Responses to this 2020 scenario were assembled from Internet stakeholders in the2010 Pew Internet & American Life/Elon University Future of the Internet Survey. Some respondents chose to identify themselves; many did not. We share some—not all—of the responses here. Workplaces of respondents who shared their identity are attributed only for the purpose of indicating a level of expertise; statements reflect personal views. If you would like to participate in the next survey, mail andersj [at] elon dotedu; include information on your expertise.
This page includes responses to a question about people’s perceptions of the likely future of social relations by 2020. This is one of 10 questions raised by the 2010 Elon University–Pew Internet survey of technology experts and social analysts. Results on this question were first released by Pew Internet Director Lee Rainie and Imagining the Internet Director Janna Anderson in July 2010.
According to technology experts and stakeholders, the social positives of internet use will far outweigh the negatives over the next decade.
They say this is because e-mail, social networks, and other online tools offer ‘low-friction’ opportunities to engender, enhance, and rediscover ties that make a difference in people’s lives; they lower or remove traditional communications constraints of cost, geography, and time; and they inspire the type of open information sharing that brings people together, allowing them to find common ground and leading to more social integration.
In previous “Future of the Internet” surveys, e-mail has most often been mentioned as a key social tool online. In this survey, social networks were mentioned far more often than e-mail. Other social applications noted by respondents included instant messaging, blogging, text messages and voice over IP.
To download the Pew Internet briefing, click here.
To read the responses of anonymous participants to this question, click here.
While they acknowledge that use of the internet as a tool for communications can yield both positive and negative effects, a significant majority of technology experts and stakeholders participating in the fourth Future of the Internet survey say it improves social relations and will continue to do so through 2020.
The highly engaged, diverse set of respondents to an online, opt-in survey included 895 technology stakeholders and critics. The study was fielded by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center.
Some 85% agreed with the statement:
“In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the internet has mostly been a positive force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future.”
Some 14% agreed with the opposite statement, which posited:
“In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the internet has mostly been a negative force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future.”
Survey respondents were asked to explain their choice after they selected one of the tension-pair scenarios and to “share your view of the Internet’s influence on the future of human relationships in 2020.” Most of people who participated in the survey were effusive in their praise of the social connectivity already being leveraged globally online. They said humans’ use of the Internet’s capabilities for communication – for creating, cultivating, and continuing social relationships – is undeniable. Many enthusiastically cited their personal experiences as examples, and several noted that they had met their spouse through Internet-borne interaction.
Some survey respondents noted that with the Internet’s many social positives come negatives. They said that both scenarios presented in the survey are likely to be accurate, and noted that tools such as e-mail and social networks can and are being used in harmful ways. Among the negatives noted by this group and by the group that chose to agree with the statement that the Internet has been and will be a mostly “negative force” are: time spent online robs time from important face-to-face relationships; the Internet fosters mostly shallow relationships; leveraging the Internet to engage in social connection exposes private information; the Internet allows people to silo themselves, limiting their exposure to ideas; and the Internet is being used to engender intolerance.
Many of the people who said the Internet is a positive force noted that it “costs” people less now to communicate – some noted that it costs less money and others noted that it costs less in time spent, allowing them to cultivate many more relationships, including those with both strong and weak ties. They said “geography” is no longer an obstacle to making and maintaining connections; some noted that Internet-based communications removes previously perceived constraints of “space” and not just “place.”
Some respondents observed that as use of the Internet for social networks evolves there is a companion evolution in language and meaning as we redefine social constructs such as “privacy” and “friendship.” Other respondents suggested there will be new “categories of relationships,” a new “art of politics,” the development of some new psychological and medical syndromes that will be “variations of depression caused by the lack of meaningful quality relationships,” and a “new world society.”
A number of people said that as this all plays out we are just beginning to address the ways in which nearly “frictionless,” easy-access, global communications networks change how reputations are made, perceived, and remade.
Some confidently reported that they expect technological advances to continue to change social relations online. Among the technologies mentioned were: holographic displays and the bandwidth necessary to carry them; highly secure and trusted quantum/biometric security; powerful collaborative visualization decision-based tools; permanent, trusted, and unlimited cloud archive storehouses; open networks enabled by semantic web tools in public-domain services; and instant thought transmission in a telepathic format.
Many survey participants pointed out that while our tools are changing quickly, basic human nature seems to adjust at a slower pace.
Technology experts embrace the use of networked communications technologies and are naturally inclined to find them to be useful in social relations, so it is no surprise to see the high level of agreement that the Internet is a tool that gets positive results. Still, quite a few people took advantage of the opportunity to provide written elaborations in which they pointed out many negatives, and they shared other incisive observations.
Survey participants were asked to reflect on their personal experiences. Most participants’ enthusiasm for the type of connectedness they feel online is evident, and many told their own specific and very personal stories in the written elaborations.
In all of the tension pairs offered in the 2010 survey, people’s answers were dependent upon how they defined the key terms in the question set – in this instance, the respondents’ individual definition of the word “social” was primary and it varied, as expected.
The growing popularity of social networks over the past five years has had a significant impact on personal and professional relationships and many survey participants referred to Facebook and social networks in general in their answers. The other most-often-mentioned digital networked communications methods included in the survey-takers answers were e-mail, voice over IP (Skype is one example that was used), instant messages and text-messaging.
Survey participants were encouraged to explain their choice after they selected one of the tension-pair scenarios. They were asked to “share your view of the internet’s influence on the future of human relationships in 2020 – what is likely to stay the same and what will be different in human and community relations?” Following is a small selection of the hundreds of written elaborations, organized according to some of the major themes that emerged in the answers:
The Internet has been embraced globally at an amazing speed because of its capabilities for communication and connection – for creating, cultivating, and continuing social relationships. E-mail, social networking tools and other apps allow people to maintain bigger social networks and learn more about those in their networks. Richer social relations emerge from this greater awareness. Another advantage that it is much easier now to build communities on the fly via personal broadcasts. All these trends will continue to hold strong over the next decade.
• “The net is about people connecting online, for commerce, politics, and personally, and we already see that enhances real-life relationships. Location-based social networking, in particular, will be a big part of our lives.” —Craig Newmark, founder and customer-service representative, Craigslist, former software engineer and programmer at companies such as JustInTime Solutions, Bank of America and IBM
• “The internet is a tool, one which reduces the costs of communications. I will have better awareness of all the people in my life who are important to me.” —Hal Eisen, senior engineering manager at Ask.com
• “Today and tomorrow, my social reach is much wider as a result of the Internet. I am able to communicate and ‘experience’ so much more with so many more than I could even two years ago. I don’t like all aspects of the social net, but the reach is so much better. The social nature of the net allows us to be better informed about friends, and family than ever before. We will all be richer from it.” —Michael Burns, co-founder and principal, i5 web works
• “The enemies of social connectivity are silence, disengagement, distance, and abandonment. In the past, how many individuals and families have suffered from these degenerative influences? Now we have the Internet. High school sweethearts are reunited. Strangers meet and form personal unions. Families are brought together. Adoptees find reunion, too. Interest groups thrive. Businesses leap borders. Genealogies are learned, and one person in his lifetime can place himself into history, and comprehend his place in the span of time. On the Internet, social alienation remains a factual force. But never before has a person had more opportunity for social integration. More than ever, being inside or outside now is a matter of personal choice.” —Eric James, president of the James Preservation Trust and publisher of Stray Leaves, author and lecturer
• “I met my wife online, reconnected with my old schoolfriends online, stay in touch with my family overseas online, and have a wide circle of close online friends. For those born in the Internet age, this will be the norm. For those born before it, some will have adapted by 2020 and some will not have.” —Jeremy Malcolm, project coordinator, Consumers International, and co-director of the Internet Governance Caucus
• “The Internet is communications gold mine. We can already find people with whom we’ve lost contact, communicate with people independent of time zones, hold simple video conversations, instant-message people. It already allows us to communicate in new ways. The trend I see only improves with time!” —David Moskowitz, principal consultant at Productivity Solutions, Inc., and lead editor of OS/2 Warp Unleashed
• “The Internet has actually helped with human interaction by providing a wider range of ways to communicate such as Twitter and Facebook. These allow some interactions that are better not done face-to-face. And the Internet frees up more time for social interaction by making things like shopping faster.” —William Webb, head of research and development, Ofcom
• “This question has been probed since my days on The WELL and ECHO. Most humans are social. The use of the Internet has done a lot to shrink the actual distance between family and friends and allows an expansion to new cultural experiences. The way we interact is always evolving and has impact on the drive for knowledge, understanding, and communication.” —Tery Spataro, CEO and founder of Mindarrays Consulting
• “The cost-reduction mechanisms of sites like Facebook now enable me to maintain an incredibly broad and diverse set of relationships that provide me comfort and encouragement, expand my worldview, filter information, and give me feedback.” —Cliff Lampe, assistant professor, Department of Telecommunications Information Studies and Media, Michigan State University
• “The Internet breaks the shyness barrier in the beginning stage of every relationship.” —Jorge Alberto Castaños, specialist in implementation of platforms at Botón Rojo
• “If – and I believe this will happen eventually – the tendency to make remarks and adopt positions you would never consider in person can be overcome, online society stands a very real chance of taking interpersonal relationships to a level never before possible. Balancing out the anonymity and lack of physical contact is the ability to mask a plethora of medical and psychological conditions that until now have proven serious handicaps to social interaction. No one stutters or stammers on Twitter.” —Robert G. Ferrell, information systems security professional, US government, former systems security specialist, National Business Center, US Department of the Interior
• “It’s now easy for me to find people who share characteristics or interests, whereas for much of my pre-Internet life I mainly felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. Also, it’s made it easier for me to find and interact with many types of people who are very different from me, giving me a wider range of experience. The classic example of how the net has positively affected my personal life is Meetup.com. I’ve gone to many real-world get-togethers coordinated through that service, and have made many friends that way. That, to me, blends the best of the net and the real world.” —Amy Gahran, contributing writer at eMeter Corporation, senior editor at Oakland Local, co-creator and community manager at Reynolds Journalism Institute
• “My husband and I got closer together before marriage because of the Internet, we always remain connected because of the Internet and we will be never apart because of the Internet :).” —Maliha Kabani, president, International Sustainable Development Resource Centre
• “Despite the media narrative, cultural relations and social engagement mediated by virtual spaces is a plus. At a minimum, it is an opportunity for complex dialogue with no opportunity for physical violence.” —Joshua Fouts, leader of Dancing Ink, digital diplomacy expert, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, and founding editor of Online Journalism Review
• “As my adult children tell me, you never lose touch with anyone anymore.” —Deborah Pederson, chief Learn & Earn Online Officer, North Carolina Virtual Public School
• “Humans are hardwired to connect and relate on a personal level. They need social validation and group membership. Technology and Internet use will support people’s interpersonal and social goals because social needs dominate all others.” —Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, instructor of media psychology at the University of California-Los Angeles Extension
• “As I have been finding for years, Internet connectivity maintains, expands, and enhances friendships: both strong and weaker.” —Barry Wellman, professor of sociology and Netlab Director, University of Toronto; author of research reports on online relationships
• “The Internet has allowed for the growth of human connection, an enhanced psychological intimacy of net friends, that has led to strong and interesting relationships that form in months instead of years. It has allowed for the opening of dialog, discussion, and forums unlike anything since Greek times. It has allowed an individual to find others with the same likes, dislikes, and affinities (good and bad), to add organization where there was chaos, allowed individuals to face who they are and develop that person. Has it changed the basic institutions of community relations? Marriage? Hell, yes. For the worse, no? For the better? That waits to be seen. But it has allowed new frontiers to be explored in interpersonal ‘relationships’ (I have watched marriages flourish and grow because of the information the net has given. I have watched marriages crumble because of information the net has given. I expect that which does not kill us will make us stronger and better.) The Internet and World Wide Web have allowed communities to come together on politics and issues in ways that would never have happened before. It has allowed the sharing of group knowledge and consensus in real time. It has been good.” —Cameron Lewis, program manager, Arizona Department of Health Services
• “Facebook is making my Internet less about virtual strangers who are friendly to being more about real relationships with friends. When you are a dog on a social network site people know you are a dog. Facebook has done this with an easy-to-use interface that most persons can use. I have been online every day since 1994; it was only with Facebook in 2007 that I could communicate with old friends online. Facebook made this possible for them, whereas I would have used anything. Without them I had a lonely Internet. In the future more applications will bring more people together.” —Peter Timusk, webmaster and Internet researcher, statistical products manager at Statistics Canada
• “The tension between the net and social engagement will vaporize in much the same way that thoughts about the telephone network vaporized and it came to be taken for granted. People do not ask if the telephone is an alienating social force. The phone is a utility supporting social life. Likewise, the net will come to be assumed as a utility for social life. How else would I know when church starts, when the game begins, where we are meeting for drinks, or what the weather for our trip might be?” —Robert Cannon, senior counsel for Internet law, Office for Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, Federal Communications Commission, founder and director, Cybertelecom
On the other hand, these respondents are concerned that people’s use of the Internet for social connection does not often foster deep relationships of value, and it can be detrimental. Internet use can be distracting at times, as much as it can be enriching.
• “Social relationships cannot improve when people spend less and less time in face-to-face encounters.” —Luc Faubert, president of dDocs Information, Inc., consultant in IT governance and change management
• “Social networking encourages people to have a greater number of much shallower friendships. Insofar as online interaction replaces real-world interaction, the internet is a negative force in the social world. I know what 15 of my friends had for breakfast, but I don’t know whether any of them is struggling with major life issues. If this trend continues, people in 2020 will have hundreds of acquaintances but very few friends. However, acquaintancebook.com doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.” —Gervase Markham, a programmer for the Mozilla Foundation since 1999, based in the UK; won a Google/O’Reilly Open Source Award as the “best community activist” in 2006
• “The answer lies in looking at the schoolchildren. I see too many children using the internet, playing video games, etc., while at the dining table in public. These children have not been socialised to interact face-to-face. Unless such behaviour is pointed out and arrested, and they can be pointed out and arrested, the internet and the attendant activities on it will worsen social relations in 10 years time, when the poorly socialised children grow up.” —Peng Hwa Ang, dean of the School of Communication, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and active leader in the global Internet governance processes of WSIS and IGF
• “I got involved in social networks as an adult. I wonder about younger people who haven’t yet formed a solid web of real-life relationships or learned how to function in a meat-space social environment. I think there’s a real downside there.” —Reva Basch, self-employed consultant for Aubergine Information Systems; active longtime member of The WELL, one of the earliest cyberspace communities; author of Internet books
• “What I already miss the most is personal contacts in the real world. Too much communications through the Internet can damage real quality of life. I fear this will be worse in 2020.” —Bernhard Adriaensens, professor at Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management
• “By 2020, norms will have emerged to assist people in recognizing and resisting over use.” —Robert Runte, associate professor at the University of Lethbridge
Both 2020 scenarios presented in the survey are accurate; new human connectivity through use of the Internet is a blessing and a curse. Some existing research shows that Internet use makes people more of what they already are: If they are extroverted, they can be more so with tech tools. If they are introverted, tech tools can make them more isolated. And the context of Internet use matters a lot: tech lifelines in one set of circumstances can turn into tech choke collars in different circumstances.
