Elon University

The 2004 Survey: How the Internet has fallen short

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. Some respondents chose to expand on their answer, writing an explanation of their position; many did not. Some respondents chose to identify themselves with each 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.

Thinking back to your views a decade ago, where has the use or impact of the internet fallen short of your expectations?

It hasn’t. – Moira Gunn, Tech Nation

The mainstream is slower to fully embrace it. – James Brancheau, VP, GartnerG2

Civic participation. Compassion. – Douglas Rushkoff, author/New York University Interactive Telecommunications Program

E-democracy. Virtual community. – Barry Wellman, University of Toronto

Broadband has been slow to roll out inhibiting the potential impact of true digital households. – Mike Kelly, America Online

1. Education – I thought distance learning would be more widespread. 2. Elections – I thought we would get to online voting sooner. 3. E-commerce – I thought that online commerce would have a more devastating impact on local commerce and local taxation. – Charlie Firestone, The Aspen Institute, (this organization works to promote non-partisan inquiry)

It has basically gone further than almost all of my expectations short of truly immersive experiences. But I have since decided that immersive virtual experiences are too dull compared to real experiences. – Alexander Rose, executive director, The Long Now Foundation (this organization works to promote long-term thinking)

It has been less intellectually broadening than I would have hoped. The ready availability of alternative viewpoints has not made people more tolerant and broadminded. Quite the opposite – it has if anything contributed to polarization, as technology has made it easier to seek out viewpoints that agree with your own preconceived notions, and to filter out views that might challenge those assumptions. – Rich Jaroslovsky, Bloomberg News/founding president of the Online News Association

I expected to have more an impact on education than it has. – Joe DeSantis, Gingrich Communications

Ten years ago I expected that the internet would change education in my lifetime. – Christine Geith, Michigan State University

I know I expected to see far more online product-customization tools. I would have thought that by now everyone’s clothes would all be made custom. – Fred Hapgood, Output Ltd.

Spam and viruses. Identity theft and frauds abetted by easy anonymity and insufficient privacy safeguards. Dismal customer-service at most companies – especially Internet businesses. – Peter Denning, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif./columnist for Communications of the ACM

Education. As with radio, most of the hoped-for educational impact of the Internet didn’t materialize. For information, see Radio Research, McCarthyism and Paul F. Lazarsfeld: – Simson Garfinkel, MIT/Sandstorm Enterprises

Only that in the ’90s it was more a vehicle to create open societies where it’s now being used for surveillance and censorship because of the world circumstance. – Jonathan Peizer, Open Society Institute

I expected the internet to completely revolutionize education (especially higher education) and other such institutions – government, news, etc. The technology evolved in a way that would have permitted this, but I underestimated the resistance of the institutions to change. – Gary Bachula, Internet2

I expected that computers would be more available to families at all income levels. I expected less expensive access to proprietary databases. I did not anticipate the extent of intrusive activities such as spam, spyware, and unwanted data mining. – Lois C. Ambash, Metaforix Inc.

Synchronous collaboration – “sharing minds” via shared electronic spaces. – Noshir Contractor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

I am disappointed at the persistence of the digital divide and continued expense of broadband access. I am looking forward to increased access to online services to all members of society. – Gary Kreps, George Mason University

It has not fallen short of my expectations. It has exceeded them. I never expected to be spending two hours a day answering email, most of it requiring an answer. It has improved my communications system beyond my imagination. – Arlene Morgan, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism

I had thought it would do more to change us socially and culturally. I think we’re still in the “old wine in new bottles stage,” looking to use technologically transformed means of doing things to do the things we’re used to. Linguists say that a pidgin language moves to the creole stage (develops its own integrity and grammar) only in the second generation (since kids are better at language acquisition and system-grasping than adults). I think that’s what will have to happen with the internet. The so-called “digital natives,” the generation coming of age, will find truly transformative ways of using the internet. – George Otte, technology expert

I thought the spread of the network would be faster, that it would be a feature in every home by now. The delay in the implementation of broadband was something that few predicted at the time.- William B. Pickett, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Access to online databases and publications has not become as widespread as quickly as I thought it would. Partly it is because of fear over protection of intellectual property. Partly it is because proprietary sources are charging too much, thus impeding growth. – Ezra Miller, Ibex Consulting, Ottawa, Canada

The failure to address the security issues that were identified before the mass-market take-off. The predictions in 1995 that the take-off would be followed by a post Y2K boom-bust and backlash has proved all too accurate. I was one of those who went public with such predictions (1996, “The End is Nigh,” published by Computer Weekly and IMIS) in the hope of seeing the necessary action to prevent them from happening. What happened was even worse than I had feared. – Philip Virgo, secretary general EURIM – UK-based Parliament Industry Group/IMIS – UK-based professional body for management of information systems

