one expert says, a reduced level of privacy and security is likely on the global Internet.
Alan Clark, CEO of a software technology company, and active participant in Internet standards development, responded, “There is increased interest in government’s use of the Internet to monitor citizens — the NSA is the most expert but far from being the most aggressive in this area. There have been moves within the UN’s International Telecommunications Union to try to wrest control of the Internet away from the US, and to foster the development of technology such as DPI [deep packet inspection] that can be used to monitor usage. It is likely that more people will be disadvantaged (arrested, compromised, blackmailed) due to the authorized and unauthorized use of monitored activity data. There will be a large increase in the degree to which things are networked and Internet accessible, however no improvement in people’s awareness of Internet security, which means that hackers will be able to do more damage to more people and services. I’d like to say something positive, however I am concerned that the greatest impact areas will be a reduced level of privacy and security.”
Anonymously, a social entrepreneur dedicated to increasing online opportunities responded, “The Internet will be an instrument of control rather than liberation. This is not a technical inevitability, it is just a consequence of choices being made today and trends that are already quite self-evident. There is little that the average citizen can do against the government-corporate alliance; one which results from short-term self-interest rather than any type of widespread conspiracy.”
Anonymously, a researcher wrote, “The future prospects are a bad impact on humanity and a good impact on large corporations that control humanity.”
Anonymously, a researcher and associate professor at the University of Illinois responded, “The greatest impact of the Internet is already well underway. Individuals are increasingly under surveillance by a variety of agents, both governmental and corporate, for a variety of reasons. Shoshana Zuboff pointed out long ago that making processes subject to information technology’s ability to control and monitor inevitably led to people in positions of power trying to exploit that new information obtained by those technologies to further control employees responsible for those processes. People’s lives are increasingly ‘informatized,’ and the information about their lives increasingly available to a variety of government and corporate players, from Amazon buying patterns to Facebook social network graphs to tracking cookies employed by a variety of agencies. Trying to find new ways to exploit that information to control consumer and citizen behavior will be a key goal for government and corporate agencies for the next decade.”
Anonymously, one survey participant said we are “killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.”
Anonymously, a professor at Swarthmore College noted, “The biggest mistake we continue to make is to think that the Internet’s possibilities and problems are caused by its underlying technologies. Everything good and bad that can happen in the next decade with digital tools and online media is a function of the legal, political, and economic environment as a whole. We are on the verge of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs by allowing essentially selfish and/or authoritarian interests to capture what has been a vibrant commons. Once the Internet is enclosed, most of what has made it valuable and vibrant will disappear. That’s the precipice upon which the digital future now lies precariously balanced.”
Power in the hands of “the people” isn’t seen by all survey respondents as being an improvement over the status quo. Anonymously, the CEO and general manager for a large US public broadcasting organization responded, “Hierarchies will be upended, and power will be more widely distributed, with sweeping impacts. Accountability will not necessarily follow the distribution of power.”
Some survey respondents said they fear that all of this will lead to people being manipulated and controlled online. The abuse of access to private information is often cited as of great concern.
Anonymously, a compliance officer for a non-profit social services provider wrote, “Our total loss of control over our information and how it’s used will eventually change us. There’s no reason to believe that people’s interests will be protected. As older people who understand the ramifications of this loss of control die out, younger people who have grown used to it will be OK with it. I don’t understand the total implications of our total loss of privacy but I do understand that it won’t be a positive. The less we control about ourselves the more open we are to manipulation. Masses of people who can be manipulated by any power can be coerced into nearly anything, and throughout history, that kind of social control usually did not bode well.”
Some said these concerns will stifle the potential of the Internet by 2025.
Anonymously, an information resources professional observed, “While the Internet will continue to have a significant role in our lives, corporate attempts to profit from the Internet, fears of privacy, and fears of the misuse of personal information will reduce the role of the Internet in our lives by 2025.”
Anoop Ghanwani, a distinguished engineer at Dell, said, “Regulation will always stand in the way of anything significant happening.”
The losses will be when governments, organizations, or malicious individuals use the Internet with the intent to harm or to restrict rights or opportunities from individuals or groups of populations.Marsali Hancock, president and CEO of the Internet Keep Safe Coalition
Some survey respondents said they expect some sort of regulatory relief will be found for threats to privacy.
Anonymously, a quality analyst for Google responded, “Privacy issues will continue to nag us, as it will take decades for legal structures to adapt to a world where privacy could no longer exist,” adding tongue-in-cheek, “but hopefully sex won’t change too much.”