• “Just think of it as new ways to meet – and exploit – human needs.” —Seth Finkelstein, anti-censorship activist and programmer, author of the Infothought blog and an Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award winner
• “Two opposing forces are at play: Cocooning and Connecting. Cocooners talk only to their ‘in’ group and seek little exposure outside. Connectors listen widely and are heard widely. I think the Connecting energy creates positive dynamics and overwhelms the Cocooning.” —Jerry Michalski, founder, Relationship Economy eXpedition (exploring “the emerging order for transformation agents,”) founder and president of Sociate
• “Both answers are true. Spending more time online and being more wired to each other via various devices comes at the expense of real-time, deep, meaningful human interaction. But, when you’re really busy and don’t have enough time to see, call or visit with friends it’s nice to use the social networking tools to be better able to keep tabs on or ‘give tabs to’ people in your social network.” —Joshua Freeman, director of interactive services, Columbia University Information Technology
• “The Internet’s effect on relationships is paradoxical. It strengthens our relationships with distant friends and relations through social networks and email, but may damage the relationships of those nearer to us as always-on technologies and applications eat into family and social time.” —Mary Joyce, co-founder, DigiActive.org
• “Will relations improve? Hell yes, for the smart people who figure out what the technology can and can’t do for them!” —Mike Gale, director of decision-support systems, Decision Engineering Pty Ltd.
• “I could answer either way. I have an expanded circle of social connections, and stay in touch more. However, I also have less deep connections. It is interesting the number of developing adults that function well in a keyboard setting while failing at human interaction (e.g. can message and chat effectively, can’t call on a phone or converse in person).” —Dave McAllister, director, open source and standards (OSS), standards, Adobe Systems, owner of OSB Technologies
• “The post-urban world is a return to the small town online, and the kind of life-long connections that go with it. For better or worse.” —Alex Halavais, professor and social informatics researcher, Quinnipiac University; explores the ways in which social computing influences society, author of Search Engine Society
• “The Internet has certainly changed social relationships, and will continue to do so, but I don’t think the change is simply positive or negative. It permits relationships that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. It keeps me in constant communication with my sister, my daughter, and a few friends who live far away. It discourages the intricate, intimate neighborhood networks that used to exist and I think we’re the worse for that. In general, it’s not better or worse, it’s different. However, I should say that I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” —Sylvia Allen, Ebisu Staffing
• “The Internet has allowed communities of interest to flourish and prevail over communities of coincidental geographic proximity. While it leads to more otaku [surfing, playing video games, and watching anime alone] and grownups playing World of Warcraft, it also means fewer people getting in drunken fights in the parking lots of bars because they think someone looks odd. Net win.” —Bill Woodcock, research director, Packet Clearing House, vice president with Netsurfer Publishing, co-founder and technical advisor, Nepal Internet Exchange and Uganda Internet Exchange
• “Certainly both good things and bad have happened to relationships because of the Internet. I believe, though, that overall, the increasing ease of connection with people at a distance is improving social relations much more than the occasional gaffe or thoughtless act is harming them. Some discretion about what to do and say online is necessary, but that’s simply a social more that needs to be worked out and understood – the tools are advancing quicker than the social etiquette around them. There will always be people who damage their relationships spectacularly, and if the internet were not available to them, they would do it another way. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.” —Rachel S. Smith, vice president, NMC Services, New Media Consortium
• “Once you eliminate outliers and freakish behaviors, the Internet bestows tremendous opportunities for social growth on most people, in most circumstances. The Internet creates a huge range of often-novel choices from which end-users construct their own adaptive behaviors. The important determining factors in personal friendships, marriages, and other relationships remain with the individual. Which isn’t to say the internet makes no difference. It does. The Internet facilitates anti-social behaviors like identity theft, and positive behaviors like keeping in close touch with relatives in faraway places, to such a degree that they become almost unimaginable in the pre-Internet age. My sense is that, once you eliminate outliers and freakish behaviors, the Internet will continue to bestow tremendous opportunities for social growth on most people, in most circumstances.” —David Ellis, director of communication studies at York University, Toronto, and author of the first Canadian book on the roots of the Internet
• “A synthesis of early research on this question has shown that, in essence, personal predilections will be enhanced once one goes online. Those who are social will become more so, that is, and those who are loners will deepen their solitude. I expect research on this question to show something different over time. The early question had to do with the question of whether there were changes in the behavior of individuals when they went online. Now that digital natives begin and continue online, this is no longer a meaningful variable.” —Sandra Braman, professor in the Department of Communication, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and expert on the macro-level effects of new information technologies
• “Context matters. It’s not just the Internet. It’s the pace of change, the pace of life, the pace of work – all of which are accelerating, in part because of the net. But norms take longer to develop than technologies. And where you stand depends on your circumstances. For me, the net is a wonderful learning network and for some it is a lifeline and for others it is a tether to their boss or a source of harmful misinformation, disinformation, and distraction. Since when is the world starkly divided into either-or alternatives? For many, life will be alienated, rushed, and confusing because of their involvement online. Others will choose or will learn or be trained to cope with dangers of an always-on lifestyle.” —Howard Rheingold, visiting lecturer, Stanford University, lecturer, University of California-Berkeley, author of many books about technology including “Tools for Thought” and “Smart Mobs”
• “The technology is simply as good or bad as human nature. One has only to look at the hype around #iranelection to see the capacity for giddy optimism to be supplanted by calculated abuse of power. The Internet can be a positive force for creating reinforcing social connections, and a negative for abuse of civil liberties and increasing polarization of opinion.” —Perry Hewitt, director of digital communications and communications services at Harvard University
Geography is no longer an obstacle to making and maintaining human connections. Emigration experiences are different now when it is easier to check back in with homeland folk. Old communities and longstanding ties need not be given up when people move to new communities and create new ties.
• “The Internet provides a wide range of possible ways to build and further relationships with people around the world. There’s little question that the internet makes it easier to maintain relationships that might otherwise be severed by distance. I spent half an hour this morning introducing my new son to one of my dearest friends – she lives in Budapest, and while she won’t get to hold my child for another year, she’s going to get the chance to see him grow up via Skype video. I can’t see this making relationships weaker, only making them stronger.” —Ethan Zuckerman, research fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, co-founder, Global Voices, researcher, Global Attention Gap
• “In a globalizing world it is increasingly possible for individuals to keep in touch with loved ones via technology. In many ways I think communities will still be location-based, but the ease of providing information and communicating with each other will be possible on a global scale.” —Janelle Ward, assistant professor, Department of Media and Communication, Erasmus University Rotterdam
• “Fifty years ago emigrants left their family and friends behind. Now people who move from one country to another simply enlarge their social networks, building truly global communities.” —Hal Varian, chief economist of Google and on the faculty at the University of California-Berkeley
• “As an Irishman living in the United States for the past seven years, I have experienced firsthand the changing capacity of Internet technologies to support communication with faraway family and friends. IM, video chat, and Skype have all made my experience of emigration very different from previous generations of the Irish abroad. Looking to the future, I have no doubt that continued refinement of these technologies will continue to enhance our ability to keep in touch with family and friends from whom we may be physically separated.” —Andrew Ó Baoill, assistant professor, Cazenovia College, and director of Scagaire, a public-interest policy group
• “My son away at school continues his relationship with his friends and family at home almost uninterrupted. My son in high school is as close in January to the friends he sees only in the summers as he is in July. Both have met and befriended people far away from our home. Sometimes their friends are in our house talking, watching TV or playing games. Other times they’re somewhere else, but they’re still talking, watching TV, or playing games together. They navigate the online social universe as easily as I drive my well-worn path to the office.” —Walt Dickie, executive vice president of C&R Research
• “At a very personal level, the Internet has had a profound impact on my world. I have had the opportunity to celebrate joyous occasions, share sad news and grieve, and ask for (and receive) help. As an example, through a ‘friend-of-a-friend’ connection I was able to find urgent help taking care of my elderly mother (who lives four hours away) as she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Given the small town my mother lives in and my distance from her, I had been unable to find any help at all prior to posting a plea for help on Facebook.” —Allison Anderson, manager of learning innovations and technology at Intel Corporation
• “The emphasis on ambient awareness of how people in your circle of friends are doing is fascinating. Some say that too many people are straying away from face-to-face relationships. I would disagree. The ability to connect through text, pictures, social networks, and games allows a level of social interaction that we just haven’t had before. It will change the way we use certain tools (such as the phone) and how we connect, but will allow us to stay more connected to friends and family who are no longer in our local area.” —Elaine Young, associate professor, Champlain College
It’s not just geography that has been reconfigured in the equation of human connection; the Internet removes many constraints of space and time. Some of the current social patterns that are evident in suburbia or in workplace offices will not be as much in evidence in 2020 as technology reconfigures people’s sense of presence.
• “The Internet is best seen as a reconfiguration of space. The internet modifies traditional space so that existing places are extended in ways that allow us to stay aware, share and intersect with people with whom we are not in the same traditional space. The Internet is the opposite of suburbanization: suburbs took us away from other people and locked us into houses; the Internet opens a door from the house into a potentially shared place. That does not mean that physical presence is not important in relationships. Lack of physical presence is not the fault of the Internet; rather, it stems from the way the world is configured (globalization, suburbanization, increased population, etc.) predating the Internet. The Internet replaced lack of physical presence with social presence.” —Zeynep Tufekci, assistant professor, University of Maryland-Baltimore County and author of the @technosociology blog
• “The Internet will be more integrated into all aspects of our social lives in the first-world countries. Communication channels that used to be via printed and telephone mediums will be transported to new online mediums, primarily accessed via mobile devices. Mobile devices with broadband access will become our primary source of connection; yet such mobility allows us to greater integrate our access to the web with our day-to-day ‘corporeal’ life activities.” —Clement Chau, vice president at Ponte and Chau Consulting, Inc., and researcher in the Developmental Technologies Research Group at Tufts University
• “By the year 2020 we will have figured out the best use of social networks: liberating people from offices. We can better use it to facilitate work relationships so that people might spend more time in the physical presence of the people they love, or, at very least, in the company of clients rather than in the company of superiors. Almost all knowledge work can be performed anywhere. There’s no reason why social networks can’t replace offices, but a Twitter feed will never replace family, a neighbor, a real community. Recognition of that essential fact is the first step in using information technology to better connect families and sow stronger social and community bonds.” —Patrick Tucker, director of communications, The World Future Society and senior editor, The Futurist magazine
• “People live in a blended reality involving online worlds and in-person worlds, and these worlds will continue to bleed over into each other more heavily.” —Mary McFarlane, research behavioral scientist, US Centers for Disease Control
• “The Internet will continue to bring people closer to each other. Instead of one-to-one relations, we can time-shift core information one-to-many and focus real time on deepening existing relationships.” —R. Ray Wang, partner in The Altimeter Group, blogger on enterprise strategy
• “When I think of the big picture of social networking from the last decade, I think the intriguing aspect is how little give-and-take there has to be in terms of social capital. A decade ago, a finite number of connections and interactions offline meant that there was actually a high opportunity cost to relationships. We could have deep relationships, but there was a detriment to other types, even if they were surface or fringe connections. Now, the social grid gives us the luxury to keep low-involvement relationships – past contacts, former classmates, etc. – together, but the serious friendships, spouses, those can continue at their high involvement.” —Dave Levy, senior account executive and media trend researcher in digital public affairs at Edelman (public relations)
• “With the advent of the Web 2.0-enabled social web with applications such as Facebook, YouTube, etc., we allow all aspects of our lives to be shared with our selected friends and family without actually having to reach out and tell them what we’re up to. By posting status updates, photos and videos online, friends and family can browse our lives on their own time and place and as often as they chose to. These technologies all me to keep everyone in the loop without me actually having to proactively keep everyone up to date.” —Steve Ridder, enterprise architect, Cisco
• “The Internet enables people to make more numerous personal connections, revive relationships, share common interests, and is a conduit where significant relationships can be supported and sustained. In 2009, UK research showed that users connected to the Internet, are ‘less lonely’ than non-users. People are time-poor. The Internet makes staying in touch easy; the sharing thoughts, feelings, experiences richer; and reaching out for new friendships and interests is a glue that ties us to the global community.” —Sally McIntyre, principal online adviser in Australia’s Department of Premier and Cabinet
• “The key value of the virtual space is its ability to transcend the standard rules of space and time, and connect that which otherwise could not be connected. This began with the telephone many years ago, albeit with a very small ‘social bandwidth,’ but with the rise of the internet this social bandwidth has increased many times over, allowing us to add much more than just speech to our one-to-one connections. As the Internet matures even more, and even greater real bandwidth is possible, so the ability to enrich these connections can only grow and grow as our social bandwidth grows with it.” —Rich Osborne, Web manager and Web innovation officer, University of Exeter
Actually, we lose time online – time that could be, should be spent on our relationships.
• “The struggle of being present with the important people in our lives will only intensify by 2020. While I love technology and know that it has expanded the amount of connections I can have and strengthens certain relationships, I also think that by 2020, the idea of turning off technology is going to be the equivalent of trying to stay dry when you are underwater. And I think relationships require uninterrupted time. They require being present. They require attention. And the more immersive our world will be by 2020, the negative result of this constant interruption with people we truly care about will be only harder as we are pulled in even more directions. It will be the ultimate test to see if we can give our relationship what they truly need to grow. Time. Uninterrupted.” —Tiffany Shlain, founder of the Webby Awards and co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences, filmmaker, director of the Moxie Institute
• “The Internet – and in a larger sense, the harried, multitasking-dependent modern lifestyle – doesn’t generally foster the kind of deep social interactions necessary for serious relationships. There are exceptions, of course: Witness the (apparent, anecdotal) success of online dating sites. This isn’t to say that social relationships necessarily require face-to-face interaction. Think of the great relationships of old carried on through postal mail correspondence. Instead, it’s the Internet’s encouragement of an existence marked by distracted, ‘continuous partial attention’ (from Linda Stone) activities, and interactions that is at fault here. For the majority of Internet users, the net is unlikely to help them foster significant social relationships, and as it grows ever more central to our lives, that’s unlikely to cease.” —Christopher Saunders, managing editor, InternetNews.com
• “While the Internet has enabled me to keep richer relationships alive over large distances via tools like IM and videoconferencing, I also find myself deluged with gumption traps and triviality, which can reduce the amount of time and energy I spend on deep, face-to-face relationships. I’d say that on the whole, the Internet has made my relationships richer, but it is in no way a replacement for real-life physical interaction.” —Dave Sifry, founder, Offbeat Guides, founder, Technorati, co-founder, Sputnik, co-founder, Linuxcare, Inc.
It is possible that these new ways to interact will perhaps inspire more tolerance and global understanding.
• “More gradients of friendship are enabled through online social networking, meaning it’s more likely you will retain some degree of connection or friendship with a broader cross-sector of the population, leading to more harmonious human relations nationally and internationally.” —Solana Larsen, managing editor, Global Voices Online, former editor of openDemocracy.net
• “There are risks, but the fact that it enables us to escape many of the constraints of geographic happenstance seems likely to be a net positive, along with our exposure to greater diversity. The Internet should build tolerance through greater exposure and understanding, and tolerance should improve human and community relations.” —Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher in human-computer interaction and computer-supported cooperative work at Microsoft Research
• “The Internet represents an unprecedented opportunity to improve cross-cultural understanding and tolerance around the world. We just need to make the infrastructure ubiquitous and affordable. Perhaps governments should take control of the world’s communications systems (wow) and run them as public services to ensure public access. The only issue here would be censorship. I firmly believe that differences tend to dissolve as people come into contact and interact with each other, dissipating stereotypes.” —Robert Hess, senior fellow at the Center for the Digital Future, Annenberg School, USC, and president and CEO of TSG (a consulting firm)
• “We should hope that the net makes us more connected, more social, more engaged and involved with each other. The human diaspora, from one tribe in Africa to thousands of scattered tribes – and now countries – throughout the world, was driven to a high degree by misunderstandings and disagreements between groups. Hatred and distrust between groups have caused countless wars and suffering beyond measure. Anything that helps us bridge our differences and increase understanding is a good thing. Clearly the Internet already does that.” —Doc Searls, fellow, Berkman Center, Harvard, fellow at Center for Information Technology and Society, University of California-Santa Barbara; co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto
• “Any facility which brings people together in love and friendship, and enables love and friendship over greater distances and over greater boundaries, can only ever be a good thing. By 2020, integrated social networking, cross-national and cross-cultural dialogue, and Internet-enabled friendships will be some of the great arguments for the social good of the Internet.” —Francis J.L. Osborn, philosopher, University of Wales-Lampeter
• “The Internet allows us to develop a worldwide awareness consciousness. We are still at the ‘self’ stage, where we want the world to know who we are, but soon we will move to a we + me stage, where we will make connections that debate, share, and build.” —Brian Prascak, chief innovation officer, InReach Commerce, Inc.
