Imagining the Internet Project

  Responses in reaction to the following statement were assembled from a select group of 1,286 Internet stakeholders in the fall 2004 Pew Internet & American Life Predictions Survey. The survey allowed respondents to select from the choices "agree," "disagree" or "I challenge" the predictive statement. Some respondents chose to expand on their answer by writing an explanation of their position; many did not. Some respondents chose to identify themselves with their answer; many did not. We share some - not all - of the responses here. Workplaces of respondents whose reactions are listed below are attributed here only for the purpose of indicating a level of internet expertise; the statements reflect personal viewpoints and do not represent their companies' or government agencies' policies or positions. Some answers have been edited in order to share more respondents' replies. Below is a selection of the many carefully considered responses to the following statement.  
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Prediction on social networks
By 2014, use of the Internet will increase the size of peoples' social networks far beyond what has traditionally been the case. This will enhance trust in society, as people have a wider range of sources from which to discover and verify information about job opportunities, personal services, common interests and products.

Compiled reactions from the 1,286 respondents:
  39% of internet experts agreed
  20% disagreed
  27% challenged the prediction
  15% did not respond

This prediction mixes social and professional networks; the first will not expand dramatically, the second will; it won't be easier to "verify" information, on the contrary. - Louis Pouzin, Internet pioneer: inventor of "Datagram" networking and designer of the Cyclades network; a formulator of the groundwork for contemporary networks

People will have larger social networks, but most of the relationships will be low-value, low-trust relationships. In general, online acquaintances are generally self-selected for agreement in ideology/politics/religion/etc., so I think that we'll actually see more hardening of radical views, rather than more trust. - Simson Garfinkel, Sandstorm Enterprises/Technology Review magazine

I think this has already happened, and people's networks have gotten bigger than they want to handle. We'll be watching how the Internet helps people restrict their connections now, more than increases them. - Douglas Rushkoff, author/New York University Interactive Telecommunications Program

It seems likely that trust in commercial services will grow as people increasingly depend on the Internet. However, though there are spectacular examples of relationships engendered by Internet communications, most Internet relationships connect along limited dimensions. There is still no substitute for dense personal interactions. - Jorge Reina Schement

I think the first sentence is clearly true, but the second sentence does not follow. The increasing size of social networks may not produce increased social trust, if the Internet also proliferates the circulation of untrustworthy information and practices. - Peter M. Shane, author of "The Electronic Federalist: The Internet and the Electric Institutionalization of Democratic Legitimacy"

It could expand social networks, but not "far beyond." People will have a wider range of sources - but most individuals will settle on a small number that they will use repeatedly much as they use a small subset of the large number of TV networks available already. Impact on trust could go either way (or both) - more sources could equal more differences of info could lead to more confusion and skepticism as easily as more trust. - Ben Compaine, communications technology expert

The Internet links us to more people, more frequently, and at greater distances. It allows us to maintain some sort of contact with weak,latent ties, to whom we used to only send Christmas cards. The greater connectivity of the Internet does not come at the expense of face-to-face or telephone contact. Internet connectivity adds on to phone and face-to-face contact. The joint ability to have more ties -- and more contact with ties -- means that Internet users tend to have the largest active social networks that the world has ever seen. Most ties people have on the Internet also take place offline -- by phone and face-to-face. Although the media have been fascinated with online virtual worlds, in practice, this is a small proportion of relationships that use the Internet.. - Barry Wellman, University of Toronto

Depends on what one means by "social networks." Acquaintances? Email correspondents? Advice sources? People one parties with? Maybe our social networks will have more long-distance connections, but they may have fewer direct person-person connections. A person's total number of connections may be a limit of that person's tolerance for connections or time available to spend maintaining them, which would be an inherent limit in how large an individual's social network might become. - Peter Denning, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California; columnist for Communications of the ACM

Although the evidence is inconclusive - and the social effects of the Internet will change as the electronic media change - I read the existing data as mostly negative. Social networks are weakening, and the Internet is not helping at all. - Peter Levine, the University of Maryland