There are those who say they believe that making knowledge accessible and processes transparent might tip the balance further toward the rights of the individual over those of the hierarchical human organizations of the past, however.
William Schrader, co-founder and CEO of PSINet, the first commercial ISP, said, “The Internet will help everyone understand, without government or the wealthy interfering with transmission, the challenges facing mankind… The problem in times before the Internet was the government could easily manipulate the news that went out to its population — lies and secrets. Now, the Internet tells everything about the government’s manipulations, even if it is considered illegal to do so (witness Edward Snowden’s actions)… Governments’ attempt to isolate themselves and their populations from the influence of global economic impact will be stopped by the Internet.”
Jim Harper, director of information policy studies for The Cato Institute, responded, “Though the last two decades provide contrary evidence, I still believe the Internet will revitalize democracy. More and more, governments will take their place as servants of the people, and the people will take their place as overseers of government. Right now, it’s the other way around, and that’s very bad.”
12) People will continue — sometimes grudgingly — to make tradeoffs favoring convenience and perceived immediate gains over privacy; and privacy will be something only the upscale will enjoy.
Every technology from the discovery of fire and the wheel has resulted in both positive and negative social, political and economic impacts. Anonymously, a professional who works for a consulting firm rounded up some of the likely plus and minus results between now and 2025: “Cons include: the loss of privacy — you may be tracked/watched/recorded without you even knowing it; people being connected all the time in the sense that you don’t/won’t know how it used to like to be disconnected; people lacking critical thinking and information literacy skills and being unable to manage their digital identities; new illnesses based on anxiety, stress and being connected all the time. Pros include: less time between purchasing something online and having it delivered — i.e., drones or other methods; maybe more safety — for example, criminals also will be easier to find as the connected world becomes smaller, and maybe we will be able to predict some crimes; interfaces will be transparent — i.e., activated by body movements, etc.; machines will predict what you will need next — i.e., your vacation is near in your calendar so you get travel suggestions; people networking across the globe; information is free (open-access), so science and research moves at a faster pace; the Semantic Web improves capabilities.”
A number of survey respondents said most of the Internet public will mindlessly exchange their personal information or future freedom in some regard for something they find attractive to their interests in the near term.
Paul Babbitt, an associate professor at Southern Arkansas University, predicted, “Though there will be plenty of ‘free’ Internet, it will usually be of dubious quality. Another possibility is that areas of the Internet will be free but access will be restricted and participation will be monitored. Governments will become much more effective in using the Internet as an instrument of political and social control. That is, filters will be increasingly valuable and important, and effective and useful filters will be able to charge for their services. People will be more than happy to trade the free-wheeling aspect common to many Internet sites for more structured and regulated environments.”
Anonymously, a program manager in a research center for a private university predicted, “The most significant impact will be the lifting of the veil on government reconnaissance, and the general reluctant acceptance by the general population of this lack of privacy will affect democracy as we know it.”
Anonymously, one respondent wrote, “Yes, the information we want will increasingly find its way to us, as networks learn to accurately predict our interests and weaknesses. But that will also tempt us to stop seeking out knowledge, narrowing our horizons, even as we delve evermore deep. The privacy premium may also be a factor: only the relatively well-off (and well-educated) will know how to preserve their privacy in 2025.”
Anonymously, a research scientist and educator from Oxford, England, wrote, “There will be a potential erosion of freedom of expression online as policy is oriented to protecting security, privacy, and other values.”
Anonymously, the managing director of a global advertising network observed, “Connectivity will reduce privacy and trade technology dependence for convenience. Overall, the impact will be positive, though access will raise expectations and demands for people in developing nations and add pressure on first-world countries to share or redistribute more of the wealth.”
Will making tradeoffs for convenience lead to mind control? One respondent says yes.
Mikey O’Connor, an elected representative to ICANN’s GNSO Council, representing the ISP and Connectivity Provider Constituency, wrote, “The Internet will be used as the most effective force of mind control the planet has ever seen, leaving the Madison Avenue revolution as a piddling, small thing by comparison.”