• “The web is enabling ‘connected’ people to have a better understanding of each other and our unique contexts, which helps communication.” —Paul DiPerna, research director at Foundation for Educational Choice, conducting surveys, polling, Internet/social media projects
• “There will be, of necessity, a greater need for humans to better understand what is going on in the world and to be ready to influence decisions made on their behalf. The Internet will be the mechanism for allowing the necessary interactions.” —R.L. Monroe, retired after 35 years in the US Department of Defense
It is possible that these new ways to interact will allow people to silo themselves and incite more intolerance or dangerously limit people’s worldview.
• “The Internet helps me maintain contact with a greater number of people. But it also makes it easier for me to retreat within a form-fitted political, religious, or social landscape. It’s when we find ways to work with people with whom we disagree that society progresses. The Internet makes it easier for me to avoid disagreement and compromise and encourages me to become more strident and polarized in my views. That’s a problem.” —Tim Marema, vice president of the Center for Rural Strategies
• “I’m with the likes of Cass Sunstein (Republic.com /Republic.com 2.0) on this one: The ability to narrowcast on the Internet and the tendency for netizens to hang out exclusively with their own tribe combined with the literal disappearance of mainstream mass media will, I believe, be a negative force for all sorts of relations – maybe not so much family relations, but certainly other social relations. Mass media once served a role as a kind of community commons where one might be exposed to opinions/thoughts/events that would enlighten, enrage, repulse, thrill, or inspire you. We learned about things we would never think of querying a search engine about. I don’t see any site replacing the ‘commons’ role that a community newspaper served. In fact, I think online publishers – desperate to pay the bills – will use software agents, cookies, etc., to make sure that their users see exactly what they want to see, and what they want to see, I suspect, will be information that will tend to reinforce a worldview, not challenge it.” —David Akin, national affairs correspondent, Canwest News Service
As the use of the Internet for social networks expands, the rapid evolution of connection is altering and redefining many things. “Virtual friends” will become more common in the future. New definitions of traditional notions will emerge as people recast such ideas as “friendship” and “privacy.”
• “We will have more interpersonal relationships while sitting alone in the room. They will feel, and be, rich in many ways – other than touching.” —Stewart Baker, general counsel to the US Internet Service Provider Association, former general counsel for the US National Security Agency
• “There’s no escaping people anymore, and I believe that will yield better relationships.” —Jeff Jarvis, author of What would Google Do? and associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism
• “New definitions of ‘friendship’ and ‘privacy’ will emerge. Neo-tribalism will start to replace nuclear families, although this will be considered illegitimate and immoral by old-timers.” —Stowe Boyd, social networks specialist, analyst, activist, blogger, futurist and researcher; president of Microsyntax.org, a non-profit and director of 301Works.org
• “The way we define the word ‘social’ will have changed, much as how the meaning of the word ‘friend’ has already changed as we end 2009.” —Neville Hobson, head of social media in Europe for WCG Group and principal of NevilleHobson.com
• “Virtual parties, in which participants ‘hang out’ with friends via video conference, will become popular as a way for people to get together (and avoid risks associated with real-life parties, such as drunk driving and STDs).” —Chris Minnick, independent information technology and services professional
• “SNS and other Internet-based communication tools have created new social circles and new categories of relationships, expanding the possibilities for contact and connection. The depth of these connections generally by platform, location, or group e.g. Facebook friends are at one depth, connections made through dating sites at another, while in-person connections are at yet another level of intimacy and relationship depth.” —Stephan Adelson, president of Adelson Consulting Services and founder of Internet Interventions, a company that promotes health and patient support
• “Ships and airplanes can be argued to be tools engendering either separation or closeness. Why should the Internet be any different? I am continuously amazed at the ability of people to adapt the net to improve their interpersonal links. My larger concern is, again, with education – that we need to emphasize the liberal arts, theatre, literature, and the like so that we can learn how to express ourselves and understand one another. The art of politics, which I believe will become an increasingly important art as we try to solve difficult problems, requires considerable ability to express and understand, and to have empathy with foreign cultures. The net will be a tool, but we need to teach ourselves how to be good users of that tool.” —Karl Auerbach, chief technical officer at InterWorking Labs, Inc.
• “My guess is that people who only make friends in person will be seen as socially handicapped.” —Charlie Martin, correspondent and science and technology editor, Pajamas Media, technical writer, PointSource Communications, correspondent, Edgelings.com
• “It’s hard to turn down a ‘friend’ request on a social network, particularly from someone you know, and even harder to ‘unfriend’ someone. We’ve got to learn that these things are OK to do. And we have to be able to partition our groups of contacts as we do in real life (work, church, etc.). More sophisticated social networks will probably evolve to reflect our real relationships more closely, but people have to take the lead and refuse to let technical options determine how they conduct their relationships.” —Andy Oram, editor and blogger, O’Reilly Media
• “Deep relationships, the kind that stand the test of time and adversity – will become increasingly difficult to form and maintain. We will be more connected to the world than ever before, but in far less meaningful ways. I believe this disintegration of interpersonal relations will spawn counter-cultural movements that might seriously resemble Amish or Mennonite communities. These enclaves will appear to outsiders as confused and befuddled, but will offer their members a rich and rewarding human experience.” —Daniel Weiss, senior analyst for media and sexuality at Focus on the Family Action
• “The quality of personal relationships will continue to be based upon the work people put into their relationships – not the technologies involved in communications. It will be possible for people to have lots of contacts with a very large ‘network’ and have very few quality relationships. This possibility will lead to several new psychological and medical syndromes that will be variations of depression caused by the lack of meaningful quality relationships. And it will also be possible for people to have more quality relationships with a more diverse population – including close relationships with people geographically and temporally distant. Our notions of household and community will have to change to accommodate this phenomenon and our laws regarding families and households will also have to change.” —Benjamin Mordechai Ben-Baruch, senior market intelligence consultant and applied sociologist, consultant for General Motors
• “As people find the balance with online and in-person socialization, the social net will enhance their lives and bring greater understanding to the world. People will maintain an ‘inner circle’ of relationships that will primarily be in person, while staying connected with people around the world through various forms of the social net. This will allow the average person to gain a greater understanding of the world from the eyes of other average people from different countries and cultures. Governments will need to adjust to this new world society.” —Tom Golway, global technology director at Thomson Reuters and former CTO at ReadyForTheNet
There are some ‘digital divides’ when it comes to the new realities for tech-connected people. The most obvious difference in the tech realm is tied to age. Younger users are simply different in their use of tech and their approach to social relations from older users.
• “Generation M, born after 1982 – mobile, multimedia, multitasking – are already showing their distinctive differences. One of these differences is the advent of the supercommunicator. There is growing evidence that the Internet augments physical relationships rather than displaces/replaces them. We do have to worry about the digital divide risk though. It is critical that we focus on inclusiveness as we drive this forward globally.” —JP Rangaswami, chief scientist, British Telecommunications
• “For digital natives there will be fewer negatives and more positives than for their parents and grandparents (digital immigrants). Social life is changing, and most who perceive a downward trajectory are those who see their own culture vanishing. For my kids and their friends, social life depends on digital networking.” —Peter Suber, fellow, Berkman Center at Harvard Law School, visiting fellow, Yale Law School, open access project director, Public Knowledge, research professor of philosophy, Earlham College
• “It has been a positive force only with those in my social circle who have embraced it; I’ve met new people and developed wonderful friendships. With those who do not embrace it, or refuse to, it creates huge conflict.” —Beth Gallaway, library consultant and trainer, Information Goddess Consulting
• “The Internet has changed the social communications norm, and people who don’t use the Internet will become socially and technologically marooned. I have met more people face-to-face as a result of the Internet than I did before the Internet.” —Robert Lunn, principal of FocalPoint Analytics and senior researcher for USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future, formerly director of surveys at J.D. Power and Associates
• “Using the Internet for socializing depends on whether or not you like to read and write. Some people don’t use it simply because they are hunt-and-peck typists, but that will not be the case in the future. Others just don’t like to read or write, and for some of them, the short communications will be their only use of the Internet. For some of us, it is much easier to express ourselves in writing than it is to talk about issues.” —Sandra Kelly, market research manager for 3M Company
• “The Internet enables many new types of communication, and simplifies and accelerates many existing ones. Misunderstanding these new tools can indeed be very harmful, but as the technologies continue to mature and be understood be increasingly wider swaths of the public, most people will learn to use them in ways beneficial to their social life.” —Nick Violi, research assistant, University of Maryland
• “No force can make my kids ‘friend’ me on Facebook. Maybe this is a ‘positive’ in their twentysomething social world, but it’s a ‘negative’ in mine. Maybe this will change when my kids hit thirtysomething.” —Greg Jarboe, president and co-founder, SEO-PR, Search Engine Watch Blog, Market Motive, ChannelOne Marketing Group
Criminals, terrorists, governments, and commercial interests may have a negative influence on the evolution of social networks between now and 2020.
• “A number of clear dangers remain, chiefly, the abuse of social media to promote populist and disruptive agendas and ideologies; the increasing corporatisation and astroturfing of social media spaces; the exploitation of personal information made public through social media by criminals and overzealous law enforcement agencies. On balance, social media spaces and communities have, to date, remained remarkably resistant to such interference, but there are no guarantees that this will continue. But social media also enable their users to organise to combat infringements and interference, and this is a cause for optimism.” —Axel Bruns, associate professor of media and communication, Queensland University of Technology, and general editor of Media and Culture journal
• “[The positive possibilities] will only grow more true in the future as long as a significant part of the Internet’s core remains in the public domain – not the plaything of purely-commercial interests nor at the mercy of the whims of states.” —David Pecotic, officer, Australian Broadband Guarantee Policy Section, Australian Broadband Guarantee Branch, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
We are just beginning to address the ways in which nearly ‘frictionless,’ easy-access, global communications networks change how reputations are made, perceived, and remade. New social norms will be encoded eventually to take account of these changing realities.
• “For better or worse, reconnecting and maintaining relationships has gotten easy to the point of nearly becoming frictionless. I do wonder if the American procedure that says ‘Try hard, fail, move West, try hard, fail, move West, try hard, succeed, stay here’ will change.” —Paul Jones, conference co-chair, WWW2010, clinical associate professor, School of Information and Library Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, director, ibiblio
• “Some people thrive in small towns, others feel oppressed by them. As information technology shrinks our world, it will become easier for one’s misdeeds to return to them or for outbursts of regrettable behavior to be reported and shared. It will also be easier for good deeds to be shared. For better or worse, technology makes the citizenry its own Big Brother. Some will welcome this as transparency; others will feel oppressed.” —Stuart Schechter, researcher, Microsoft Research, formerly on the technical staff at MIT Lincoln Laboratory
• “It will be particularly interesting to see how we reconcile things about the people we know that we had not known in the past, or could not have known. How many of our friends will in some sense ‘come out of the closet’ on some issue or other by joining a group on Facebook, for instance, that might make us upset or angry, and what we will we do with that knowledge?” —Steve Jones, professor of communication and associate dean of liberal arts and sciences and co-founder of the Association of Internet Researchers, University of Illinois-Chicago
• “It is key that we sort out the sort of contextual self-presentation online that we presently take for granted offline. This will involve the hybrid of sociological and psychological insights alongside traditional design. How do we present ourselves to co-workers and high school friends without pandering to a lame lowest common denominator? In doing so, I think we can strengthen our relationships by creating increased spaces for differentiated expressiveness. I worry about absolute searchability, however, as I think it will draw people away from the Internet as a positive force. It will tie us together, but I think it will also make our relationships a little more dull.” —Bernie Hogan, research fellow, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford
• “A lot depends on our success at the societal level in addressing online disinhibition, modeling online/offline citizenship for our children, and getting past the adults’ technopanic to teaching tech literacy, media literacy, and social literacy at home and school.” —Anne Collier, co-chair, Online Safety & Technology Working Group, founder of Net Family News, co-author, MySpace Unraveled: A Parent’s Guide to Teen Social Networking
• “As a society we will grapple with how to best use these tools to strengthen human-based social ties – and some will be better at it than others. Issues like privacy will need to be addressed, but individual and structural strategies will emerge.” —Jim Witte, director and professor, Center for Social Science Research, George Mason University
• “Those who do adopt social media will prefer and demand transparency in their dealings – or become more sophisticated and deliberate about what they publish online about themselves and about others. When Facebook is apparently connected to 60% of divorces these days (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/Facebook/6857918/Facebook-fuelling-divorce-research-claims.html), it’s clear that both access to ‘temptation’ as well as the transparency that Facebook brings is causing people to confront issues that they previously were able to ignore or squirrel away. I think that’s a good thing, and healthy thing. I think there’s often too much distortion in people’s relationships today. Still, the question remains: are we ready for a transparency society? And, how will we cope with those who share a lot about others, but not about themselves? Perhaps people will self-select and naturally gravitate towards people who have similar sharing tendencies. Others may rebel and head towards one of the two extremes. Still, the basic fabric of human connections is being enhanced through openness and transparency even if it’s unclear how this will all play out over the next 10 years.” —Chris Messina, open web advocate, Google, board member, OpenID Foundation
Leveraging the Internet to cultivate social connection exposes private information. Thus, there will be new incentives for people to stratify their social networks so that the appropriate personal disclosures are made to the right people.
• “People will start being less forthcoming with their personal information online due to privacy/marketing fears.” —Michael Zimmer, assistant professor of media, culture and communication, School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
• “The Internet enables personal ‘customer-relations management’ on multiple simultaneous levels. The more we use social media, the more sophisticated and discerning we’ll become in structuring access, privacy, and content access. But the Internet will be a central time and contact management tool into the indefinite future.” —Daniel Flamberg, blogger at iMedia Connections and senior vice president of interactive marketing at Juice Pharma Advertising
• “Social relations will stratify into very distinct circles or ‘orbits’: Current face-to-face family and friends, distant family and friends well known (previous face-to-face relationship), acquaintances (briefly known), and then cyber relationships. Cyber relationships (friends, fans, followers, followed, connections, etc.) overlay the real-world relationships, for better or worse. But the most important thing they bring is exposure to a wider circle of potentially relevant people. This is in exchange for a potential loss of personal privacy and public image. Generally speaking, I believe the gains of great exposure and discovery of new cyber-relationships that then grow into face-to-face relationship that are productive and rewarding will continue to be a benefit of the Internet.” —William Luciw, managing director at Viewpoint West Partners and director at Sezmi, Inc., formerly a director of products and stand–up philosopher at several other Silicon Valley companies
• “By 2010 privacy as it had been known for the previous 100 years was gone. Everything that could be known about personal life was known through either voluntary sharing by increasingly transparent generations of humans or invasive external forces (government, business, religion, health care, and other humans known and unknown). Personal life will both be enhanced and deterred by the omnipresence of computing capability. All personal decisions will be recorded somewhere. The ‘unseen force’ will always be present as a third party in all relationships. Between 2010 and 2020 revelation of this fact will make its way into the normative structure of human social life.” —Stephen Steele, professor, sociology and futures studies, Institute for the Future, Anne Arundel Community College
• “It will become difficult to hide and be forgotten, which is rather scary. We will learn to value our privacy.” —Charlie Breindahl, webmaster and lecturer, Danish Centre for Design Research
Advances in technology between now and 2020 will continue to extend social possibilities. Most of the change is and will occur in social networks with relationships that are more casual and weaker – not among those with the strongest personal ties.