I believed 10 years ago that the Internet would replace physical social networks, and would flatten them. What has happened instead is that society has found a way to make the Internet work in a way that supports a class society, rather than replace it. Now many people have access, but social rules around access have developed that keep social hierarchies in place. Collaboration has also fallen short of my expectations. It is still very difficult to collaborate online, and in the business world, the model of creating a document, attaching it to a message, and sending it, is a replication of an old world concept that makes no sense. – Ted Eytan, MD, Group Health Cooperative

I see students increasingly assuming that if it is on the web, then it is the complete and accurate story. – Fran Hassencahl, Old Dominion University

It hasn’t. It’s right where it should be: The Internet is to the 2000s what TV was to the 1960s. – Joshua Fouts, executive director, USC Center on Public Diplomacy

Ten years ago I believed we needed an AAA-like organization, a group to promote the rights of “drivers” on the “information highway.” I still believe that is true. – Kevin Taglang, private technology consultant

At the time I thought we were all headed for a Virtual Reality world – but instead only a subset of users use MMOGs. I would not have predicted that the internet would overcome TV watching among some users. – Joe Crawford, San Diego Blog/LAMP Host

Formal education has changed less, much less than most futurists predicted. It is hard not to have been disappointed, to not have been suckered in by the grandiose claims for rapid changes. – Douglas Levin, policy analyst, Cable in the Classroom

In improving K-12 education and a global sense of possibility among young people. And in the expansion of projects like ThinkQuest and Global SchoolHouse – that should have grown exponentially and have frozen in place or declined. – Cynthia Samuels, Center for America Progress

Student textbooks are not yet really online. Mainstream news organizations have failed to act creatively and nimbly to embrace the Net. – Jan Schaffer. J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism

1. Newspapers have done very little to make use of the unique multimedia and interactive properties of the Web. 2. Online communities have not grown as quickly as I anticipated. 3. Publishers have been slow to take advantage of the interactive and targeting capabilities of the Web to offer new kinds of editorial services and useful information services, though they have been eager to exploit the target marketing capabilities. – Janice Castro, assistant dean, director, graduate journalism programs, Northwestern University

We continue to support and promote products and services to the “wired” and ignore those who are confused and unable to access the web – such as the very poor and the elderly. (Example: Commerce Department’s last report of the “closing of the Digital Divide” – simply not true when only 20% of seniors use the net vs. 80% of others. This is a wide wedge in society. – Tobey Dichter, Generations on Line, non-profit internet literacy agency

Civic engagement – through I would see more by government by now. – Liz Rykert, Meta Strategies Inc., Toronto, Canada

Wireless/pervasive computing has arrived much more slowly than I’d expected ? I continue to be amazed by the number of voluntary Internet exiles – people who are offline out of choice/lack of interest, not economic necessity. In my own area of research (e-politics/e-government) change has arrived more slowly than I would have imagined. Governments continue to talk a lot about “breaking down silos” between vertically-organized departments, but organizational change has been very slow to catch up to technological change, and without that organizational change, the capacity to provide innovative, single-window service remains limited. In the political arena, we’ve yet to see a significant victory that can be unambigously attributed to the Internet. The [Minnesota Governor Jesse] Ventura story seems to be partly a story about the Net, but there’s too much disagreement to conclude that it was the decisive factor; and the [Democrat presidential candidate Howard] Dean story, while it demonstrated the impact of the Internet, did not produce ultimate victory. Net campaigners are still very much searching for the transformational models that will go beyond online fundraising and organizing; the Net is still more a tool for facilitating offline campaigning than a forum in itself (except for a relatively small number of digerati.) – Alexandra Samuel, Harvard University/Cairns Project (New York Law School)

In 1994, I suspected that within ten years most people would be using email, and that a great deal of commerce would be conducted online. I had little idea that broadband would allow the kinds of applications we have now. I did suspect more success in telework. This has moved more slowly than I expected it would. – A. Halavais, State University of New York at Buffalo

I thought the Internet would enable direct e-commerce from the producer/manufacturer to the consumer, bypassing the middleman. In part because of resistance by middlemen, this has generally not happened, Dell Computers, not withstanding. I thought that the widespread use of consumer-based online authentication systems would be here by now. I thought that the ”local wide web” would be flourishing – in other words using the Web to enhance local communities. It’s only with ”Google Local” in the last few months that this is beginning to happen. I thought we’d be farther along on e-gov, e-learning; e-health; e-transportation (e.g. ITS) than we are now. I thought the Semantic web would be here by now. – Rob Atkinson, Progressive Policy Institute (think-tank)