I agree with the first part, but I'm not sure it will enhance trust or widen anything - it may instead deepen divisions and create silos. The key will be for the Internet to embrace geography considerably more than it has thus far. More Friendster, and less Freeper. More craigslist and less eBay. The Internet could be a tool for people to connect with each other in their geographic communities, not withdraw from their geographic communities into a virtual space where the horizons are vastly narrower. - Dan Froomkin, washingtonpost.com/niemanwatchdog.org

I think that there has been a pseudo-expansion of social networks, with people who have just a superficial connection (chat, picture, etc.). I don't feel these are lasting connections on the level of an in-person connection. Witness the use of e-mail in business as simply a bridge to a face-to-face meeting. We haven't been able to replace a connection even among professional colleagues. - Ted Eytan, MD, Group Health Cooperative

Social networks are not just about size, you also have to consider the quality of your contacts/information. Most people have a limited number of people that they actually trust. I believe it's likely that real word experience has taught them to be careful. The use of the telephone increased the size of social networks, but I doubt the introduction of the telephone increased trust in society. Having access to a wider range of sources is nice, but there is such a thing as access to "too much information." - Robert Lunn, FocalPoint Analytics/USC Digital Future Project

People's social networks will be richer and more interesting, but the closest parts of those networks won't be numerically larger - we can only take in about 150 people, virtually or in real space. Trust depends on reciprocity in taking risk, and it's hard to do that without lots of repeat interactions and contextual information. So, richer, better, livelier, but not necessarily bigger. - Susan Crawford, professor, Cardozo School of Law/Policy Fellow with the Center for Democracy & Technology/Fellow with the Yale Law School Information Society Project

The size and diversity of people's social networks will certainly increase because technology, and the internet in particular, lowers the threshold for participation in social activities and breaks down traditional social barriers (i.e. race and gender stereotypes are harder to advance online if the identity of the participants is unknown. But the size of someone's social network is not necessarily a good thing. The Internet makes us lazy, it encourages us to stay home in front of our computer instead of going to the local watering hole or community center to engage with people directly. - Brian Reich, Mindshare Interactive Campaigns/campaignwebreview.com

The benefits will be instrumental - that is people will have better information in the choices they make, but they won't trust society as a whole more. - Mark Rovner, CTSG/Kintera

I agree, except for the part about enhanced trust. The networks will expand, but we will also have to be more selective in evaluating the information received through those networks. The 80-20 rule of information still applies - even if the total amount of information increases. - Ken Jarboe, Athena Alliance

Social networks are like telephone numbers. There are limits to how large they can be, based on time and personality. Some people have large social networks; some people don't. I don't think that will change. However, the Internet may well change the composition of social networks. For example, college-aged students have been able to maintain relationships with high school friends much more easily than was once the case. So, their social networks are not remade in college, as was once the case. How such a change might affect where people choose to live after college, etc., will be interesting to track. - Stanley Chodorow, University of California at San Diego/Council on Library and Information Resources

I agree with this prediction and think it has already happened. In my life, the Internet has connected me to many people around the globe, from many different walks of life, and cultures. I have been able to use these contacts for research and writing opportunities, and have been recruited for a variety of different career opportunities. I believe these contacts and opportunities for collaboration will only increase as the electronic connections afforded by the Internet increase. - Gary Kreps, George Mason University/National Cancer Institute

I generally agree, but would offer these thoughts: The more ethical an individual is, the less he or she needs regulations and such. A tiny population of abusers should not provoke penalties for many, but with one's own vigilance and a better understanding of these people, we will keep them and any associated undesired behavior from such at bay, and focus on the majority of positive results that come of technology-assisted social networks. - Victor Rivero, editor/writer/consultant, former editor of Converge magazine

At the same time, I think certain "trusted sources" will not have the confirmation of the crowd, instead they will be trusted due to their scarcity or connection only to prime nodes within the network. - Christine Geith, Michigan State University

Ten percent of the world may be on the Net but so are 10 percent of the world's criminals and they are using it to automate old crimes and invest in new ones. Unless and until law enforcement and security catch up they will undermine and destroy trust. - Philip Virgo, secretary general, EURIM - UK-based Parliament Industry Group/IMIS - UK-based professional body for management of information systems

Trust is a human experience - experience being the key word here - acquired over time. Trust is instinct-based, for example, we feel repulsed by meat that smells bad, because we'll get sick, or we feel apprehensive about the dark, because we may be hurt more easily. Trust for people will continue to act in the same way. We experience and assimilate that information. We will not re-wire millions of years of evolution because of Friendster. - Lorraine Ross, VP, Sales, USATODAY.com