• “By 2020, individuals and organizations will have available highly secure and trusted quantum/biometric security plus powerful collaborative visualization decision-based tools plus powerful new tools to create user-generated content plus permanent/trusted/unlimited cloud archive storehouses plus incentive and attribution mechanisms. Friends, communities, and like-minded strangers will collaborate to solve the world’s pressing problems, explore new frontiers, create entertainment spaces, and become more intimate. Today’s social networks are decrepit in that they are intrusive, trust-levels concerning security and privacy are still questioned, they provide paltry few tools to encourage collaborative problem-solving, advocacy or entertainment creation and have no ways to incent or attribute participants in such endeavors. That will all change significantly by 2020. Intimacy will dramatically increase as collaborators solve problems and are incented and respected as contributors.” —Steven G. Kukla, product planner, shared no additional work details
• “The development of holographic displays and the bandwidth necessary to carry them will allow us to spend more time in more contexts with our friends.” —Fred Hapgood, technology author and consultant, moderator of the Nanosystems Interest Group at MIT in the 1990s, writes for Wired, Discover and other tech publications
• “Social networking has had a very positive impact on my social life in that it has allowed me to remain in touch and reconnect with friends and family in a way that otherwise would not happen. Being able to take a peak into their daily lives, maintain accurate contact information, and share snippets of our lives through photos, video, etc. has been very positive. Improved broadband and other technology will allow us to take these social networks to new levels with more multimedia tools that make these connections more personal.” —Jamie Wilson, writer/journalist and web application developer
• “In general we have three circles of friends and family: immediate (siblings and best friends), social (neighbours, bowling league, etc.), and collegial (business associates, co-workers, etc.). While the Internet has had little impact on the first two circles, it has had a huge impact on third circle of collegial acquaintances. The impact has been so great that we desperately need tools like MIT’s Sixth Sense to keep track of all these contacts when we meet them in the real world.” —Bill St. Arnaud, chief research officer at CANARIE, Inc., and member of the Internet Society board of trustees
• “By 2020, the concept of building and nurturing relationships outside the physical realm will be fully integrated into human behavior. To our advantage, this web-based social structure will be free of the novelty that drives today’s practitioners to obsessively text, twit, and gather. In place of manic distraction, the employment of audio-visual Internet connections will gravitate toward balance and practicality.” —Ebenezer Baldwin Bowles, founder and managing editor of corndancer.com, an independent online journal and cyber community, writer, activist and teacher
• “Over the last 20 or 25 years of participation in online communities, I’ve found the connectedness to be a great equalizer, removing socioeconomic status bars and permitting instantaneous communication and sharing of media with anyone who shares an interest. I see no reason to think that the flow will be reversed in the next 10 years, or in the decade after that. Today’s trend of email replacement by messaging (think Twitter and SMS) will continue, although email will still be useful for file sharing and interpersonal correspondence. I hope that the walled gardens like Facebook will have passed away, and that open networks of friends and colleagues will be enabled by semantic web tools in public-domain services.” —Frank Paynter, Sandhill Technologies, LLC
• “Nothing ever competes with ‘personal’ interaction. Face-to-face, but visual and virtual communications will leap far beyond the klunky and kludgy communications methods now in place.” —Dean Landsman, president of Landsman Communications Group, board member at TeleTruth and participant in project VRM
• “Most of the research shows that social networking tools help expand the range of weak ties while not affecting the strong ties. But mobile communications has already had a huge positive impact on the strong ties – we stay in much closer contact with our family members and close friends than ever before. I envision a world in which these tools will give us more or less all the capabilities that in mythology were attributed to telepaths – we’ll be able to transmit thoughts more or less instantly to as small or large a group as we choose. There’s not way to predict what we’ll say though, so its hard to forecast whether that will be a good or bad thing.” —Anthony Townsend, director of technology development and research director at The Institute for the Future
Our tools are changing quickly, but basic human nature seems to change at a slower pace. Technology amplifies people’s existing tendencies; it doesn’t change human nature.
• “Communications are better, relationships can get better with communications, but we still are evolving, dirty, little mammals and have the ability to do all the wrongs things with the best of technology. The Internet is a huge improvement over previous communications and media technologies – it has not stopped us from hurting each other. Life is a lot more convenient.” —Glenn Edens, technology strategy consultant, formerly senior vice president and director of Sun Microsystems Laboratories, chief scientist at HP, president AT&T Strategic Ventures
• “I don’t believe the Internet makes us better or worse people, but I do believe it has an amplification effect on the best and worst parts of our nature. I think that by 2020 people will learn how to fit a relevant, manageable stream of social information into their lives in a way that, on balance, makes them feel more connected. There will continue to be negatives to Internet-based relationships – they will offer a false sense of connectedness to people who are unhealthily isolated, they will enable connections that will ruin marriages, they will lead to new forms of harassment and bullying – but these are human problems, not Internet problems. The benefits of staying connected to old friends, family and colleagues will outweigh these negatives.” —Matt Gallivan, senior research analyst, audience insight and research, National Public Radio (US)
Following is a wide selection of elaborations from respondents who chose to take credit for their remarks:
“The bidirectional and egalitarian (so far) nature of the net and access to it has significantly improved interpersonal contacts and relationships, and seems certain to continue that improvement – unless the content and access monopolists manage to privitize everything and choke access, limiting it to $$-per-kilobyte for most or all communications, both trivial (an eye of the beholder issue) and substantive.” —Jim Warren, founder and chair of the first Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference and longtime technology and society activist
“Vint Cerf says that the Internet is a mirror – it reflects the world and our social relationships, it does not design them. I live in Venezuela, and have colleagues all over the world, family and friends all over the world. The Internet as a tool enhances my networking abilities. I can be involved in working groups, projects, meetings, conferences and learning programs that would not be available to me without an Internet connection. Like any other tool, we have to learn to use it properly.” —Ginger Paque, co-director of Internet Governance Caucus and leader in Diplo Foundation Internet Governance Capacity Building Programme
“No question: for me, the Internet is a social lifeline. I’ve met many more people with common interests and attitudes on the Internet. My guess is that people who only make friends in person will be seen as socially handicapped.” —Charlie Martin, correspondent and science and technology editor, Pajamas Media, technical writer, PointSource Communications, correspondent, Edgelings.com
“The post-urban world is a return to the small town online, and the kind of life-long connections that go with it. For better or worse.” —Alex Halavais, professor and social informatics researcher, Quinnipiac University; explores the ways in which social computing influences society, author of Search Engine Society
“How much easier is it now to relocate old friends? How much easier is it now to keep in touch with a wide range of friends? Social networking may be a bit short on intimacy in a lot of cases, but it is strong on making and maintaining contacts.” —Ian Peter, Ian Peter and Associates, Internet Mark 2 Project
“The research is pretty clear that overall, on average, Internet use is positively correlated with all sorts of social relationship and communication variables. That is, slightly on the positive side of the mean, and slightly but significantly correlated.” —Ron Rice, chair of social effects of communication in the Department of Communication and co-director of Center for Film, Television and New Media, University of California-Santa Barbara
“Craig Burton describes the Net as a hollow sphere – a three-dimensional zero – comprised entirely of ends separated by an absence of distance in the middle. With a hollow sphere, every point is visible to every other point. Your screen and my keyboard have no distance between them. This is a vivid way to illustrate the Net’s ‘end-to-end’ architecture and how we perceive it, even as we also respect the complex electronics and natural latencies involved in the movement of bits from point to point anywhere on the planet. It also helps make sense of the Net’s distance-free social space. As the ‘live’ or ‘real-time’ aspects of the net evolve, opportunities to engage personally and socially are highly magnified beyond all the systems that came before. This cannot help but increase our abilities not only to connect with each other, but to understand each other. I don’t see how this hurts the world, and I can imagine countless ways it can make the world better. Right now my own family is scattered between Boston, California, Baltimore and other places. Yet through e-mail, voice, IM, SMS, and other means we are in frequent touch, and able to help each other in many ways. The same goes for my connections with friends and co-workers. We should also hope that the Net makes us more connected, more social, more engaged and involved with each other. The human diaspora, from one tribe in Africa to thousands of scattered tribes – and now countries – throughout the world, was driven to a high degree by misunderstandings and disagreements between groups. Hatred and distrust between groups have caused countless wars and suffering beyond measure. Anything that helps us bridge our differences and increase understanding is a good thing. Clearly the Internet already does that.” —Doc Searls, fellow, Berkman Center, Harvard, fellow at Center for Information Technology and Society, University of California-Santa Barbara; co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto
“It is impossible to determine if social networking will lead us to unexpected social communities. While being connected across the world to many other persons, I still do not meet them all and as such the number of people I meet physically is less then 10% of those I’m virtually connected to. So, it has a negative impact on my social life, which is maybe not the same as my social (virtual) world.” —Rudi Vansnick, president and chief executive officer, Internet Society, Belgium, board member, EURALO, the ICANN Europe At-Large Organization
“While it is true that some of the attention I’ve received from people on line has been most unwelcome, the ability to remain in touch with friends and professional colleagues has been significantly enhanced thanks to the Internet.” —Chris DiBona, open source and public sector engineering manager at Google
“Obviously, this will depend on the person, but for me. I’ve played a lot of World of Warcraft in my day, and if I had someone to widow, I might have. But those who are unsocial can be unsocial without the Internet, but those who are social have a lot more tools to find old friends. It also allows extended families and close friends distributed around the world to stay in touch.” —Rosa Alvarez, a participant who preferred not to share a place of employment or other identity
“It is difficult to confidently contrast one’s history with an imagined history, but I owe a lot of my most meaningful relationships in large part to the Internet, which sustained them over periods of geographic separation. There are risks, but the fact that it enables us to escape many of the constraints of geographic happenstance seems likely to be a net positive, along with our exposure to greater diversity. The Internet should build tolerance through greater exposure and understanding, and tolerance should improve human and community relations.” —Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher in human-computer interaction and computer-supported cooperative work at Microsoft Research
“The Internet has huge social implications. It will possibly be negative for some of the more traditional/conservative views of relationships, but very positive for more libertine/free-forming and alternative relationships and friendships. Personally I welcome that, but others may not.” —Dean Bubley, founder, Disruptive Analysis, an independent technology analysis and consulting firm
“The Internet has allowed me to reconnect with those who I wouldn’t have had the opportunity before. It has provided me with a comfort that my networking circle, those important to my life and in my life over time, grow and continue to be and play a part. This trend will continue as barriers to physical relationships and connectivity continue to fall.” —Kevin Novak, co-chair of eGov Working Group at the World Wide Web Consortium and vice president of integrated Web strategy at the American Institute of Architects
“Our identity is socially defined. So far, the Internet has increased my autonomy in creating and sustaining connections, in my ability to tell my story myself. I would however note that the positive capacity an Internet enabled social world now gives me for self-definition is under threat. If we like what its done, we’re going to have to struggle harder to hang on to it.” —Garth Graham, board member of Telecommunities Canada, promoting local community network initiatives
“Research indicates positive things along these lines today. I assume 2020 this trend would probably remain unaltered. The Internet will continue to foster personal relationships and social life.” —Homero Gil de Zuniga, Internet researcher and professor at the University of Texas at Austin, US
“There is no question to my mind that the Internet has enhanced and extended my personal friendships and has been a positive force on my social world. In general we have three circles of friends and family: immediate (siblings and best friends), social (neighbours, bowling league, etc.), and collegial (business associates, co-workers, etc.). While the Internet has had little impact on the first two circles, it has had a huge impact on third circle of collegial acquaintances. The impact has been so great that we desperately need tools like MIT’s Sixth Sense to keep track of all these contacts when we meet them in the real world.” —Bill St. Arnaud, chief research officer at CANARIE, Inc. and member of the Internet Society board of trustees
“I don’t think that technology changes your personality, although it might enhance your basic tendencies. The Internet has certainly extended my personal network but has not deterred me from continuing an active face-to-face social life.” —Adrian Schofield, manager, applied research unit, Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering, president, Computer Society South Africa
“Again the question is too simplistic. The pros and cons for each individual can change even from year to year since the issue is not independent of your social life in general. Nothing will only grow.” —Niels Ole Finnemann, professor and director of the Center for Internet Research, Aarhus University, Denmark
“The Internet keeps me more connected to my distributed family that would otherwise be possible. I also can stay in touch with colleagues around the world much more easily. My social relationships are richer, not worse.” —Gary Marchionini, professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
“I don’t see a clear differentiator in an answer to this question, no black or white positive or negative divide. Rather, lots of shades of grey. What this means to me is that I believe that, on balance, the Internet will have been mostly a positive influence in my social world. Adding to the difficulty in a clear answer is that I also believe the way we define the word ‘social’ will have changed, much as how the meaning of the word ‘friend’ has already changed as we end 2009.” —Neville Hobson, head of social media in Europe for WCG Group and principal of NevilleHobson.com
“I am in my ‘60s, and have used computers since the 1960s. It used to hurt my relationships since I would go to a computer center and work on something for days at a time. Now my grandchildren Facebook with me and keep me in their lives through technology. I can find old friends, and re-establish relationships as well as find new networks of friends through mutual interests.” —Ed Lyell, professor at Adams State College, consultant for using telecommunications to improve school effectiveness through the creation of 21st century learning communities
“For better or worse, reconnecting and maintaining relationships has gotten easy to the point of nearly becoming frictionless. I do wonder if the American procedure that says ‘Try hard, fail, move West, try hard, fail, move West, try hard, succeed, stay here’ will change.” —Paul Jones, conference co-chair, WWW2010, clinical associate professor, School of Information and Library Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, director, ibiblio
“The Internet allows greater socialization and development of better trust relationships between people, however as the social ‘world’ gets smaller, any disruption in one part of your social circle can cause drama elsewhere in that circle, or force a person to withdraw completely from their ‘known’ Internet identity, then reinvent themselves under a new identity and selectively invite (and then manage) a new social circle made of existing and new friends.” —Richard Forno, visiting scientist at Carnegie Mellon University and principal consultant for KRvW Associates; served as the first chief security officer at Network Solutions (the InterNIC)
“Actually, ‘in 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships,’ I won’t be able to tell whether the Internet has been a positive or negative force on my social world. That world will be different, not ‘better or worse.’” —César Córcoles, professor at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
“Two major forces will push human beings towards using ICTs – and the Internet in particular – to enhance their social relationships and, thus, those will have a positive impact on these. In other words: ICTs won’t have an impact on socialization, as if they were an exogenous variable of the equation, but on the contrary the aim for socialization will have an impact on the usage of ICTs, being these the dependent or the endogenous variable of the system. These forces are the following: *Sociability itself: the Aristotelic zoon politikon has found a new, effective, efficient way to get in touch with others and, more important, to increase (their) Dunbar’s number [the internet meme tied to the theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain social relationships is said to be 150, although the concept is more complex], as the Internet allows for increased interactivity across time and space. *The power of the Network Society: the Network Society will increasingly change the shape of social institutions (political parties, governments, schools, firms, associations, etc.), that will lose momentum, favouring personal network-like relationships. Social engagement (of whatever kind: learning, working, being a citizen, etc.) will require an active weaving of one’s own web, to find one’s kindred souls, to collude with others to achieve common goals. If the Internet is to have a negative force on one’s social world it will be due to people being disconnected and, thus, missing plenty of things happening online, things that enlarge and enhance the offline connections and their activities.” —Ismael Peña-López, lecturer, School of Law and Political Science, Open University of Catalonia, researcher, Internet Interdisciplinary Institute
“In the end, electronic networks are bits and bytes while families and good friendships are forever. Social networks that disrupt those close relationships will be drummed from the market, leaving those that help.” —Don McLagan, member of the board of directors for the Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange, consultant, retired chief executive officer of Compete, Inc.