One respondent argued that the Internet’s main guardians treat it as “an agent of the commercialization of life.” Jonathan Sterne, a professor in the department of art history and communication studies at McGill University, wrote, “Right now, it is headed toward a highly commercialized, profit-driven, opaque and privatized domain, much like the mass media of the 1980s that net boosters of the 1990s claimed to displace. Its main guardians seem to treat it as an agent of the commercialization of life, and other benefits are at best seen as side effects. The best possible outcome for the Internet would be if its major functions came to be understood as public utilities like water or power, or better, as resources, like clean air. If this were the case, companies would have much more real and material responsibilities to their users, and commercial uses wouldn’t necessarily be privileged over all others. Free public broadband; strong international non-corporate governance; cheap, forward-compatible devices rather than disposable consumer electronics; data-use transparency; and high levels of hackability and interoperability would all need to subtend such an arrangement for the Internet to play any meaningful role in real social, political, economic or environmental progress. Examples of progress include: reduced poverty, illness and hunger; accountable representative governments; slowing down environmental catastrophe; greater range of life chances for people that are not determined by the circumstances of their birth; greater equality across social differences; flourishing cultural diversity and access to different points of view and cultural practices; better public support for education and the arts; greater life-expectancy and quality of life; fewer working hours and higher real average income for households; higher happiness indices. All of these are measurable outcomes.”
13) Humans and their current organizations may not respond quickly enough to challenges presented by complex networks.
A librarian shared a quote from Albert Einstein: “It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.” Many other survey respondents agreed. Some experts say human responses to the swiftly changing information environment have not adjusted to keep up with the evolving paradigm. They say there’s serious work to be done.
Lee McKnight, a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at the iSchool at Syracuse University, wrote, “I expect there will be some collective mental breakthrough as the public begins to understand that we are all part of a dynamic digital ecosystem. There will be discomfort and anxiety about the ‘Borg’ or machines taking over, or the realization that you should be paranoid, because everything you do and touch and say — in viewing and listening range of a thing or device — can/is being monitored… When there will be an abortive ‘war against the machines’ or a new social movement for off-grid living, I can’t see precisely in my crystal ball, but looks like 2020 is a safe bet to be a time when counter-forces could be pushing back against the smart machines. Especially if economic cycles and technical change lead to labor force disruptions and further social spreads between the information-rich, the really-rich, and those divided from all that except from what they see in their minds (assuming very embedded systems).”
Evan Michelson, a researcher exploring the societal and policy implications of emerging technologies, predicted, “The biggest impact of the Internet is that will no longer allow for reasoned consideration of complex social challenges. What the Internet will do is make it more difficult to contemplate the longer-term implications of decisions made today. The future will, unfortunately, suffer in service of the present.”
Anonymously, a professional who carries out research and development for a major software company noted, “Organized crime is only now waking up to the opportunity to use the Internet for systemic fraud. Defenses are not rising fast enough.”
Ian O’Byrne, an assistant professor at the University of New Haven, wrote, “Wearables, robotics, AI, and the Internet of Things have the potential to significantly advance our notions about literacy, communication, and socialization. The challenge is with personal social norms, and legislative bodies to keep up.”
Ed Lyell, a professor of business and economics and technology consultant, said, “Direct democracy has the potential to overcome the oppressive gridlock of US government. A congress and local governments controlled by the rich and powerful have made representative government a negative force. Corporations have become more powerful than government at all levels. They focus on their own profit-making objectives and have managed to reduce or eliminate government oversight that used to limit their ability to exploit consumers, employees, and others. We are in a lose-lose game that is driving all business to exploitation of the masses for the gain of the few. Perhaps individuals linked up to one another will create the countervailing force necessary to fix this. Linking more people, beyond boundaries of geography, age, religion and skill sets has the potential to enhance the quality of life for the masses. Historically, the control of information has always empowered only those at the top. Perhaps we can reverse this with people-to-people connections, as the Arab Spring demonstrated when people could work around negative governments.”
Raymond Plzak, former CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers, and current member of the Board of Directors of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, explained, “What is important is to keep the three sciences in balance: physical science, biological science, and social science. When they get out of balance the areas of concern of the other two suffer. The consequences in some cases can be catastrophic. The greatest impact that the Internet continues to have is that the three sciences and their accompanying disciplines have not learned how to manage and control the communications infrastructure that is the Internet.”
Anonymously, a communications professor who researches new-media effects responded, “While there are many concerns, the greatest may be the most easily overlooked. This is the change in how ordinary citizens gather information (i.e., receive news) about any issue/topic. As ‘news’ and information are increasingly gathered from a variety of outlets (i.e., traditional, new, interpersonal, networked, and not), and outlets are increasingly polarized, it is obvious that the Internet is not the ‘great equalizer’ that we once thought it was. There is a dark side, which is seen as people increasingly link to like-minded others/information and disassociate with dissimilar others/information. The need to foster media literacy education will increase (and we should be greatly concerned if nothing is done about it).”