Overall, this is a key factor of my Internet vision. However: depending on deployment factors globally and on control of key nodes, there may be considerable pushback based on privacy, security and other social factors unrelated to tech capability. Governments may crack down on allowing social access to "undesirables," or personal concerns about safety or security may restrain some individuals from full usage of this capability. Moreover, as business models evolve for social networking, the "price of admission" may affect acceptance into the "best" networks. - Gary Arlen, Arlen Communications

The trick here is that the idea of what constitutes a social network is changing. In the past, if I met someone at a conference, and we didn't meet again all year, I might not consider her to be part of my social network (a friend, colleague, or acquaintance). But, if using the Internet I read her blog, or see her in an IM session, or briefly message her, I consider her a resource from whom I can draw. I suspect that if the question is asked "is your social network larger?" those who are the heaviest users of the Internet will answer in the affirmative, but it isn't clear to me that this is a useful measure by itself. - A. Halavais, State University of New York at Buffalo

The web is also a great way to spread disinformation and propaganda. The checks and balances that exist within nation states don't exist on the web and market forces may not prevail. Currently, I am receiving e-mail and links to bank websites which ask for information or link me to sites that look, for example, like CitiBank, which are not official Citibank sites. Verification can be difficult and the tracing down of who is responsible for such false information is impossible for the average individual to do. It costs money to send a false catalogue of products through snail mail, but costs far less to advertise on the Internet or through e-mail, so I suspect that we will see a proliferation of fraud. - F. Hassencahl, Old Dominion University

I agree with the first sentence, but I don't believe that this will enhance trust in society. Rather I feel it will transform our notion of society from that of a group of people brought together by physical space into a virtual space containing everyone who shares a common need or business or passion. As to the matter of trust, I think it is likely that given the ease with which one can employ deception in cyberspace, people's general trust in society may diminish a bit. - Peter W. Van Ness, entrepreneur, principal The Van Ness Group, a web-solutions company

In the fall of 1999 I attended the Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program (AMP). The class of 170 business executives from around the world has since been in continual contact thanks to one of our classmates acting as an e-mail coordinator. He receives messages from individuals concerning life changes and promotions, and e-mails that to the whole class, which spans the globe. Whether Mike is sending a daily joke, or update on a classmate who has just become a grandmother, or telling us who is about to arrive in one city or another seeking a reunion, he and the internet have brought together a group of people to create a virtual community, extending the Harvard experience way beyond the classroom. - Graham Lovelace, Lovelace Media Ltd.

Social networks will increase, but not beyond traditional measures. This is b/c social networks are not driven by electronics. Electronics can help to sustain relations. Accordingly, we will have more interactions w/ existing networks beyond what has traditionally been the case. New networks will continue to be a function of where we work, live, worship and play. The 'Net will enhance these things, not replace them. - B. Keith Fulton, Verizon

While people's social networks will expand in size, those will also take different shapes. A typical person's social network is likely to become more geographically diverse. Some relationships will be purely ''virtual'' - with interaction occurring purely through online channels. Face to face, local relationships will also decrease and potentially become ''shallower'' and less important in the average person's day-to-day living. - Lyle Kantrovich, Cargill

We have not yet found good ways to verify authority in cyberspace. I also think there is a finite attention space for people. We might get new and better sources of information, but they will replace some of the old ones. - Mike Weisman, Reclaim the Media

The size of social networks are almost certainly a function of some innate capacity in people. The Internet can enable them, but not necessarily enlarge them, nor, necessarily, enhance trust in society. A better view is that the Internet reshapes and relocates social networks. By changing the nature of networking and making it more efficient, it is also changing the mix of people who are effective at social networking. It allows finer niche groups, allows the introvert to succeed where he/she may not have before. - John B. Mahaffie, co-founder, Leading Futurists LLC