“Since 1995, my personal and professional connections have gone global, thanks to the Internet. I share information with and get advice from colleagues whom I never would have met without our online connections.” —Mindy McAdams, Knight Chair in journalism, University of Florida, author of Flash Journalism: How to Create Multimedia News Packages, journalist
“Let’s compare eras. When Winston Churchill got up in the morning (pink, naked, blinking) he spent four hours reading all the newspapers while drinking steadily. Then he arrived (late) for lunch, and regaled guests with solo gusts of stories and gossip. After feeding the swans and taking a nap, dinner was a giant social affair – followed by hours of essay-writing. What would Churchill think of the effect of the Internet on human relationships in 2020? I think he’d love it. He’d have even more to read and gossip about, he could provide constant updates to his fans and keep his political career going, he could get his essays out faster, and he could still have raucous and well-fueled dinners.” —Susan Crawford, founder of OneWebDay, Internet law professor at the University of Michigan, former special assistant to President Obama for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy
“Well, I wanted to check both of these, but came down on the positive side. How can I not see the Internet as a positive force in my life when I earn my living studying its effects, and I am facilitated in national and international collaborations by online connectivity. Further, as I travel the Internet has been invaluable as a connector to home. However, I do believe there is added pressure to work with others and at a distance, to be in contact 7 x 24 regardless of time zone, family, or personal down time, to review yet more information on the web, and to act of the (cyber-)world stage. At home, the Internet has penetrated to take over interpersonal time, and that’s a trend I see continuing.” —Caroline Haythornthwaite, professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
“Because of economic and other factors, my family is spread out across North America. My network of friends spans the world. The Internet and associated technologies makes it possible for me to connect with them and maintain longer-lasting relationships even though I have moved a lot and changed jobs a lot (as have they) over the years. How could this be anything but better?” —Stephen Downes, senior research officer, National Research Council of Canada, and specialist in online learning, new media, pedagogy and philosophy
“The Internet will remain a powerful tool for communications and information and thus a way to foster links and ties among people wishing to enhance relationships.” —David Olive, vice president of policy development support for ICANN; formerly general manager, Fujitsu America, Washington, D.C.
“I think this is generally true in many ways, particularly with regard to working out schedules, contacting people in emergencies and keeping track of kids and elderly parents. But on the down side, it encourages more terse and sometimes unthinking exchanges and reduces the ability to keep things private. What has been somewhat amazing is how slowly two-way video is catching on as a communications tool. It is not yet a major part of social networking. It should be because it introduces much more of the personal touch. The downside of online worlds and communications is that kids are encouraged more and more to stay online and inside in doing so. Not participating in outdoor activities is a real problem. Luckily more and more online communications is going mobile so that may improve things.” —Link Hoewing, assistant vice president for Internet and technology issues, Verizon
“While there may be (and probably has been) some negative impact on social relationships from the Internet, this will probably prove to be a largely transitional phase. Positive impacts will likely be generational, led by youth.” —Charles M. Perrottet, founding principal, Futures Strategy Group LLC
“This question makes it hard to separate prediction from wishful thinking. The empirical answer, or an empirical answer, might rest on findings made over the last decade by Pew and other institutions to the effect that the Internet has been wrongly accused of isolating and alienating end-users; most turn out to be socially well-adjusted. A lot of commentators have made hay from the abusive behaviors associated with pornography, cyber-stalking, identity theft, etc. A more theoretical answer would rest on what I take to be a sensible approach to technological determinism. Another way of looking at this question stems from the ability of people with specialized interests to use the Internet to find like-minded people around the globe, overcoming those big space-and-time barriers. My conclusion is that, once you eliminate outliers and freakish behaviors, the Internet bestows tremendous opportunities for social growth on most people, in most circumstances. The Internet creates a huge range of often-novel choices, from which end-users construct their own adaptive behaviors. The important determining factors in personal friendships, marriages and other relationships remain with the individual. Which isn’t to say the Internet makes no difference. It does. The Internet facilitates anti-social behaviors like identity theft, and positive behaviors like keeping in close touch with relatives in faraway places, to such a degree that they become almost unimaginable in the pre-Internet age. My sense is that, once you eliminate outliers and freakish behaviors, the Internet will continue to bestow tremendous opportunities for social growth on most people, in most circumstances.” —David Ellis, director of communication studies at York University, Toronto, and author of the first Canadian book on the roots of the Internet
“The Internet is about our ability to communicate.” —Bob Frankston, computing pioneer, co-founder of Software Arts and co-developer and marketer of VisiCalc, created Lotus Express, ACM Fellow
“If you love butterfly collecting, there is no reason to be alone. If you live in a small town and thought you were the only single person for 500 miles, you can easily find out you’re not. Having the Internet has caused us already to invite lots of people into our lives – from grocery delivery to book clubs to potential lovers – all because we found each other online.” —John Baker, regional digital director for Americas at Iris Worldwide, formerly managing partner at OgilvyInteractive
“The Internet makes the social network wider and more easily accessible. This essentially brings in social relationships that didn’t exist in the past. Whether they are better or worse is up to individuals.” —Benoît Felten, principal analyst at Yankee Group’s Anywhere Network research group for next-generation access networks, including fiber-to-the-home
“Social networking has enhanced our ability to ‘stay connected.’ In 2020 I see that those connections will have strengthened and deepened. There will be less ‘shallow’ relationships as the pendulum swings back to enhanced privacy.” —Elaine Pruis, vice president, client services, Minds + Machines, liaison, Council of Country Code Administrators
“I have already found that the Internet has enhanced my ability to connect, and interact with others and I expect this social function of new media will become even more pervasive by 2020. The ability to interact easily with others has the potential to increase collaboration, coordination, and relationship development.” —Gary Kreps, professor and chair of the department of communication, George Mason University
“The nature of our relationships is being changed by the Internet, no doubt. There are good aspects and bad aspects. The result is different but once again, whether it’s good or bad depends on choices and behaviors of the individuals involved.” —Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder, Global Voices, visiting fellow, Center for Information Technology Policy, Princeton University
“I’ve gotten to know people I’d never have met. I’ve become part of virtual communities that have taught me things I’d never have known. I probably have fewer very close friends, but the friendships and personal relationships that matter most remain as strong as ever, and stronger in some ways.” —Dan Gillmor, director of Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University and author of We the Media
“Connectedness and sharing lead to understanding and compassion more often than not.” —Tac Anderson, blogger at New Comm Biz, taking a critical look at social media and the future of business
“From not only a personal perspective, whereby I will be living on two continents, but from a professional perspective whereby older adults have discovered missing relatives and war buddies, friends, and interests, the Internet is indisputably a positive force in reducing isolation and enhancing morale.” —Tobey Dichter, chief executive officer at Generations on Line
“Fundamentally the Internet probably doesn’t have a major effect on personal relationships, but it does enable people to communicate more easily. I think the Internet is mostly a positive force on interpersonal relations – people can communicate much more easily, cheaply, and frequently.” —Thomas Lenard, president and senior fellow, Technology Policy Institute, author of many books including “Net Neutrality or Net Neutering: Should Broadband Services Be Regulated?”
“Social networks will encourage people to go out and meet their virtual contacts, in person. GPS on mobile devices will facilitate this.” —Brad Adgate, senior vice president and research director at Horizon Media
“I have been an active users of computer-mediated communications since the late 1960’s and am used to making most of my long-term friends and collaborators through the early Arpanet and interacting with people I never met till much later. We have to overcome in better ways the problems we face from spam, hacking, and the misuse of social network systems to fragment groups, and to use too-primitive tools to remove information overload as this is one of the great dangers facing the future evolution of the usability of collaborative systems. See: The Network Nation by Hiltz and Turoff, printed in 1978 and reprinted in 1993 and still available for many of these issues addressed in the early days.” —Murray Turoff, professor of computer and information sciences, New Jersey Institute of Technology and co-author of The Network Nation
“It is difficult to say concretely that the Internet is a positive or negative force. I think that in reality the seamlessness of the cloud will mean that we won’t think in terms of the dichotomy of offline/online and rather will be aware that we inhabit a communicational ecology of mediation and that that will allow us to use media in exciting new ways, but as always this may have drawbacks in other aspects of our lives.” —David M. Berry, author of Copy, Rip, Burn: Copyleft! and a lecturer on sociological and philosophical research into technology
“Among other things it has brought geographically distant children and grandchildren, and soldiers in Afghanistan, et. .al, closer in touch.” —David R. Hughes, Electronic Frontier Foundation Internet Pioneer Award winner and advocate for connected communities
“As a card-carrying follower of Churchill, ‘For myself, I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else,’ I’m taking this glass as half full. I see the network or whatever the Internet becomes as being an ordinary but important component in our social fabrics, as it revolutionizes all of the communication industries, so to it will revolutionize our social patterns. It is already changing the way we work and play, but some of the same questions could have been put out there about the first telephones. That is not to say it supplants regular human interaction, but augments it. At the same time, one cannot have the richness and valuable things we enjoy of the open Internet without knowing that the mechanisms that make it work well also allow people to abuse it for illegal, perhaps immoral, and evil purposes. There is likely going to be some bubble burst in the rapid curve of social networking that is still on an upswing, but at some point after the euphoria it will change to the more practical uses. To me, it is hard not to see how the networks of communication will not be a powerful and mostly positive force on my social world – they already have been for the 20 years I have been online.” —Alan Levine, vice president, community and chief technology officer, New Media Consortium
“Applications of the Internet, especially social network sites, have almost certainly improved relationships in general and mine in particular. It used to be when I moved, I left behind networks of people whom I would have lost touch with no matter our promises to the contrary. The cost-reduction mechanisms of sites like Facebook now enable me to maintain an incredibly broad and diverse set of relationships that provide me comfort and encouragement, expand my worldview, filter information, and give me feedback.” —Cliff Lampe, assistant professor, Department of Telecommunications Information Studies and Media, Michigan State University
“The Internet has already now given me the possibility to keep in touch with friends living in different parts of the world. In addition, it allows daily contact with relatives who live far away. Earlier keeping in contact would have been limited by the cost and the slow speed of communication either over the phone or by mail. Internet has also given the possibility to meet new people online and strengthen the already-created bond between friends.” —Jonne Soininen, head of Internet Affairs and former system engineering manager, Nokia Siemens Networks
“I personally think that the Internet has probably not had a huge impact on the pattern of social relations, but more research is needed. Research on the impact on social behaviour of communication technologies such as the telephone (by social historian Claude S. Fischer) has shown that the impact was modest, so why should we believe something other for the impact of the Internet on social behaviour? One of Fischer’s articles mentions the tendency for hyping up the impact of new technologies (which he comments as having the shelf-life roughly equivalent to a Big Mac) – this is done by companies, tech bloggers and academics who are eager to jump on the next bandwagon. I think there is a lot of truth in this, and what is needed is more research. There is no doubt about the power of the Internet as an enabling technology – it enables people to do things (i.e. get in contact with old friends, make new friends, find a partner) more easily than before, but the question is: is this leading to an overall, measurable change in behaviour and outcomes regarding social relations? If my grandfather were alive today he would be using Facebook (he was into e-mail, not bad for someone who was born in 1910) but the point is: pre-Internet he was just as connected to people because he wrote letters. There is a sample selection bias that needs to be accounted for in research that aims to identify the impact of new technologies on social relations: the people who take up these new technologies have an innate and unmeasurable tendency to want to connect with other people, and hence it is hard to measure the impact of the technology. I believe the Internet has had both a positive and negative impact on human relations, and on balance, who knows? If someone could present a study that shows that a divorced mother with three children in 2009 looking for another husband will be more successful than exactly the same woman back in 1979 because of the advent of online dating, then I would take this as social scientific evidence that the Internet has had a positive impact on human relations. However this would be a difficult study to do (would need to also control for changing attitudes regarding divorce between 1979 and 2009).” —Robert Ackland, research fellow in the Research School of Social Sciences at The Australian National University
“We baby boomers are a transitional generation. We remember life before the Internet. I joined The WELL, a pioneering online community, in 1988, and count several of its members among my closest real-life friends. More recently, Facebook, despite its flaws and frustrations, has filled a communications niche between e-mail and the structured conferencing of The WELL. My social life and the quality of my social relationships have been impacted for the better. But I got involved in social networks as an adult. I wonder about younger people who haven’t yet formed a solid web of real-life relationships or learned how to function in a meat-space social environment. I think there’s a real downside there.” —Reva Basch, self-employed consultant for Aubergine Information Systems; active longtime member of The WELL, one of the earliest cyberspace communities; author of Internet books
“Better than anyone, Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook has understood the role that ICTs can play in social relations. Facebook does not create new social relations. Rather it makes transparent and facilitates existing social ties. As a society we will grapple with how to best use these tools to strengthen human-based social ties – and some will be better at it than others. Issues like privacy will need to be addressed, but individual and structural strategies will emerge.” —Jim Witte, director and professor, Center for Social Science Research, George Mason University
“This is a question where a binary answer centered on ‘mostly’ may not make much sense. The Internet may make us closer emotionally to people we already know, but pose barriers to our developing relationships with other people who have very different personalities and beliefs. That hypothetical example has a lot of implications good and bad. I think this question needs to be broken out into several dimensions.” —Chris Dede, Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies, Harvard Graduate School of Education, emerging technologies expert
“The main thing the Net has allowed me to do is stay in closer contact with people than I would without the Net. They are just too far away and I don’t like phones.” —Dorothy Denning, distinguished professor at Naval Postgraduate School, former director of the Georgetown Institute for Information, ACM Fellow
“It’s all about extension not replacement. Social networking tools allow you to extend and stay in contact with your relationships, not replace them.” —Jeska Dzwigalski, director of community and product development, Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life
“I stay in touch with more friends and family with the Internet than before.” —Irene Wu, director of research, International Bureau, Federal Communications Commission, Yahoo fellow in residence, Gergetown’s School of Foreign Service
“It depends who you (i.e. I) become by that time – including peer pressure.” —Gary Arlen, president, Arlen Communications, founder of The Internet Alliance and member of the board for NTN Buzztime Inc.