I can’t think of any [negatives or disappointments] because too much of my time is spent in pure amazement at what is possible with each new day. – Leonard Witt, PJNet.org

I am disappointed with the extensive growth of proprietary programs, and the lack of standards that permit interoperability. – Ted Christensen, Arizona Board of Regents

I think 10 years ago, most of us involved with the early Internet business models thought the Internet would replace traditional businesses. Instead, it has grown to enhance business in ways we could of never predicted. – Gerard LaFond, Persuasive Games/Red Tangent

The use of the net by educational institutions for high-quality course instruction and learning is in use and in continued development by those that embraced it, but there has been less use by traditional established institutions and governments than I expected. – William Stewart, LivingInternet.com

And the following are from predictors who chose to remain anonymous: [Workplaces of respondents whose reactions are listed below include MIT, Evident Marketing, RAND, AOL, FCC, AT&T, National Public Radio, EG&G, Media General, U.S. General Services Administration, MSNBC, Gartner, Microsoft, Polaris Venture Partners, Michigan State University, Disney, NeoPets, Florida State University, Fidelity Investments, Netcraft, The Communisphere Project/Interactive USA Inc., Internet2, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Fannie Mae Foundation, Harvard University, University of Illinois, Carnegie Mellon, U.S. General Services Administration, University of Delaware, Zix Corporation, Burson-Marstellar, Avenue A/Razorfish, George Lucas Educational Foundation and others.]

Politics still sucks. America’s getting more totalitarian even as the populace is dancing in the streets to downloaded music.

We forgot to build the Internet with enough security and economics.

Electronic government. Household tasks.

The means of finding what I want on the Internet have not developed nearly as much as I had hoped and expected. The flood of maliciousness and avarice that e-mail has unleashed is a bit disappointment.

K-12 education; health care; e-government; e-books.

I’m disappointed that the Internet and new technologies have not strengthened the social fabric and increased civic behavior. I’m also concerned that the aggressive actions taken by entertainment-industry associations and the lobbyists to stop sharing are short-sighted and will harm the large entertainment companies ultimately more than protect them.

Civility online has deteriorated and the potential for online discourse as a means of revitalizing the public sphere has progressed more slowly than I had expected.

As I feared, bland content from large media companies dominates too much. There is great creativity from a wide range of sources, and it does get noticed and it does have an impact. But the balance is not where I would like it to be.

Training or education in how to sort through more or less credible sources of information; lack of evaluative information available as to credibility of sources.

Things are happening. Things are still poised to become radically different over time. But the virtual world still must be “digested” by the real world. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s having the maximum impact possible on our lives.

Video – most video applications remain very crude. The network infrastructure simply isn’t sufficient for reliable internet video.

Democratic life.

Civic engagement and education.

We were drastically wrong about predictions of on-line community.

The growth of online multimedia news and interactive content has been hampered by slowness of adoption and other market forces, coupled with the 2001-2004 failure of the “new economy” to measure up to advertisers’ expectations.

I was involved in some of the early 1990s conferences on the Health Information Infrastructure and telemedicine. Just finished reviewing some files tonight. Many of the same issues are still under debate with the same benefits being touted. We have, however, made progress with Internet access and broadband distribution. It’s just much slower than anyone thought it would be. And the problems of electronic medical records and standards is taking generations to solve.

Fallen far short in electronic democracy or building political capital.

The Internet has been bogged down by commercial websites that reflect the dominant corporations. I would have expected more “shopping bots” and other consumer tools to become ubiquitous tools.

Local governance.

Fewer people with access and expertise than expected.

Convergence has been much slower than anticipated – ask Time Warner; roll out of broadband and digital television has been slower; computertish television – slower; the manner in which software has made products too vulnerable; the digital divide is still too wide; we have not adequately protected our children; we have allowed the loss of privacy; we do don’t appreciate the power from the aggregation of information; some of the attempts at creating transaction-based markets have failed.

It took much longer for broadband to catch on in the U.S. and globally. Plus, independent online-only publications have mostly failed miserably to the old-line media companies online. Online gaming also took longer to become a mainstream passion than I thought it would.

I still struggle to control the flow of information so that I only engage when I want to, not when someone else wants to engage me.

The quality of internet content continues to be generally poor. It is still the case that “on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog” and so one cannot trust internet relationships.

I had few expectations, but was always surprised at how long it took to realize what could easily be imagined. Standards wars seemed to hold things up.

Eradicating porno sites – safeguarding computers against virus invasions, moving too fast and not thinking of rules/regulations for websites – so much SPAM. I must have 40 SPAM stops every day at work, and on my home yahoo account I must get 300 a day. AND I still get junk mail at home.