It will decrease trust and create a more liminal society, a culture of surfaces that are all suspect, and assumed so, like the hypothetical culture at the crossroads where everyone lies all the time and everyone knows it. The cultural effects of the ''lying assumption'' don't necessarily bode a loss of integrity, but rather, they unbind integrity from a speaker's ethos, as in the case where greater truths can be uttered with a pseudonym than would be uttered with one's real name. Connection expands, more communication takes place, but identity and representation, and integrity, are unbound from the communication. - Christine Boese, cyberculture researcher, CNN Headline News

My social networks may indeed expand through the Internet, and I may come to trust people and society, at least in that milieu. But as I go out physically into a social environment, will my trust in society that grew virtually "work" for my in the physical space? I can see learning to trust and be engaged with people online, but that is not my personal space. Please don't get too close to me in the elevator. - Barbara Smith, technology officer, Institute of Museum and Library Services (federal government)

This seems to describe the situation today, not ten years in the future. The problem is to have a broad social network that contains people you care about; an online community of like-minded people (or seemingly like minded). Presumably in ten years that will be more common. Online communities might enhance trust in that online group of people but in society generally - I don't see it would have that effect; in fact the opposite seems just as likely. Myriad online interests with their own communities could easily cause trust to dissipate. - Michael Neubert, Digital Projects Coordinator, Library of Congress

We may well know more people superficially, but we will know far fewer people with any degree of depth or abiding interest. Rather than inspire greater trust, our mile-wide, inch-deep approach to relationships and contacts will engender a growing distrust of others. The greater accessibility of information on others also entails a greater access for others to information about us. The loss of privacy and general intrusion of information and technology will lead to an interesting Catch-22 for many people: We will hate the developments, but find ourselves unable to live without them. And we will not be happy. - Daniel Weiss, Focus on the Family

The following responses are from participants who chose to remain anonymous: [Workplaces of respondents whose reactions are listed below include Internet2, RAND, Gartner, Radiance Technologies, IBM, the Congressional Budget Office, Open Society Institute, Fidelity Investments, U.S. Census Bureau, Harvard University, Netcraft, University of Illinois, Microsoft, Media General, Meetup, U.S. Air Force Materiel Command, The Institute for the Future, SAS, the Federal Reserve System, CNET, Moody's, the Congressional Management Foundation and others.]

Agree: By 2014 use of the internet will increase the size of people's social networks far beyond what has traditionally been the case. Disagree: This will enhance trust in society, as people have a wider range of sources from which to discover and verify information about job opportunities, personal services, common interests, and products.

Two points - first a wider number of contacts does not mean a social relationship exists, so I'd like to challenge the use of the phrase "social network" because it ignores the relations that form that connection. It is unlikely that people will be able to build larger strong tie networks - as humans we haven't changed - our cognitive limits and perhaps one might say socializing limits have not changed. Sure, some people may sustain many ties they believe are strong, but I'm guessing these people would have maintained them anyway, regardless of the internet. Second, as people can check up more on others, we can reasonably expect that many people will object to be checked up on. Thus, I fail to see how being able to check up on everyone is related to concept of trust.

In a cable universe with 400 channels, most people use only seven. That's because humans do not expand as possibilities do. The internet may allow for easier social intercourse, but ease will not equal more. We do not verify things now with the tools available. There is no likelihood that because it is on the web we will use it.

I agree to a degree. But there is also likely to be a backlash to the "database nation" concept, as many people seek to protect their personal details. Identity theft will have a serious chilling effect on this trend.

The Internet does expand social networks - but it decreases, not increases trust. While the range of information sources is increased by the internet, the number of reliable sources is not. Similarly, while social networks widen, the number of trustworthy contacts is not increased by the Internet. However, the Internet does enable people who already trust each other to keep in better contact.

I agree with some qualification: trust mechanisms will need to be much more effective and there will be a rising number of reasons to NOT trust what people say and do on the internet. The increase in the size of people's social networks will happen, but there will also be a profound surge in mistrust.

Social networks will expand. The propensity to reconnect with old friends who will be much more accessible is but one example. See www.legacy.com.

Like any other mass aggregation of people, peddlers of wares and services, hucksters of all descriptions, and general riff-raff will make these larger social networks somewhat less than useful. There will be (and are) benefits, however, for those who can tolerate the virtually milling masses. For example, the Internet is great at aggregating individuals without regard to distance, for example those who are offering a good or service and those who wish to buy, or patients with rare diseases.