“I first encountered my wife on the Internet, and I have a lot of Internet acquaintances who I occasionally see at conferences. For some people, they will overdo it and fail to maintain a balance of real-world contacts and virtual ones, but those instances become newsworthy and everyone learns. By 2020 the Internet will be totally embedded in daily life, and we will probably have gone through one backlash against the machine cycle, and recovered some social equilibrium. The sci-fi story about the guy who was arrested by the police for taking a walk around the block when normal people should be at home browsing the Internet, will never take place.” —Michael Dillon, network consultant at BT and a career professional in IP networking since 1992, member of BT’s IP Number Policy Advisory Forum
“Yes, but it’ll get more and more complicated to balance the personal/work persona as well as the public/private information.” —Jose Manuel Alonso, eGovernment lead, World Wide Web Consortium
“Actually, this depends on how to use the Internet. From the point of view that the Internet widens the communication range, the answer is positive. But from the point that the Internet simplifies the communication with neighbors, the answer is negative. Anyway, communication range will be bigger, but communication quality with neighbors may become lower.” —Toshiyuki Sashihara, engineer and innovator for NEC Corporation
“The Internet has reinforced relationships by allowing me to keep in touch with family, friends, associations and also to find new associations and reestablish past connections. My hope is that this will continue to evolve so that we can develop more long-lasting new forms of association on line that will benefit society as a whole and reinforce political liberty.” —Jerry Berman, founder and chair of the board of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet public policy organization; president of the Internet Education Foundation
“The evolution of our social world is complex, with both positives and negatives. I do not see that it has reduced travel; I think I see friends and colleagues face-to-face as often as I would without the Internet. Perhaps the Internet has sped up the pace of interaction (which may be a cause of stress and thus a bad thing), but it has allowed me to keep in touch with distant friends in ways I could not otherwise have done.” —David D. Clark, senior research scientist, MIT, an Internet pioneer who has been active in building its architecture since 1981, now working on the next-generation Internet
“It lets me stay in touch with friends even though I travel a lot (mostly to see those friends face-to-face). Fewer Christmas cards, but more updates through the year!” —Esther Dyson, founder and CEO of EDventure, investor and serial board member, journalist and commentator on emerging digital technology
“While I believe that our social relations will improve, I am in no doubt that basic social skills, like having an offline conversation uninterrupted or mediated by technology, may well have to be taught in special weekend workshops.” —Stephen Balkam, chief executive officer at the Family Online Safety Institute
“For most people there will be effects of both kinds, difficult to disentangle. But the effects will ‘net out’ differently for different generations. For digital natives there will be fewer negatives and more positives than for their parents and grandparents (digital immigrants). Social life is changing, and most who perceive a downward trajectory are those who see their own culture vanishing. For my kids and their friends, social life depends on digital networking.” —Peter Suber, fellow, Berkman Center at Harvard Law School, visiting fellow, Yale Law School, open access project director, Public Knowledge, research professor of philosophy, Earlham College
“The Internet has had no impact on my marriage and personal friendships. That being said, it has had a strong, positive impact on my professional and intellectual relationships. It has enabled me to meet people and collaborate on writing, research, organizing conferences, getting equipment recommendations and solutions to technical problems, etc.” —Larry Press, professor of computer information systems, California State University Dominguez Hills
“Unlike members of my generation and those before, young people today will stay connected to each other likely for the rest of their lives. There’s no escaping people anymore and I believe that will yield better relationships.” —Jeff Jarvis, author of What would Google Do? and associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism
“Hard to do a black-or-white on this. The Internet already gives morons and the semi-literate a platform for their ‘beliefs,’ and artful use certainly. lt helped get Obama elected. Digital tech can facilitate certain types of community and help form new affinity groups, but anybody who thinks machines will solve interpersonal problems or loneliness is nuts. A bunch of people wired to the same server does not make a family or community. I’m a Mac user, and I think Mac sells the illusion of the ‘Mac family’ very cleverly, but while I reap the benefits of having others with the same technology, I am no more a community of them than I am a member of the Honda Civic community.” —Jack Hicks, senior lecturer, department of English, University of California-Davis, a founder of the graduate creative writing program and undergrad creative writing sequence
“Although I wrote some time ago that there was nothing in the Internet for me, I was dead wrong. Now that I have ‘retired’ I live through the network (and maintain my network of friends and associates), and have more time for the other stuff, like gardening, and hiking, etc., that is best done offline.” —Oscar Gandy, author, activist, retired emeritus professor of communication, University of Pennsylvania
“More people will move beyond the novelty factor of online communications and use networked media to make both deeper and broader ties.” —Wendy Seltzer, visiting fellow, Oxford Internet Institute, fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School, fellow, Silicon Flatirons, University of Colorado Law School
“The most convincing evidence we have thus far is that the Internet does not cause greater isolation, but greater connectedness. As the Internet continues to grow, it will become an even more seamless component of social relations.” —Alissa Cooper, chief computer scientist, Center for Democracy & Technology
“The Internet can only strengthen relationships as it pushes for frequent interactions.” —Rafik Dammak, CAD engineer, STMicroelectronics, Tunisia; leader of the Youth Dynamic Coalition of the Internet Governance Forum
“By 2020, perhaps there could a saturating point in terms of using the Internet for social relationships, but no one knows the knowledge periphery beyond the human imagination!” —Hakikur Rahman, founder-principal, Institute of Computer Management & Science, founder-chairman, Internet Society Bangladesh
“There are both positive and negative effects of the use of ICT. The balance between the pros and cons depends on particular circumstances. For the growing number of people whose social network is geographically scattered, use of ICT is a necessity. The strength of links is not dependent on the ease and intensity of their use but on personal choices and attributes.” —Michel J. Menou, independent consultant in ICT policy, visiting professor and associate researcher, School of Library, Archives and Information Services, University College London
“This is depends upon people’s lifestyles. A person like myself who has friends all around the world would definitely benefit from using the Internet for social relations. But I can also understand concerns about the other scenario for other lifestyles.” —Itir Akdogan, Ph.D. candidate and lecturer, University of Helsinki, expertise in ICT in empowering women and girls
“Depends on whether you are optimist or not.” —Marcel Bullinga, futurist and founder of Futurecheck, writing the book Welcome to the Future Cloud
“Greater access to information and knowledge (cf. Gutenberg, public education and public libraries) will bring about greater ‘maturity’ and wiser decision-making. It’s a slow process, but a sure one (cf. Scandanavian countries, Holland, et. al).” —Frederic Michael Litto, retired professor, School of the Future, University of São Paulo, president of ABED-Brazilian Association for Distance Education
“In general I think that a more connected world is one where relationships are able to be maintained on a broader and more lasting scale. It may allow people who move away from home or travel to also stay connected – as troops fighting in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have done using e-mail, MySpace, Facebook, and video chat. At the same time, today people generally exhibit different levels of sophistication with regards to how much they publish online and what they feel comfortable with. Some people are very liberal with what they publish online. Others are more reserved, and some altogether fearful. Still others have dabbled in online social media and connecting with friends only to find it intrusive and overwhelming and have gone to the degree of deleting their online presences. Clearly this suggests that we are in the midst of a transitional period – as likely we were when the telephone or cellphones first became widely available – some people wanted them and appreciated the convenience – still others avoided them and refused to change their lifestyle to accommodate them. Generally though, those who do adopt social media will prefer and demand transparency in their dealings – or become more sophisticated and deliberate about what they publish online about themselves and about others. When Facebook is apparently connected to 60% of divorces these days (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/Facebook/6857918/Facebook-fuelling-divorce-research-claims.html), it’s clear that both access to ‘temptation’ as well as the transparency that Facebook brings is causing people to confront issues that they previously were able to ignore or squirrel away. I think that’s a good thing, and healthy thing. I think there’s often too much distortion in people’s relationships today. Still, the question remains: are we ready for a transparency society? And, how will we cope with those who share a lot about others, but not about themselves? Perhaps people will self-select and naturally gravitate towards people who have similar sharing tendencies. Others may rebel and head towards one of the two extremes. Still, the basic fabric of human connections is being enhanced through openness and transparency even if it’s unclear how this will all play out over the next 10 years.” —Chris Messina, open web advocate, Google, board member, OpenID Foundation
“Networks are growing and the power and potential of those networks has not even begun to be tapped.” —Andy Opel, associate professor of communications, Florida State University
“Despite the media narrative, cultural relations and social engagement mediated by virtual spaces is a plus. At a minimum, it is an opportunity for complex dialogue with no opportunity for physical violence. For a good example of an untapped resource, see the 2009 report, “Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds” http://dancinginkproductions.com/projects/understanding-islam-through-virtual-worlds/.” —Joshua Fouts, leader of Dancing Ink, digital diplomacy expert, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, and founding editor of Online Journalism Review
“Overall, I don’t think the Internet will be as much of a force as the technology by which it is accessed. Mobile devices (phones) have had a much greater impact and those are being used primarily to text and talk, not to access the Internet (at least by the students with whom I interact).” —Cecelia Rabinowitz, library director and educator at St. Mary’s College of Maryland
“The Internet provides opportunity to either enhance or to negate the closeness of social relationships. It does not determine the outcome; each person determines the outcome. Did the telegraph, telephone, radio or TV create a negative or positive force on personal and societal relationships? We hear about TV creating ADD in children and parents using TV to babysit. We also see those wonderful old paintings of a family around the radio or TV listening or watching together. Personal relationships are determined by social interaction during early years at a family level. How we relate to others, what we choose to share about our ourselves – our real inner selves or our outward selves is a matter of how we’re taught to relate by our families. The real problem in relationships is not the Internet or its effect on humans – it is what we learn or don’t learn as humans from other humans in our early years. This question is trying to take an entire societal issue and reduce it to one factor – the Internet. This doesn’t work. The one factor has little to do with the overall issue.” —J. Dale Debber, CEO and publisher for Providence Publications LLC in California
“The personal journalism of Facebook and Twitter is enormously valuable to my social circles.” —Roarke Lynch, director of NetSmartz Workshop, US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
“It does seem a little contradictory. The more time we spend on the Internet the more risk there is of isolation from personal contacts. Yet, the broadened contacts available online may actually take us to a wider range of contacts. Because of my own experiences in contact with others around the world, I remain more optimistic than not that our social contacts and social awareness will continue to be broader than in the absence of the Internet.” —Jerry E. Stephens, research coordinator who did not divulge additional ID information
“The Internet is a tool, that can be good or bad, like a hammer. It has been a positive force only with those in my social circle that have embraced it; I’ve met new people and developed wonderful friendships. With those who do not embrace it, or refuse to, it creates huge conflict. I would say for the most part, the Internet has been positive for me socially, as an introvert, and allowed me to get to know others on a deeper level.” —Beth Gallaway, library consultant and trainer, Information Goddess Consulting
“One word makes it better: ‘connections.’ Social, by definition, means interaction, and the Internet facilitates that in a wide variety of ways. E-mail was the killer app for the network (the spreadsheet did it for the stand-alone PC). Today’s tools simply relax the assumptions about one-to-many, knowing an address, and synchronized communication.” —Anthony Power, vice president of interactive and analytic solutions at Studeo and author of What’s Still Missing from Web 2.0
“Facebook has become the easiest way to stay in contact with your friends from all over the globe. While the anonymity of which friends read your latest updates is good, the ability to connect or re-connect with people from all aspects of your life is incredible. Being in my mid-fifties, it has allowed me to contact friends from every aspect of my life. From high school to the military to our hobbies (automotive racing), it makes staying in touch much easier than the occasional e-mail or written letter.” —Mark Walter, chief executive officer of J-Angel Productions
“To date the Internet has enhanced my personal relationships allowing me to reconnect with lost friends, maintain connections with far-flung family and friends, and developing new connections with people I would never have met in my geographical area. I see these connections continuing into the future and being enhanced through upcoming technological means.” —Lois Ann Scheidt, Ph.D. candidate, Indiana University
“The Internet has expanded communication mediums and the ability to develop relationships based on mutual interests. This not only increases new social interactions, but also provides discussion topics for existing relationships.” —Al Amersdorfer, president and CEO of Automotive Internet Technologies, a provider of Internet marketing solutions for the retail automobile industry
“By maintaining networks of personal relationships through Internet-based applications, people are likely to have more extensive and numerous relationships than in 2010, but this may be at the cost of the depth or intensity especially of close personal relationships. (Although the Internet may provide a cheap and universal medium for maintaining such close relationships at a distance e.g. during travel or working away from home). Studies such as the British Library ‘Google Generation’ report highlight intergenerational differences: Gen Y and Millennials are more likely to opt for the second choice, Boomers and their seniors mostly for the first.” —Peter Griffiths, independent information specialist and consultant and former president of the UK Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals
“I choose answer No. 2, with reservations. I’m an elder, 68 years old and retired. The Internet is a godsend for the social life of elders who no longer have the daily camaraderie of the workplace, whose children and grandchildren may live thousands of miles away, whose old friends die and, for some, who don’t get out and about as easily as when they were younger. It allows them to make social connections and friends they could not otherwise have. For younger people, I am not so sure that more online social life at the expense of in-person visits is a force for good, but I see it increasing along with telecommuting and work-from-home. We are, I think, in the middle of a grand social transition that is too new to understand yet or predict its outcome. But it will transform social relations.” —Ronni Bennett, founder of http://www.timegoesby.net, a blog about aging
“The Internet has, and will continue to have, a significant, positive impact on ‘connectedness’ to the social world – the ability to find and communicate with someone else out there ‘like me’ no matter how unique the persons’ interests may be. The Internet will have less impact on more proximal relationships, such as marriage and long-term, local friendships where the bond is strong enough that communication will occur through a number of channels.” —Benjamin Hanna, vice president of marketing for R.H. Donnelly Interactive
“By nature we are meant to be in fellowship/relationship with one another and obviously at different levels and with different roles. But regardless of friends, followings, or followers, there are only so many people with whom we can physically have deep and intimate relationships. Likewise, by being connected with higher numbers of people, we can maintain at the very least a minuscule tie to those people, even if it’s just a simple ‘hello – thinking of you’ message we send in passing.” —Nick Greene, founder of nickgreene.com
“The key here is not to let the Internet – or any other mass communications/information medium – be all-encompassing.” —Harold Medina, president of Medina Associates, a marketing and consulting firm
“Generational communication within generations is around comfort and what one is shaped by. When across generations, it will require both (multiple) generations to learn communication skills that maintain relational communication. I do believe that the ease of communicating via technology and from introvert types who release themselves in these mediums will actually benefit interpersonal relationships.” —Joe Hernandez, retired from the Southern Baptist Missionary Organization
“There will be, of necessity, a greater need for humans to better understand what is going on in the world and to be ready to influence decisions made on their behalf. The Internet will be the mechanism for allowing the necessary interactions.” —R.L. Monroe, retired after 35 years in the US Department of Defense
“I don’t know if the positive effect of the Internet on social relationships ‘will only grow more true in the future.’ But it is true that social media are providing me with more and more opportunities to keep back in touch – or nurturing – social ties. Such ties are usually ‘loose,’ meaning that they need some sort of physical-world complement to work at their best, but they are by no means real and well running.” —Giovanni Arata, PhD, APT Servizi Emilia Romagna
“Addictive use of social networking has already run its course – increasing numbers of my students have already sworn off Facebook, etc. Social networking serves a useful purpose in allowing people to remain connected at a distance. It reduces social isolation and provides the possibility of perspective from trusted but distance acquaintances on local issues. This could be a boon to those who might otherwise be shut-in, isolated from their home communities etc. It can assist in transitions from one community to another. By 2020, norms will have emerged to assist people in recognizing and resisting over use.” —Robert Runte, associate professor at the University of Lethbridge
“Whether I am friends or connected does not empower my social skills. I’m seeing kids today who do not have social skills. They do not know how to communicate without their phones or laptops. Millennials get the heebie geebies when asked to turn off their PCs or phones. Perhaps they will be touching base but they will not be ‘communicating.’” —Bonita E. Lay, president of Achieve! International, a leadership and organizational development firm
“The Internet and social networking sites, such as Facebook, allow me to stay in contact with a much broader network of family and friends across the globe. It has truly been a positive force on my social world. Anything that brings people in diverse places together and increases exposure to the shared joys and tribulations of humanity can only serve to increase our empathy for one another.” —Lori Langone, research specialist, Michigan Economic Development Corporation
”Tough one, humans by nature are social. Our survival has depended on it. However, there may be a time when the virtual society can hinder our real-world relationships Time will tell. Look at how attached kids are to their technology and their need to connect to each other. Maybe we will create a hive of thoughts, and feelings in 2020 with each thought being under 140 characters.” —Louis L. Vigliotti, Great Neck Public Schools
“Life without e-mail? The Internet makes it easier to stay connected to others. That’s a good thing.” —Pam Heath, principal with Jensen Heath (communications consulting firm), trustee for HistoryLink.org, the first online history encyclopedia created for the Internet
“Applications like Facebook have helped me to stay in touch with what’s happening in the lives of extended family and friends, and re-established relationships from decades ago. But, it can also detract from quality time and conversation with those closest to us – the ones we live with.” —Jon Faucette, manager of in-house design for The Segal Company, New York
“Less expensive ways to cross distances, find and stay connected to people, and communicate with them will, of course, be a positive force! That isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of work to be done with understanding and redefining, where necessary, boundaries and etiquette in the this rapidly changing environment.” —Heywood Sloane, managing director, Bank Insurance & Securities Association Diversified Services Group, US
“I am going to come down on the side of better social relations. These may be narrower than before, with each person having friends and colleagues mainly in their most immediate and strongest personal interests. However because these ties can easily occur across time and the space of worldwide networks with instant communication, through mobile devices as well as computer-mediation, people can attain satisfactory relationships from acquaintances to colleagues to friends to committed, intimate partnerships.” —Andrea Baker, associate professor of sociology at Ohio University and author of Double Click: Romance and Commitment Among Online Couples
“I have reconnected with old friends and established new ones thanks solely to the Internet. Social technologies do not erode our relationships – they enhance our ability to create and maintain lasting relationships.” —Bill Sheridan, e-communications manager and editor for the Maryland Association of CPAs