Online learning has been very flat. There has been a lack of successful collaborations among institutions, which are negatively incented to form partnerships (due to enrollment quotas) and to use technology (faculty do not receive positive incentives to explore technology rather than publish papers).

I thought that the Library of Congress would be digitized by now. I am appalled that this has not happened. The cost of such an undertaking would be about $230M. I am disappointed, but not surprised that encryption technology isn’t widely used today (most email is not encrypted end-to-end, and neither is this survey).

Health care – especially in terms of the ability to exchange patient information. Education hasn’t really changed fundamentally. Communities of place have not changed in the ways we hoped.

The future seems to always lag expectations. There was no “Big Brother” in 1984 and no “HAL” in 2001. I’m not surprised at where we are; I would have thought we would be here sooner. The places where we’ve fallen short have been in the video streaming area. I would have thought ten years ago that nearly all entertainment would utilize the Internet for all forms of television, on-demand movies, etc. That hasn’t happened yet.

The utility of email due to spam, the validness of information (due to people’s ability to publish what they want whether wrong or not), and weakness of the structure due to DoS attacks, co-opted machines by worms, etc.

1. individual creation of video; 2. medicine and health care.

Too many bandwidth-eating applications with all glitz and no substance.

Disintermediation hasn’t really happened. Consolidation of the pipeline and legal restriction of the potential of this pipeline was very sad to watch.

There has been little or no change in the use, other than the explosion of online retailers. Virtual interaction has taken a backseat to advertising.

Expected the Internet would hail an era of better customer satisfaction by making institutions more accessible. If anything service has decreased as organizations have not been able to keep up with the demand.

The internet is very effective in increasing certain types of efficiency, e.g. in shopping. It has fallen short in differentiating quality information from everything else, which dominates.

I expected to get away from typing, to have functional voice recognition and easy graphical input. But we’re not there. I’m still typing, and it hurts!

The whole thing is still way too slow, even with the best computers on the best network connections. It’s still not reliable enough, and there is way too much garbage to wade through to find genuinely useful information.

The Internet is much less secure than I expected with the explosion of worms, viruses, spams and fraud.

Bots never really came to the fore.

I had expected more change in the medical arena and an overall reduction of societal health care costs as a result of internet communications and record-keeping efficiencies.

I’d expected more innovative ways of seeing things, less 2D/screen, more immersive and engaging interfaces.

I am still surprised that I am reading information on paper. I also thought, by now, “on-demand” options – of movies, etc. – would be more pervasive. I still cannot make a doctor’s appointment online!

Micropayments have been a failure. The use in the arts is less than I would have expected.

The internet still does not provide easy access for most users. Sites are often designed for more highly educated, wealthier Americans. The internet continues to be inaccessible on a variety of levels for many Americans.

It has exceeded my expectations for certain demographic segments of the world’s population. As expected, most people in the world are unaffected by the advent of the Internet.

Religion. I launched faith-oriented websites in 1996, expecting many would see the Internet’s effectiveness in religious communication. It didn’t happen. Most adult churchgoers still can’t use the Net effectively.

Ten years ago, I would have predicted a higher penetration rate in homes, and a greater impact on healthcare.

Teleconferencing and computer-mediated real time communication is the vision that has not happened. We still wait for the paperless office. The concept is probably foolish. Some folks (not I) thought that education would have been more rapidly transformed. I was a pessimist in this space.

We haven’t yet developed a method for ensuring the quality of information posted online and there is a lot of junk out there that masquerades as useful knowledge.

The growth in weak ties (if there indeed has been one) has not had the impact I imagined it would.

I had expected the Internet to represent more diverse views, but the most popular sites are part of large media conglomerates or other large corporations.

It’s about where I expected. I gave a talk at InternetWorld 2005, and mostly things have turned out as such. Web Services are slow to get going. – Microsoft

The public sector has embraced the Internet much more slowly than I had envisaged. Community networks have never really become mainstream as we thought they would. Also, digital libraries have mostly been driven by professional groups (such as ACM/IEEE), rather than by governments.

Electronic money, i.e. a currency created on the Internet for electronic exchanges, unrelated to national currencies.

Too few physicians using the Internet in practice, either to access information or to communicate with their patients.

While I hoped it would be a big time saver, it has added a new demand to my personal and professional life. Being able to reach out to so many means you need to stay on top of them all. It also means so many more people can reach me.

Ten years ago, I thought the net would be a greater force for peace in the world. Now I see this as naive.

Among other things, I thought journalists would grasp the technology’s potential more firmly. We have not, for the most part, and we remain paralyzed by the threats we see from the changes.