First, I believe that the size of social network is limited by our capacity to interact with much more than a few 100 people. Second, I observe that the Internet makes it easy for people to congregate with other people just like them, rather to seek interaction with a wide range of sources.

Once you get beyond the reach of what has traditionally been a social network (15 people you truly empathize with and maybe 100 who you care about) the value of these new social connections become negligible. The fact that someone is tangentially connected to me does not make them any more valuable of a contact than someone I don't know.

I agree with most of it. What I challenge is the "trust" component. Already, there is evidence of a backlash by some people against the internet, who would contend it's content and messages are too easily manipulable.

People are already on overload. Unless better management and security tools emerge, people may find themselves withdrawing as well.

By 2014, the elementary children today will be entering the work arena. Those who have computer access in their homes will already be so Internet savvy that the smart ones will have information on the companies, the people, and the job opportunities in the marketplace. These same children do now and will continue to communicate using Internet tools: cell phone text messages, palm pilots, laptop devices, IM, etc. Much social activity for the Gen X and Millennial (GenY)groups is currently being done - meeting on the net and dating/marrying etc. This will continue involving foreign country connections as well.

The typical size of a social network of a given person has been estimated very differently, but it's generally been within hundreds typically. Enter the Internet. I am an introverted engineer. I don't remember people's names very well. I don't go to parties. I leave any reception drained. I should have a smaller-than-average social network. Yet, my address book contains more than 1,200 people, and this is only a fraction of the people I know and can reach out to. Whether this will enhance trust in society is quite questionable.

The capacity of one's social network will remain the same (the Internet will not change human capacity for intimacy and trust) as will many aspects of its diversity. Geographically, it will change, as we are more able to build relationships with virtual groups and distant individuals.

I believe that liability concerns and information security will severely limit the amount of verifiable information available over public networks. Thus, trust will continue to be diminished, giving way to a cynical view of Internet information and social interaction. Until some paradigm of trust and verifiability is established, social, political, and financial interactions will be limited to role-playing, generalities, and liability-limited transactions.

It has already happened, so I cannot imagine that using the internet to do everything from search jobs, find like-minded people, etc. will decrease. In fact, as wi-fi and mobile devices become more common and are better made (i.e. easier to use) social networks will only increase. In fact, I suspect that face-to-face time will be radically reduced in favor of digital meetings (with avatars, etc.).

There can be no doubt that the use of contact lists and bookmarks is enhanced by the ease of collecting and storing them through PCs on the Net. It's simply easier and faster to gather and verify information today, and it will only become more refined by 2014.

I agree with the first statement, but not the statement on trust. Unfortunately, we are all still human, and along with the addition of social networks and information flow will come an increase the amount of untrustworthy information out there as well. We will have to become skilled at recognizing the trustworthy information from the non-trustworthy information.

Social networks will change in terms of geography but not that much in terms of size. personal relationships take time and the internet doesn't change the amount of time given to relationships. There will be more information available and more dis- and misinformation. Trust will not be enhanced. There will be better information about products and jobs, however.

It is a given the Internet will provide people with a wider range of sources from which to discover and verify information about job opportunities, personal services, common interests, and products. The question is if they will use it - or will have the capacity to use it. Information overload is a problem - however work with kids has already indicated that hand/eye coordination, and the ability to take in and process more information is evolving. That and the fact that internet search and contextualization continues to improve makes me think this will be true. Individuals and the tools they use are evolving to make people more efficient at taking advantage of access to more people and more information.

I agree that social networks will be larger, but I do not believe that trust will be increased, because the Internet will also bring spam, phishing, worms, and rumor-mongering which will mitigate against increased trust.

People will certainly have an opportunity to ask others their opinions. They can do that now via chat rooms or message boards. The lack of governance in these rooms and on these boards leaves substantial doubt in the value of the information gleaned. As for the development of social networks, it is difficult to fathom the notion that notes hastily sent electronically truly build the bonds required for socialization. Those that believe they do are either remarkably optimistic, or believe that the very nature of socializing will change. If the latter, then there is no quarrel, but then the prediction is merely an exercise in semantic gymnastics.

