Pew Research have surveyed over 500 leading internet experts, activists and commentators about the impact of networked technologies on society over the next decade or so. There's quite a bit you'd expect – mobile as the primary connection tool, improvements in the architecture of the internet, prevalence of voice recognition and touch interfaces, a continuing arms race around intellectual property and copyright, and even more blurring between personal and work, physical and virtual.
But the really interesting bit is what they describe as "the strong undercurrent of anxiety" that runs through these experts' answers. The picture they paint is of a future where technology will empower people in political and economic society, "but that won't necessarily make it a kinder, gentler world."
Take these quotes:
"Sharing, interacting, and being exposed to ideas is great and all, but saying the internet will eventually make human beings more tolerant is like saying that the Prius will reverse global warming; a little too much of an idealistic leap in logic. People are people are people. And people are terrible."
– Matt Gallivan, senior research analyst for National Public Radio
"Tribes will be defined by social enclaves on the internet, rather than by geography or kinship, but the world will be more fragmented and less tolerant, since one's real-world surroundings will not have the homogeneity of one's online clan."
– Jim Horning, chief scientist for information security at SPARTA Inc. and a founder of InterTrust's Strategic Technologies and Architectural Research Laboratory
"Viciousness will prevail over civility, fraternity, and tolerance as a general rule, despite the build-up of pockets or groups ruled by these virtues. Software will be unable to stop deeper and more hard-hitting intrusions into intimacy and privacy, and these will continue to happen."
– Alejandro Pisanty, ICANN and Internet Society leader and director of computer services at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico
"By 2020, the internet will have enabled the monitoring and manipulation of people by businesses and governments on a scale never before imaginable. Most people will have happily traded their privacy — consciously or unconsciously — for consumer benefits such as increased convenience and lower prices. As a result, the line between marketing and manipulation will have largely disappeared."
– Nicholas Carr, author of the Rough Type blog and "The Big Switch"
I couldn't quite believe what I was reading. Do these 'experts' not have more faith in humanity than this? Is not the internet a reflection of all human life, good and bad? Surely greater transparency will be positive for tolerance and understanding? Personally, I prefer this prognosis:
"The Web must still be a messy, fabulous, exciting, dangerous, poetic, depressing, elating place .. akin to life; which is not a bad thing."
– Luis Santos, Universidade do Minho-Braga, Portugal