Small- and medium-sized businesses haven’t participated in e-commerce as much as I would have expected.

I expected video broadband delivery to be much further along.

The Internet was supposed to empower individuals at the expense of corporations and nations. That view now seems naive.

The ”cleanliness” of information available – I do not refer to pornography – I refer to the fact that there is so much ”dead” information that comes across daily when all I need is a statistic from one major source; I am disappointed by this.

I had thought that we’d see more interlinking of various types of content by now (example: images of artworks linked to in-depth encyclopedias of art history) along with better visualization tools. The progress is being made but much more slowly than I had thought.

The saddest part of the story is how big business and media has tried to force the Internet into the box they define for it, rather than using it to its fullest potential. Not that all is lost, but all of these analytics companies trying to measure and show business results is quite hideous. Also, the use of content online keeps getting downplayed when really that is what the Internet is about.

It’s taking longer for people to comprehend and embrace the power of the internet than I thought would be the case. I’m surprised by how many people still don’t ”get it.” I had also expected online education to be more widespread than it is right now.

Fallen short? Quite the contrary! Due to the internet, I telecommute 300 miles from my home office, and thus can be close to family rather than be stuck in another city due to job needs. I get and share information about uncommon things like treadle sewing machines, purchase parts that I would have enormous difficulty finding locally. Internet research allowed us to collect a depth and breadth of data about our neighborhood that we could NEVER have gotten from a realtor and allowed us to find an under-priced house in a desirable neighborhood. The ability to do this sort of thing I would not have thought would have been possible in 1994.

Effective personal instruction and creation of learning landscapes has been slow in coming. People outside of education made too many important decisions. Time of involvement, peer mentoring and sharing, and project based learning and innovative ways of working seem to have been slow in coming, and just as they did, the No Child Left Behind Act, created a tidal wave that swept over the technology initiatives in that there was confusion so the use of the Internet were slowed.

The web is still largely a ”junk” medium, like a library where all the books are strewn on the floor (I stole that quote from someone but can’t remember who). The web has been co-opted by large media companies; evolution of the centralization of media has continued in a medium many hoped would discourage this problem. Web pages still load too slowly.

Primarily in terms of the impact on politics and society in general… Like many people who have been researching the net for some time, I also initially approached the net with a somewhat utopian and deterministic approach. Research (and reality) have forced me to take a more balanced approach in terms of my expectations of the net. In general, I see the net as being a catalyst for existing social and political trends and changes rather than something that necessarily initiates these changes.

The internet still requires a great deal of human effort to filter through the ”noise” to find what one is looking for. i.e., there’s still a lot of crap out there. I’m also surprised that extremely high speed internet access is not more widely available. In many places, dialup is still the connection method of choice.

The corporate buying and corralling of the Internet. There is a lot of information out there but linking structures funnel you to only a small portion.

It has not brought people of all walks closer together. With the digital divide, there is a greater marginalization of certain groups. Too many lower strata families lack the buying power, computing power and the overall knowledge power to function online.

The FCC vision of humans as consumers who consume third party corporate content, as opposed to the Information Revolution where all all line are creators and innovators. FCC policy has perpetuated the evolution from couch potato to cyber couch potato. Instead of promoting true Internet connections, the FCC has liberated a duopoly which has the power to ban VPNS, webservers, wifi access points, encryption, third party VoIP. FCC policy envisions the humans as ”consumers” of mass content who have no need for the empowerment of an interactive medium. Finally, FCC policy has led us to the place of mediocre broadband network access, provided by a consolidated market, with no concept of traditional common carriage ideals.

I was surprised to see how poorly the IT sector deployed defenses to spam and hackers. I was surprised that Microsoft products have never improved in quality.

Information visualization.

I did not expect that porn and objectionable content would have as large an impact as it has had on so many.

I never expected the internet to take off like this. I would not have predicted the problems of the internet – spam, phishing, viruses – and would have been disappointed to learn of them, if I had even thought they would happen.

[I am disappointed in] its ability to redefine publishing and information-sharing models. Online publications have gained editorial legitimacy, but they are lagging in acceptance as a mass medium. And e-mail has become a near-nightmare. The inability of technocrats to fix the spam problem will go down as a major missed opportunity in Internet history.

It has not become as ubiquitous as expected, and is not likely to rise over 75-80% penetration as long as we are tied to PCs as the main interface. I think that is overcome by widespread adoption of embedded devices, in everything from our cars to home appliances to medical devices such as blood-sugar and heart-rate monitors. Second digital media distribution. Both the technological and the business barriers have been far more difficult than anyone expected.