The size of people's social networks is likely to increase. As some of the existing networks such as friendster.com show, I can make several thousand new "friends" just by adding one person to my network. However, a social network and most certainly trust associated with it are a matter of quality, not quantity. Thus, even though we may be able to draw on even more resources than today, we will still have selective perception, suffer from information overload, and stick to whom and what we know, mostly. Today, compared to ten years ago, there is vastly more information accessible, but most people do not make use of it and, if anything, the widening of our networks and access to everything has decreased trust rather than increased it.

The cost of sorting through the cheap and rapid communication allowed by the Internet will be to much for the individual to incur. As a consequence numerous errors and deliberate misrepresentations will erode social trust.

I only partially agree, because lack of Internet security may result in less rather than more trust. My guess at probabilities: More trust - 50%; no change - 30%; less trust - 20%.

Increased information flow tends to widen knowledge gaps; and it seems clear to me that concerns about privacy, identity theft, and fraud will not diminish very much.

This is already happening, but there are limits to how "far beyond" people can manage extended networks. People use the Internet to get advice, find information, learn about jobs and travel, find vacations, etc. In the past, that kind of information seeking used to be more limited - usually advice from a few friends or family.

Social networks will make it easier to make and maintain connections, but this will not enhance "trust in society." Just as the phone improved communication, but did not improve trust in society.

I agree that the Internet will increase the size of social networks, but I do not think that this will enhance trust in society generally. I do not think this follows - I think people will have to become more wary about what the Internet brings them.

Minor challenge: it will increase the size of SOME people's social networks SOMEWHAT beyond what has been the case. There will be a minority with super-extended social networks that are amplified by Internet; the majority will use it to maintain social networks they've made face to face, or with a few selected friends they've made in online contexts.

I believe that there is an upper limit on the time people can spend cultivating their social networks and maintaining ties, and to the extent people maintain more connections they will be weaker... which is not to say that that won't offer some new sorts of value a la Granovetter and weak ties, but I don't expect it to lead to enhanced trust or social capital in an of itself.

The prediction is based on several assumptions that may not hold true. 1) That a larger social network is a better social network the number of relationships individuals can manage is finite, and nothing about the Internet changes that. 2) That the Internet's main impact on social networks is to increase the number of relationships, when it seems to me the greater impact is on geographic and temporal limits. 3) That more relationships necessarily lead to more information and more information necessarily leads to greater trust. Maybe it just leads to paralysis via information overload. I don't dispute that some aspects of this prediction might hold, but without a critical examination of these underlying assumptions, it's too optimistic.

I agree with the fact that the Internet allows people to keep in touch with a much greater number of contacts. However, I disagree that this change will automatically enhance ''trust in society''. More contacts does not mean I will trust the society in which I live any more than I do now; it doesn't mean, for instance, that I will trust the politicians and business leaders of my society any more than I do now.

People will seek out only sources that confirm their current views and positions, sources recommended by those within their current social circles. This will maintain the status quo.

The Internet is a place where informal communities of like-minded people can ''meet'' and share their views. It will allow, in particular, individuals who felt their views to be isolated ones ... and held them somewhat in anonymity ... to find a voice with others. This can have dangers, just as in groups like the Posse Comitatis & suchlike. But it is also a democratizing force. It is hard to see what the net result will be overall.

Social networks should not be confused with social life. People will seek advice from credible influencers. However this will not necessarily enhance trust. The Internet is already being blamed as the cause of scams, crime and other social maladies that have always existed. This will foster skepticism in some, as others use it more wisely and build trust.

Social networks will expand, but not radically: people only want to know so many people. I agree that people will share more information about products, etc., and improve processes like shopping and job changing, but it won't be revolutionary, just more convenient.

I think the Internet IS enabling people to meet people they would not have met otherwise, but I do not think the size of people's social networks are increasing. I think they are simply getting more specialized. People can get in touch with others throughout the world, but they can easily avoid being confronted with perspectives and opinions that do not agree with their own. The information on the Internet is so vast and so specialized that, although they have a wider range of resources at their disposal, they can keep their access to a narrow range of these resources that meet their specific needs and comply with their specific viewpoints.

While I agree in general with the prediction, the increased size of social networks will also lead to more information having to be processed by any one person. That will tend to either degrade communication or increase the consumption burden of individuals.

The Internet fosters anonymity and self-separatism, which does not ultimately foster trust.


 

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