“While the Internet can’t replace face-to-face contact, it can help support relationships by offering communication channels to people to use on demand. The Internet helps support long-distance relationships, relationships between busy individuals with demanding schedules, and it helps by offering multimedia tools to help keep social bonds strong.” —Christina Sponselli, social media evangelist and community manager, University of California-Berkeley Alumni Association
“For the most part, I agree that the Internet has been a positive force in relationship building. I am connected to more people and have the ability to communicate remotely in both real time and asynchronously. On the other hand, this media is a huge time sink, and I still love getting together with people personally to interact. Technologies like Skype and online learning have mitigated this need somewhat, but I’d still choose to visit someone in another city or sit down to dinner with them. Nothing can ever replace that.” —Christine Hamilton–Pennell, president of Growing Local Economies, Inc.;
“I can see an expansion of more social networking sites, and more that are specialized. I’m not impressed with Facebook, but find others to be useful. Even e-mail has allowed me to interact with many more people in both my business and professional life.” —Gerald Sweitzer, principal at Non-Profit Success, a consultancy providing support and visioning or non-profit and community organizations
“I don’t know too many people who think that e-mail has been a negative force in our social fabric. I get tons of spam and newsletters and advertisements. But I also get personal letters from friends and family. It has allowed me to communicate faster and more often with those I care about. The Internet is continuing to play a vital role in developing these relationships. We’re just still figuring out how to use it.” —Andrew Burnette, a participant who preferred not to share a place of employment or other identity
“Here is the classic ‘third-person response.’ The Internet does not affect me negatively, but it does so for most people. Moderation is the key to avoiding the negative effects now experienced by most young people, but avoided by more discerning older people. This may be merely a generational effect, rather than aging effect, such that when the current youth pass through later life stages they do not experience wise use that leads to positive social relationships. My cohort analysis research finds that generational effects dominate aging or maturational effects when it comes to media. This adds weight to the first scenario, but because many baby boomers will still be alive in 2020, the second option will remain stronger until most of them die off, much to the delight of many young people, I may add, for reasons too complicated to discuss here.” —James A. Danowski, professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, founder of the Communication and Technology Division of the International Communication Association
“As I age and lose my mobility, I expect a number of my friendships and relationships to be maintained online. This won’t be through the social networking sites that we know now, because they will be too commercial; but the web will make it easier to locate other people, and stay in touch over great distances.” —Jarice Hanson, professor at Temple University and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst
“Despite the concerns of teachers, the Internet is very clearly the most powerful communications device yet. Teachers seem to think if kids are ‘chatting’ away in some manner on-line, they are socializing. My parents had the same concern when I spent hours camped out on the phone. Socializing is being in touch with others, regardless.” —Frank S. Kelly, principal and director of planning and programming, SHW Group, architects, planners, engineers
“Social networking and media sites have made it easier to keep track and communicate with friends, colleagues, and loved ones – even at a distance, or after lengthy separations. Further, the ability to plan in a more collaborative and real-time environment (that Facebook and others provide relative to e-mail or text messaging) has only been beneficial for expanding social horizons. As these outlets continue to provide more opportunity to connect and communicate, and as these outlets become more involved in our mobile devices (and thus, more readily available), this effect will only expand further.” —Steve Rozillis, senior digital marketing manager for a major US insurance company
”In 2020, the Internet’s force on social relationships will remain relatively unchanged (at least from a 2010 perspective). The Internet is very good at keeping you updated on distant relations and former friends. Through the net, you can sense (and sometimes see, as it gets spelled out) the network of the social world. However, you can still be lonely, like an individual in a crowded megapolitan street, with only the traces of former connections visible on the net – but don’t blame the net as such.” —Stine Gotved, professor and cybersociologist working with several universities in Denmark and owner of Net:Work
“The use of social media and subsequent increased sharing of personal information will continue to create a more relaxed environment where people are more open about their feelings and opinions thereby establishing a greater number of relationships and drawing more people together.” —Stuart Willoughby, director, USA Service Federal Solutions Division, General Services Administration
“This is another question which is too black-and-white. The shades of grey are likely more true. I am older by ‘net social standards and have the value of experiencing the world from a pre, current, and hopefully future prospective. I have been very active and social throughout my life and continue to be today and will likely do so tomorrow. However, today and tomorrow, my social reach is much wider as a result of the Internet. I am able to communicate and ‘experience’ so much more with so many more than I could even two years ago. I don’t like all aspects of the social ‘net, but the reach is so much better. The social nature of the net allows us to be better informed about friends, and family than ever before. We will all be richer from it.” —Michael Burns, co-founder and principal, i5 web works
“This is a very close call. Every IT innovation has always heralded the death of society, going back to printing presses. Things change, and some feel a loss, while others see a gain.” —Patrick Schmitz, semantic services architect, University of California Berkeley
“Social networking has already been seen to enhance a range of personal relationships and, along with person-to-person communications such as Skype, allow a range of people to communicate freely from anywhere in the world. For some it will have a negative impact on their relationships, but perhaps their relationships (marriages in particular) would not work anyway as they are inclined to infidelity and will use the Internet for the same purpose as the bar or workplace, but this will not mean that more marriages will fail or relationships collapse. Rather, for many relationships will be maintained better by the easy of being able to find out about friends’ lives and interact with them.” —Darren Lilleker, senior lecturer and director of Centre for Public Communication Research, Bournemouth University, UK
“A recent Pew study found that use of social networks on the Internet has decreased feelings of isolation for most people.” —Rob Patton, owner of Enter the Net, an Internet marketing consultancy
“If there is one thing at which the Internet excels, it is connecting people quickly across long distances. While there are things that give the illusion of a thriving social life without really delivering (MySpace, Facebook, etc.), the simple functionality of e-mail, voice over IP, and blogs allows you to stay better connected with the important people in your life than ever before.” —Adam Walton, self-employed
“Social web sites will help us to understand what stands for a real relationship; we will return to the basis of human beings, but with other wisdom.” —Karina Besprosvan, research director for a Latin American media group
“Again, we come back to the important fact that the Internet is only a tool. It is not the utopian magic lamp that will bring light to humanity – whether in access to information or in personal relationships. Because of its reach and power, the Internet can cause positive and negative results to social relationships. It already does. My social world has been improved by reconnections with old friends and colleagues through social networking, but I choose to use the Internet’s abilities thoughtfully and with caution.” —Dave Rogers, managing editor, Yahoo Kids at Yahoo, principal, UXCentric, Inc.
“As it has already, electronic access to people will afford us the opportunity to interrelate in ways never before possible. Just as the telephone and telegraph before it made the world smaller, electronic access through current, developing, and as yet not thought of technologies will expand this access in ways we cannot even imagine (augmented reality? holograms? who knows!).” —Jeff Branzburg, consultant with Teaching Matters, Inc.
“Facebook alone has enabled me to keep up with the lives of relatives that I never hear from otherwise. Those who say that technology has robbed them of personal interaction have not leveraged the social world of the Internet. I do think that using the Internet for socializing depends on whether or not you like to read and write. Some people don’t use it simply because they are hunt-and-peck typists, but that will not be the case in the future. Others just don’t like to read or write, and for some of them, the short communications will be their only use of the Internet. For some of us, it is much easier to express ourselves in writing than it is to talk about issues. There is a danger here, of course and that is that one might write things and push ‘send’ that they would never dare to speak to another – that has both an up and down side to it. Sometimes it is things that need to be said; other times it is things that would be better left unsaid. You need to be judicious when socializing on the Internet.” —Sandra Kelly, market research manager for 3M Company
“The Internet has enabled me to make many new friends and acquaintances. Often these are people who are quite different to myself (different geographic location, life experiences, age, etc.) and this has helped broaden my opinions and perspectives.” —Heath Gibson, competitor intelligence specialist at a media communications company
“As a researcher, I sent numerous articles to my close friends and relatives that I feel is of importance to them. Through Facebook, I am able to keep up with events in relative’s lives and see my grandson frequently via Skype. LinkedIn has provided a networking system for like minds and interests. My research for leadership and ethics courses and professional associations provide immediate data and resources for higher academic learning. The Internet has been a tremendous positive experience for my family and me. The benefits outweigh the vulnerabilities and dangerous areas on the Internet. Using and reinforcing prudence on the Internet is important.” —Thomas Creely, associate director of the Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility at the Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University and principal at Creely Consulting, LLC
“The Net, social networking, etc. have not had an impact, pro or con, on me personally. Professionally, yes, the impact has been positive overall, as I can get more work done more easily (I’m a writer). On the other hand, as an older guy (52), I remember the pre-computer days when people actually talked on the phone or met in rooms. I increasingly strive to get conversations off of e-mail and into the real world, and I find doing so is a plus for productivity and politics. E-mail is a huge waste of time, because people use it improperly. So, the net-net is neutral for me.” —Rich Levin, senior vice president and editor-in-chief of Gregory FCA Communications
“In my immediate circles I have experienced an equal amount of positive and negative impacts on my social life as a direct or indirect result of the Internet. I choose the negative outlook because I think that it allows for people to be less social than they should be. It is true that some introverted people can find an outlet to the outside world via the Internet, but overall the Internet causes more introversion than extroversion. People are likely to stay at home and become more and more anti-social, or just simply socially inept (not necessarily in the immediate future, but over the years this will eventually happen).” —Liz Miller, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, no other details provided
“Web-based social networking can and does gravitate toward both poles, increasing negative isolation among those who are prone to isolation, and opening windows of communication and sharing among the socially adept. Social networking also offers unparalleled opportunity for the shy, the withdrawn, and the physically isolated to reach out into the web and cultivate friendships and other personal relationships. By 2020, the concept of building and nurturing relationships outside the physical realm will be fully integrated into human behavior. To our advantage, this web-based social structure will be free of the novelty that drives today’s practitioners to obsessively text, twit, and gather. In place of manic distraction, the employment of audio-visual Internet connections will gravitate toward balance and practicality.” —Ebenezer Baldwin Bowles, founder and managing editor of corndancer.com, an independent online journal and cyber community, writer, activist and teacher
“The ability to include more of my friends and family in my ongoing social and political conversations makes for a better, more interesting world to live in than one predetermined for me by megacorporate bottom lines. Much more positive every step of the way.” —Bill Trzeciak, librarian, Glendale (CA) Public Library
“This question has been probed since my days on The WELL and ECHO. Most humans are social. The use of the Internet has done a lot to shrink the actual distance between family and friends and allows an expansion to new cultural experiences. The way we interact is always evolving and has impact on the drive for knowledge, understanding, and communication.” —Tery Spataro, CEO and founder of Mindarrays Consulting
“I think on a mostly superficial level, the Internet ‘improves’ social connections and relations by enabling me to reconnect with old friends, etc. (Facebook mantra). But I truly think that most of the social ‘relations’ online are extremely facile and not enduring. Real social connections are still done between people.” —Aspen Aman, a business development manager in the Middle East
“The Internet has changed the social communications norm, and people who don’t use the Internet will become socially and technologically marooned. I have met more people face-to-face as a result of the Internet than I did before the Internet.” —Robert Lunn, principal of FocalPoint Analytics and senior researcher for USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future, formerly director of surveys at J.D. Power and Associates
“While my social circle is much larger than before the Internet (or than it would be without it), the depth of interaction is probably less. That is, quantity at the expense of quality. Pre-net, I shared much more information with far fewer people. Now, it’s more of a general information broadcast most of the time. Shallow? Probably. The possibilities for greater community interaction are exciting, but the reality has been that people are too quick to polarize when so much daily communication is faceless and anonymous.” —Mark Richmond, technologist for US District Courts, founding board member of the National Online Media Association (1993)
“More interconnection does not mean less social isolation. Furthermore, the Internet has the potential to exacerbate schizophrenic personalities, with one personality in cyberspace and one in the challenging realm of human relations.” —Lorenzo Moreno, senior researcher, Mathematica Policy Research, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
“The breadth of relationships (number of folks we can connect to) significantly increases with use of social media. The depth is debatable and subjectively difficult to measure.” —Paige Beal, assistant professor, Point Park University School of Business
“We will all have more relationships of a superficial nature, but just because such relationships lack depth does not mean they lack value. Speaking for myself, I now have regular e-mail contact with two high school friends I had lost touch with for over 30 years. The Internet made that possible. I’ve been approached and have established contact with one of the grand daughters of an uncle on my father’s side, that would never have been possible pre-Net, since my father was the only one in his family to have moved from Europe to America, and since the death of my father and his siblings there had been no contact between the two branches of the family. We don’t need to be best friends to be friends. And with time we can develop deeper relationships. Tools like texting can help people be closer, if used with some sense of judgment.” —Gregory Zerovnik, marketing and public relations director for the San Bernardino County Library
”I am a 100% disabled vet. Before I became 100% I lived in the Middle East, from 1986 on. If it weren’t for the Internet I could not have survived a quarter of a century away from libraries, classical music, collegial relationships in my profession, democracy, and educated friends… Since the Internet, I have found friends I had lost 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago. I get to see students’ kids and wives and husbands and partners, and can be safely ‘out’ on Facebook. I have visitors from every continent I have met through hosting web sites, read books I couldn’t buy, heard music not for sale, and on and on.” —Isa Kocher, social Internet user
“I actually think the answer to this one is a mixed bag. In some cases, the use of online social networks have helped to solidify or improve social relationships. It makes it easier for people to stay in touch and share what’s going on in their lives. That said, I also see these social networks degrading in-person social relationships and as a result can make some relationships more superficial. I get peeved when I’m at a party and people are sitting there texting the entire time. Interestingly, I think we’re getting to a pendulum shift. I think the use of social networks has gotten so extreme, that now the pendulum is starting to swing back towards the side of in-person social relationships. I’ve observed young people who talk about having a dinner party as if it were a new, cool, and hip thing to do. This gives me hope, because as with everything, the true place for the pendulum to sit is somewhere in the middle. We’re learning when it’s appropriate to use these social tools to enhance our relationships, and when it is not.” —Joni Podolsky, community engagement specialist
“I have reconnected with old friends, kept up with colleagues, and remain in touch with college-aged children in a manner that exceeds previous technology (phone, visits, mail). I cannot say that the Internet enhances my marriage as much, so it might have the most positive impact on relationships with people who do not live with you.” —Margot Malachowski, outreach librarian at a teaching hospital
“The Internet is enabling re-connections and new connections in ways not envisioned when it was launched. These connections become deeper, broader, and more meaningful as we get to know others from a broader set of insights as their full persona is enabled by the Internet.” —Paul Gibler, principal consultant, ConnectingDots
“For me, the Internet has a positive effect on my social world. But I spend way more time online than the average Internet user, and I’m not necessarily sure that Internet is the big saver of social relationships for people in general. We still need to see more evidence of how social capital is transforming networks online, compared to offline.” —Bente Kalsnes, communication advisor at Origo.no and online journalist
“As a ‘critical’ Facebook user, I must admit that I have renewed friendships that have been lost for decades. However, my most-connected relationships are still those that I have originated face-to-face. Current research seems to bear this out for most people as well who are deeply involved with various social networking sites. I see these sites as alienating us more from real social relationships.” —Anthony Spina, communication, director of the master of arts program in corporate and organizational communication at Farleigh Dickinson University
“The Internet is a reflection of humans’ need to interact and communicate in ways that they prefer, with the twist that it allows doing so globally and at relatively low cost. As such, the Internet does not unhinge the social world as we know it, but rather strengthens it. What is crucial however is that humans still live in their immediate personal/physical societies, whose fabric cannot be supplanted by global virtual societies that the Internet allows: It will be up to individuals to make the choice regarding striking a reasonable balance to support both.” —Wojciech Dec, a network consulting engineer within the Edge Engineering Group of Cisco’s Internet Technologies Division
“A recent 40th high school reunion had the best attendance of any reunion thus far. I credit this to Facebook. The reunion committee had made an effort to contact everyone a year prior to the event. The connection and buy-in was huge. As my adult children tell me, you never lose touch with anyone anymore. As much as we all move around due to work and recreation you have stayed in touch with everyone via social media and dropping in when in town is a more natural thing. Yes, I think we will all be more in touch through social media.” —Deborah Pederson, chief Learn & Earn Online Officer, North Carolina Virtual Public School
“I wouldn’t have met my wife without the Internet. A full third of the guests at my wedding were people I met on the Internet. That being said, I think the way people are using the Internet is starting to change. In the past, Internet relationships were based on searching out other users based on some shared commonality; a favorite band, a certain author, a particular fetish. Now, Internet relationships, especially as found on Facebook and the like, are more about replicating existing offline social networks; you friend your cousins and the guy who sat behind you in seventh grade, but you don’t go out looking for total strangers to be friends with. That’s just weird. I think things will come around again, and the current (and the next) generation of Internet users will come back to interest-based online friendship networks, especially as online gaming rises in popularity.” —Cenate Pruitt, graduate student, department of sociology, Georgia State University
“The increase in socialization afforded us by the Internet can only be positive for the human condition. It is how we grow.” —Jack Holt, senior strategist for emerging media, Department of Defense, Defense Media Activity, chief of new media operations, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
“Over the past 10-15 years, the Internet has grown around social networks and personal connections. When I look at how I have interacted with the Internet, much of it is for communication. From IRC and newsgroups in the ‘old days’ to Facebook and blogs today, the types of interaction have essentially remained the same. The tools, however, have improved, and the number of people using them has grown. I only see this as continuing over the next 10 years as technology is improved and developed.” —Colin Walker, marketing coordinator for the City of Bellevue, Washington
“The Internet is not a replacement for face-to-face-to-face. Face-to-face is not an alternative to Internet. These things are intertwined. I have yet to meet anybody who thinks that their 40,000 close friends on Twitter and Facebook are real. (I hope I never do!) It’s easy to be dumb and accept the new Facebook public disclosure scam, caveat emptor. Some of those who have had bad experiences could have prevented them with a little forethought. Will relations improve? Hell yes, for the smart people who figure out what the technology can and can’t do for them!” —Mike Gale, director of decision-support systems, Decision Engineering Pty Ltd.