Anonymously, an Internet marketer wrote, “Organizational dynamics will be tested since we have never had this many people on the planet before, nor have we had them all communicating together at the same time… The divided class system will provide resentment that will test the super-automated and connected systems. Robots will complicate the matter. The Internet will contribute to an especially tumultuous economy and future for the world because it is scaling, growing, and being used beyond anyone’s initial design or intent. Nobody really knows what will happen.”
Larry Gell, director-general of the International Agency for Economic Development, responded, “Maybe the United Nations can finally do some meaningful work in countries instead of spending vast amounts on staff and repetitive annual meetings ‘talking’ about the global problems over and over again. The sharing of collaborative brain power worldwide could solve some of our unsolved problems.”
14) Most people are not yet noticing the profound changes today’s communications networks are already bringing about; these networks will be even more disruptive in the future.
Some experts say most people remain unaware of the major metamorphosis life online has already made on those who are connected. It is changing what it is to be human, some say, a paradigm shift that is positive, seductive, and dangerous, and some even say it may be “turning us into machines.”
Elizabeth Albrycht, a senior lecturer in marketing and communications at the Paris School of Business, wrote, “By 2025… our lives will be lived in a combination of virtual and physical spaces, and it will feel completely normal for most of us… The Internet is us and we are it. The Internet becomes the extension of the human mind and body. It is multiple, as are we. There will not be any big ‘event’ of adoption — we’ll just naturally move there. Many of us are already close. The benefits are too big, too obvious to think otherwise. These include the ability to stay alive longer as healthy people. Who would say no to that?”
Nishant Shah, visiting professor at the Centre for Digital Cultures at Leuphana University, Germany, wrote, “It is going to systemically change our understandings of being human, being social, and being political. It is not merely a tool of enforcing existing systems; it is a structural change in the systems that we are used to. And this means that we are truly going through a paradigm shift — which is celebratory for what it brings, but it also produces great precariousness because existing structures lose meaning and valence, and hence, a new world order needs to be produced in order to accommodate for these new modes of being and operation. The greatest impact of the Internet is what we are already witnessing, but it is going to accelerate. It is going to fundamentally change the way in which we think of being human and the ways in which we dislocate our sense of self from the body. The distancing between the two is going to define the new realms of emotionality, sociality, governance, and production in new and unprecedented ways.”
A certain level of dehumanization was predicted by some survey respondents, as they say that it removes the need for human-to-human contact and that its influence is to allow people to transform themselves into dumb machines.
Anonymously, a college professor at Grand Valley State University wrote, “Significant impacts by 2025 include: further distance between the super-wealthy and the impoverished, a further digital divide, increased emotional illness among the ‘wired,’ the undermining of sensitive childrearing, increased image-consciousness egoism and social envy, the further distancing of people from the air/water/earth that they need in order to function, and loss of sensuality and aesthetics associated with skill. The Internet is turning people into machines.”
Anonymously, a health sciences librarian from California wrote, “The government and corporations will see everything through not only cameras and satellites, but also through the very technology we carry around with us. As computers get smarter, they will be able to predict. The Internet will be a connector. Whether it connects thieves with money, sick people with the care they need, or fat couch-dwellers with delivered processed food, it will remove the need for people to interact with other people. The connections will all be online, over the Internet. Human connection will be very limited. The Internet will become, in a sense, our hivemind. With it sending all that information to corporations and possibly the government, the Internet will allow people to become ever less caring and ever less human. There will also be a backlash, and I imagine a fair number of people will go Luddite and possibly try to overthrow things. They will fail.”
Anonymously, a doctoral student in information science at the Universidade Estadual Paulista wrote, “There will be growing stress due to the shift in routines that e-job and 24/7 demands apply to human life. There will be increased dependency on e-infrastructure, there will be isolation, and more mediated relations, and family structure will be broken. With everyone looking for the next gadget to consume, humanity will be in a state of global dumbness.”
Anonymously, a futurist and consultant wrote, “My fear is that people will become so reliant on the data on the Internet that they will be unable to judge the difference between good data or false, limited, possibly-slanted information. People may be surrendering their ability to think and judge.”
We will be always connected, no matter where we are or what we’re doing: always reachable, never unavailable. What will happen to alone time? Solitude? Thought? This is what I worry about.Online communications scholar