Teaching Examples

Pondering the Internet’s future
September 27, 2006, 2:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

What effects will the Internet have on social, political and economic life in the year 2020? This is the big question posed by a new Pew study.

You can read the summary or the full report (PDF file).

Brief biographies for 250 of the 742 respondents can be found in pages 95-115 of the PDF (or pages 84-104, as numbered). While there are many well-known names — including Reva Basch, Gordon Bell, Cory Doctorow, Esther Dyson, Alex Halavais, Bob Metcalfe, Mark Poster, Sheizaf Rafaeli, Howard Rheingold, Douglas Rushkoff, Paul Saffo, and Danny Sullivan — many other names that I would expect to see (e.g., Yochai Benkler, Brenda Laurel, Larry Lessig, Pierre Lévy, Lisa Nakamura, Saskia Sassen, Sherry Turkle, Paul Virilio) are missing.

That doesn’t necessarily mean anything; the report says that the list represents only “some of the top participants who were willing to be quoted on the record for one or more of their statements in answer to the survey.”

Dozens of additional internet leaders/stakeholders preferred to remain anonymous, keeping their comments off the record; you will not see their names here although they did participate in the survey.

I found the manner in which the study was conducted to be very interesting. On page iii (page 4 of the PDF), there’s an easy-to-read grid that summarizes the respondents’ reactions to seven future scenarios. The percentage of respondents who agreed vs. disagreed with any given scenario is not overwhelming (ranging from 3 to 17 percentage points difference, except in the final case). The greatest divergence is for the seventh scenario:

Some Luddites/Refuseniks will commit terror acts: By 2020, the people left behind (many by their own choice) by accelerating information and communications technologies will form a new cultural group of technology refuseniks who self-segregate from “modern” society. Some will live mostly “off the grid” simply to seek peace and a cure for information overload while others will commit acts of terror or violence in protest against technology.

While 35 percent of respondents disagreed that this is likely to happen and 7 percent did not respond, 58 percent said this is a plausible future for us.

I don’t find this scenario impossible to believe, but I’m surprised that so many respondents think the disparities in technology will lead to violence. Isn’t it far more likely that disparities in wealth and standard of living would drive people to violence?

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