“While I don’t think the Internet will solve most relationship problems, I do believe it has the potential to significantly improve the condition of those suffering from loneliness, including, but not limited to the elderly. This will be particularly true as more local communities and networks use Internet tools to help them connect physically.” —Derek Hansen, director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Communities and Information at the University of Maryland
“The connecting interests allowed (and indeed enhanced) by the Internet means we all will have relationships at different levels on different subjects, regardless of physical boundaries. Or put another way, my major interest is not necessarily the neighborhood I live in, or the place where I work. My major interest(s) may be in completely unrelated areas over a wide diversity of fields. The Internet allows me to pursue those interests.” —Michael Castenegra, senior lecturer at the Grady College of Journalism, University of Georgia, and president at Media Strategies and Tactics, Inc.
“The Internet will, in particular, provide a common repository of knowledge shared among my social relations. It will ‘capture’ the strength and depth of our relationship, provide a history.” —Peter Rawsthorne, learning systems architect and council member, WikiEducator, IT team lead and solutions architect, Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia
“There will always be Internet users who selectively ‘isolate’ themselves from a wide range of activities independent of the Internet, but the vast majority of Internet users will use computer technologies to enhance a wide range of interpersonal relationships. This will be especially true for sub-populations with special needs, such as patients with rare diseases. The Internet will allow them to access information and to find peer support, and at the same time, will point them in directions for enhanced social support in their communities – whether that is the local, regional or national levels.” —Linda Keegan, social worker
“The Internet will have a more positive than negative impact on social relations, but a minor impact. Weak social ties will be maintained, but people will start being less forthcoming with their personal information online due to privacy/marketing fears.”—Michael Zimmer, assistant professor of media, culture and communication, School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
“The Internet is both a tool and pastime. Like a pastime, when my first life gets busy my second life takes a back seat. This is by choice. As a tool, the Internet helps me reconnect and stay connected to people, but it also carries with it the responsibility of past relationships. Like any tool, it all comes down to the intent and morality of the person using it. Again, it is a choice. For me the Internet has been a positive choice, because how I’ve chosen to use it has been in ways that I think have made my life better.” —Chad Davis, director of production and project development at the Center for Innovative Media at George Washington University
“The Internet has provided us with an entirely new form, or concept, of social relations. In addition to being new, it is optional. This can only be regarded as a positive.” —Andrew Stulac, account manager, ISL Web Marketing & Development
“Personally, the Web has greatly improved maintaining my weak ties (work, past friends and acquaintances, distant relatives), and it has slightly helped to enhance my stronger ties (family, closest friends, current coworkers). Generally, it feels like there is little need for the ‘how have you been?’ types of initial conversations, and we are more honed in on specific contexts, which is good. I believe the web is enabling ‘connected’ people to have a better understanding of each other and our unique contexts, which helps communication.” —Paul DiPerna, research director at Foundation for Educational Choice, conducting surveys, polling, Internet/social media projects
“The Internet doesn’t replace face-to-face communication, but it helps friends, spouses, and colleagues stay in touch in between face-to-face conversations. However, no force can make my kids ‘friend’ me on Facebook. Maybe this is a ‘positive’ in their twentysomething social world, but it’s a ‘negative’ in mine. Maybe this will change when my kids hit thirtysomething.” —Greg Jarboe, president and co-founder, SEO-PR, Search Engine Watch Blog, Market Motive, ChannelOne Marketing Group
“I have more friends and more sustained social relationships due to being online. They are deeper, more nuanced, more socially interconnected and more satisfying. Seeing someone periodically is nothing to being in constant intimate communication with a circle of friends. Of course, many people don’t really want this. They have nothing to say or share, so they don’t like the energy or effort required to actually communicate in a meaningful manner, and think that mere physical proximity is sufficient. In 2020, we will be expected to be able to think and communicate with our friends and family, and if we have nothing to say it will be rather obvious.” —Jason Nolan, assistant professor, Ryerson University, and founding co-editor of the journal Learning Inquiry
“The Internet provides a new array of tools that help carry on relationships and they merely supplement other tools already at our disposal. That’s a good thing because it allows us to be more nuanced in the ways we interact with others. And, of course, the Internet allows us to meet and interact with people who we would have otherwise been unable to meet.” —Sean O’Leary, president of MarketLab, Inc.
“Social networks have already enabled people to broadly expand their personal networks, to reconnect with past friends, and to stay in touch more easily with family and friends. However the ‘reconnect’ element of social networks will fade over time, as they enable today’s younger users to never actually lose touch with people from high school, college, etc. But as people come to realize that it’s not the quantity of interactions, but rather the quality of interactions, to the race to the largest number of ‘friends’ will cease. At this point, the Internet and social networks will settle into the next generation of telephone and e-mail for keeping people connected.” —Chris Marriott, vice president and global managing director, Acxiom Corp.
“The Internet is a part of my social world and allows my social network to be a bit broader than just those people I encounter on a daily or weekly basis. In the sense that the social network is slightly expanded while my regular relationships remain the same, I see this as a net increase. In general, I think people live in a blended reality involving online worlds and in-person worlds, and these worlds will continue to bleed over into each other more heavily.” —Mary McFarlane, behavioral research scientist, US Centers for Disease Control
“This is not a simple either-or question. Social relations won’t get better or worse, they’ll get different. Since we don’t have many good measures of the ‘goodness’ of social relations, measuring what’s changed in 2020 is going to be very difficult at any rate. Most of the research shows that social networking tools help expand the range of weak ties while not affecting the strong ties. But mobile communications has already had a huge positive impact on the strong ties – we stay in much closer contact with our family members and close friends than ever before. I envision a world in which these tools will give us more or less all the capabilities that in mythology were attributed to telepaths – we’ll be able to transmit thoughts more or less instantly to as small or large a group as we choose. There’s not way to predict what we’ll say though, so its hard to forecast whether that will be a good or bad thing.” —Anthony Townsend, director of technology development and research director at The Institute for the Future
“The question presents a false dichotomy: Technology has no impact whatsoever in the long term on human relationships. What it does is to facilitate some aspects of it for a time (thoughts with letters, speech with telephony, updates with social networks, nearness-awareness with geo-location, etc.) at the expense of outrunning the etiquette and courtesy protocols of the previous generation (disturbance during dinner time with telephony, privacy, and discretion with social networks and geo-location, etc.). Over time, etiquette catches up (or evolves), but efficiency advances elsewhere. But throughout, people remain responsible for their human connections – i.e., the commitments in time and trust they make to others and their expectations of reciprocity.” —Andreas Kluth, California correspondent, The Economist
“I’m too old to answer this question. Since I bought my first computer (a Kaypro) computers have been part of my life, and I felt no huge change when I began using the Internet in the early ’90s. My kids have been online since birth, so their social lives haven’t been ‘changed’ by the Internet, either – it’s just always been there. My son away at school continues his relationship with his friends and family at home almost uninterrupted. My son in high school is as close in January to the friends he sees only in the summers as he is in July. Both have met and befriended people far away from our home. Sometimes their friends are in our house talking, watching TV or playing games. Other times they’re somewhere else, but they’re still talking, watching TV, or playing games together. They navigate the online social universe as easily as I drive my well-worn path to the office.” —Walt Dickie, executive vice president of C&R Research
“Facebook is wonderful for documenting your closest friendships – uploading photos of group events, playing games and writing on walls is a great supplemental way to keep in touch. It also allows me to keep up with ‘acquaintances’ better than I would, I’m at least casually aware of where people live and what they do and that may make me more likely to contact them. Beyond that, it’s a big detriment to social relations and I only see it getting worse. High school and college reunions will likely wither away in the coming decade. Why show up at a reunion if you already have a complete record of the goings-on of everyone you ever went to school with? If you asked me ten years ago what a friend from high school was up to, I might call him. If you ask me today, I’ll search him on Google, browse for thirty seconds and make a snap judgment. I think social networks are going to seriously hurt social relations outside of your closest friends. I can be friends with my grandmother on Facebook, and she can see my photos, but, does that mean we’re actually communicating or connecting? I don’t think it does.” —Davis Fields, product manager, Nokia
“Social relations skills, like intelligence, jave already begun trending downward. This is evinced by teenagers’ inability to ask for a date using the telephone or (heaven forbid) face to face, instead opting to hide behind the mask of an overwrought text message that shows no emotion.” —A. Nelius, an electronic hardware engineer for a large government contractor
“For family and close friends, the Internet has had very little effect; the cell phone has been the biggest technology innovation in terms of bringing people into contact. But for long-lost high school friends and professional colleagues, I have seen a positive influence from social networking sites and e-mail.” —Peter Norvig, engineering director, Google, former division chief of computational sciences at NASA
“When I look at the friendships and networks I have around the planet, they just wouldn’t be possible without the Internet. It’s the Internet that has made these social relationships possible and that keeps them alive. This will only become more true in the future.” —Mark Surman, executive director, Mozilla Foundation
“Like the question about Google, this one is more about our choices than our technology. I don’t worry about people losing touch with friends and family. We’ll continue to honor the human needs that have been hard-wired into us over the millions of years of evolution. I do think technologies ranging from e-mail to social networks can help us make new friends and collaborate over long distances. I do worry that social norms aren’t keeping up with technology. For instance, it’s hard to turn down a ‘friend’ request on a social network, particularly from someone you know, and even harder to ‘unfriend’ someone. We’ve got to learn that these things are OK to do. And we have to be able to partition our groups of contacts as we do in real life (work, church, etc.). More sophisticated social networks will probably evolve to reflect our real relationships more closely, but people have to take the lead and refuse to let technical options determine how they conduct their relationships.” —Andy Oram, editor and blogger, O’Reilly Media
“The Internet is an excellent venue for personal links to prosper and grow – this was predicted by Licklider and Taylor already in 1968. However, it will become difficult to hide and be forgotten, which is rather scary. We will learn to value our privacy.” —Charlie Breindahl, webmaster and lecturer, Danish Centre for Design Research
“I am increasingly able to reach people I could never have spoken with before the Internet. This lessening of geographic barriers doesn’t preclude relationships I could have had before – just changes them. Being able to ‘Facebook’ a person, or read their tweets doesn’t mean that I’ve lost a relationship. It just means a different relationship – one less focused on small talk, and the mundane, more on social faux pas and the current experience.” —Joey Baker, self-employed
“Look at how attached kids are to their technology and their need to connect to each other. Maybe we will create a hive of thoughts and feelings in 2020 with each thought being under 140 characters.” —Louis L. Vigliotti, Great Neck Public Schools
“The Internet will not be without its downside in social relationships. But surely nobody would claim they love their parents less because the move out of the house and go to a city far away to work. The Internet will make those distant loved ones remain part of the fabric of our lives. However, it will definitely make those competing for attention in the physical proximity have to work harder to get noticed.” —Zachary Foley, director of technology for Eclipse Advertising
“The Net is connecting and even unifying people in positive ways that were never before possible. It is fueling revolutions on a scale ranging from the personal to national and international.” —Seth Grimes, founder of the data-systems architecture and design company Alta Plana Corporation and a columnist for Intelligent Enterprise magazine
“Little will change because of the Internet, as human relations depend on other factors mostly. However for those inclined to do good and community activities, the technologies will act as a facilitator.” —Seiiti Arata, staff, Internet Governance Forum secretariat, United Nations
“The Internet multiplies/magnifies our social abilities/activities. Those who keep in touch with others can do so with much less time and effort. Those who don’t want to keep in touch or connect with others still have the ability to refrain from participating. It’s much easier for me to keep in touch with my daughter (22) than it was for my mother to keep in touch we me at that age. I can send her a text message and it’s easy for her to reply. There are no strings attached, emotional or otherwise.” —Kate LeGrand, senior professor, Broward College
“Hundreds of people show up for a high school 40th reunion. The nagging was done that would have been impossible 10 years ago. Blogging is linking strangers and old friends (‘No need to send me a newsy holiday letter this year – I’ve been reading your blog every morning so I’m fairly up to date on your life’) and allowing for a cross pollination of ideas and suggestions and information that was unthinkable 10 years ago. I am closer to far-flung friends due to email and Facebook (single fastest growing demographic is women over 50!) and I am able to keep track of what interests my nieces and nephews in ways I couldn’t have 10 years ago. My 87-year-old mother has a Facebook page. She can see her Middle East-traveling granddaughter’s life unfold with online photos. Sick family members have their status updates delivered immediately and typed only once; we all feel closer and more able to know what to do to help. People who live their lives only in the online world will continue to do so, but there have always been those people. Most of us will use it as an adjunct and not a replacement for real life. It’s just expanding my sphere in my everyday life.” —Susan Hileman, self-described “domestic goddess,” retired
“The Internet is a network of social groups. If you don’t understand that now, it might be too late. The Internet is one of the lubricants that allows globalization to accelerate.” —Bob Calder, multimedia and Internet teacher in the emergent technology magnet school at Dillard High School in Ft. Lauderdale, FL
“The Internet will continue to bring people closer to each other. Instead of one-to-one relations, we can time-shift core information one-to-many and focus real time on deepening existing relationships.” —R. Ray Wang, partner in The Altimeter Group, blogger on enterprise strategy
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