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What do you think our Internet world will be like in another ten years? (1) Totally cool. (2) Not so hot. (3) Are those the only choices?
The Pew Research Center has just conducted a “Future of the Internet” survey, and if you answered the above question with number three, Pew understands and agrees with you.
A key component of the survey was a set of two opposing statements it put to 895 “technology stakeholders and critics”:
By 2020, innovative forms of online cooperation will result in significantly more efficient and responsive governments, business, non-profits, and other mainstream institutions.
By 2020, governments, businesses, non-profits, and other mainstream institutions will primarily retain familiar 20th century models for conduct of relationships with citizens and consumers online and offline.
In a 22-page report released Wednesday that's devoted entirely to the responses to these two statements, Pew announced that 72 percent of the surveyed experts agreed with the first and only 26 percent with the second. Then it advised us to disregard the numbers. “Many times when respondents ‘voted’ for one scenario over another,” said Pew, “they responded in their elaboration that both outcomes are likely to a degree or that an outcome not offered would be their true choice.”
What matters to Pew, and should interest the rest of us, are the elaborations, where the actual thinking takes place. That’s why I’m posting this link to the entire report.
Here are some excerpts:
“Institutions that adapt to the Net’s cooperation-encouraging technologies and functions will succeed. Those that don’t will have a hard time. Having it hardest right now are media institutions, for the simple reason that the internet subsumes their functions, while also giving to everybody the ability to communicate with everybody else, at little cost, and often with little or no intermediating system other than the Net itself.” —Doc Searls, coauthor of The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual
“Even governments which take some very promising steps towards citizen engagement and participation on the one hand are at the very same time pursuing legislation which will have a chilling effect on online participation and innovation on the other. . . . Ultimately, I think that popular pressure will win the day, and the very inertia of many large institutions leaves them vulnerable to user-generated change which moves too quickly for them to react to.” —Axel Bruns, associate professor, Queensland University
“I predict third-party political movements to start on the internet and gain share rapidly in perhaps even the next election.” —Sandra Kelly, marketing specialist, 3M Worldwide
“In 2020, companies’ customers will know far more about the companies than the companies do themselves. And citizens will know far more about governments than the government officials. This will lead to political and market tensions that will play out over many years.” —Dylan Tweney, senior editor, Wired
“I find the erosion of our abilities to engage in critical thinking and non-inflammatory discourse to be disquieting. It seems as if electronic communications cause us to lose our ability to look past errors of expression and to treat one another as humans worthy of respect. . . . Nations are losing the clarity of where their sovereign powers begin and end or who exercises powers over matters that cross geographic boundaries. The powers are not disappearing but are, instead, flowing into bodies, often corporate but also often quasi-non-governmental . . . that are not constructed on the lessons that were so hard-learned during the 18th and 19th centuries regarding the allocation and control of authority. The internet needs to re-learn Madison and Jefferson, Voltaire and all the rest of the people who wrestled with these questions back then.” —Karl Auerbach, chief technology officer, InterWorking Labs Inc.
“By 2020, it will be clear that people are governing, managing, educating, and supporting themselves, not waiting for some institution to be ‘effective’ or ‘responsive’ to these needs.” —Stephen Downes, senior research officer, National Research Council, Canada
“It is unfortunate that you lumped government and business together in one question, because I see this going two ways. Businesses need to become more responsive to survive and remain competitive. Governments do not.” —Mindy McAdams, College of Journalism and Communications, University of Florida
This report is the second of four Pew will issue on its 2010 “Future of the Internet” survey, done as part of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. You can find the first of this year's reports here, as well as links to previous reports issued in 2005, 2006, and 2008.