Elon University

The 2012 Survey

2020? Eight reports reveal nearly 8,000 predictions
Results of the latest Future of the Internet Survey

Click on highlighted words:

 1) Generation Always-On to benefit and suffer due to hyperconnected lives

 2) The Web is dead? No, experts expect apps, Web to converge in the cloud

3) Mobile revolution driving move to ‘cash in the cloud,’ e-wallets, e-money

4) Expect ‘game layers’ to expand with positive and negative effects

5) Tech-advanced homes will evolve slowly due to systems’ complexity, costs

6) Corporate Social Responsibility: How far will tech firms go in helping repressive regimes?

7) Experts predict big potential for ‘Big Data’ – and they project many problems, too

8) Economy expected to push higher education’s future to a massive/personal divide

The eighth of eight reports – released July 27 – is about the potential future of higher education: Will the traditional methods of the world’s universities be much more displaced by new technologically based approaches? Will we see mass adoption of teleconferencing and online learning to leverage expert resources, individualized-learning, hybrid courses with online and in-person elements, and new assessments of learning and other customization of the educational experience that take individually-oriented outcomes into account? Or will we not see much evolution and mostly the “traditional” approach in 2020?

These reports were written by co-authors Janna Quitney Anderson, director of the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University, and Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, to capture current attitudes about the likely future in order to inform policy and provide a historic record of society’s views of its technological evolution.

The 1,021 survey participants include leading activists, commentators, researchers, Internet and Web architects, technologists, policy experts, educators, information officers, academics, and others. They were asked to compare thought-provoking pairs of one-paragraph statements tied to each of the eight survey questions.

Each of these “tension pairs” offered two different 2020 scenarios with a similar theme but different outcomes. Survey participants were asked to select the most-likely choice and elaborate on their decisions.

The content of the tension pairs was built from common attitudes expressed in the popular and trade press today about the likely evolution of the Internet.

The study was designed to elicit focused observations about the potential future impact and influence of the Internet; respondents’ written elaborations – the qualitative results – are the most valuable data gathered by the study. This is a snapshot look today at people’s current attitudes about tomorrow.

We have built this site to share links to thousands of responses from concerned digital citizens, with our deepest thanks to the survey participants for contributing to this repository of thoughtful responses that add to the conversations about our future.

A few more details about the surveys already released in 2012:

  • What is the likely future of Generation Always-On by 2020? Experts say the next generation of young people to follow the teens-to-20s youth now known as the Millennial generation will benefit and suffer from their ‘always-on’ lives, from their amazing ability to juggle many tasks to their thirst for instant gratification. The survey reveals people’s thoughts, their hopes and their fears.
  • What is the potential future of the Web and the mobile apps revolution by 2020? In 2010 Wired magazine projected the possible decline of the World Wide Web due to apps’ ascendance in a cover story dramatically headlined The Web Is Dead. Experts responding to this survey say the Web will be alive and well in 2020. They expect the Web and apps to converge in the cloud, with positive and negative results. They say simplicity for users will come at a cost and that efforts to monetize online interactions will continue to create bottlenecks and possibly significantly reduce open access to knowledge.
  • What is the potential future of monetary transactions? What IS your ‘wallet’ in 2020? Will the infrastructure be built out and will society have embraced the use of smart-device swiping, nearly eliminating the need for cash or credit cards? Or will the new technological approaches to monetary exchange lead to a dead-end or possibly a different innovation? Stakeholders surveyed say mobile devices are the future of money and most 2020 smartphones are likely to be e-wallets that automatically access “cash” in the cloud. Some experts say the financial industry will slow the trend significantly.
  • Getting into the gamification? This report takes a look at how survey respondents answered a question about the use of game mechanics, feedback loops, and rewards to spur interaction and boost engagement, loyalty, fun, or learning. By 2020 will game layers play a role in some way in the everyday activities of most of the people who are actively using communications networks? The experts’ were split on how prevalent gamification will be; many said people do not like to be “gamed”; some said game mechanics are already embedded in the ways in which people use and respond through online interactivity, and by that definition people are implementing game layers; some say “serious games” are a key to problem solving through collective intelligence and the future of education.
  • The fate of smart systems: Will the connected household in 2020 be a model of efficiency in which people are able to manage consumption of electricity, water, food, bandwidth to work to save money and be envinonmentally sustainable? Or are there too many hurdles for such approaches to be widely adopted by many people liviing in connected homes?
  • The potential future of corporate responsibility: By 2020, will technology firms take more or less responsibility to protect individual citizens and human rights? Will they tend to make decisions mostly based on profit motives and pleasing those in power, even filtering and editing their services on behalf of the worlds’ authoritarian regimes? Respondents were split when it came to imagining how they expect technology firms will perform between now and 2020 when confronted with situations in which some profits can be made only when they follow rules set by authoritarian governments.
  • What is the likely future of Big Data? Will human and machine analysis of large data sets and the rollout of sensors and more IP-enabled objects be a primarily positive boon to our social, political, and economic intelligence by 2020, or will the rise of Big Data become a big negative for society? While leading technologists and researchers around the world look forward to the positive impact of Big Data, many also worry about potential drawbacks. Streams of informaiton will make us more nimble and adaptive, however, they say they are concerned that “humanity’s dashboard” is in government and corporate hands, and they point out that numbers can lie.

Again, our thanks go to the many people who shared their hopes and fears for the future in answering this survey.

Pew and Imagining LogoSAMPLE: Here’s a selection of quote excerpts from the thousands of predictions in the 2012 report about expectations for the teens-to-20s age group – Generation AO – and the human impact of people’s uses of the Internet by 2020:

“There is no doubt that brains are being rewired.” —danah boyd, Microsoft Research

“We will see significant, positive, and even astounding improvements in the cognitive abilities of young people.”
—Dave Rogers, Yahoo Kids

“Work will be dominated by fast-moving, geographically diverse, free-agent teams of workers connected via socially mediating technologies.” —Fred Stutzman, Carnegie Mellon

“The replacement of memorization by analysis will be the biggest boon to society since the coming of mass literacy.” —Paul Jones, UNC-Chapel Hill

“When these young people remake our educational institutions…a greater amount of information will be used to produce positive outcomes for society.” —Morley Winograd, co-author of Millennial Momentum

“Teens find distraction…[we will need] silence zones, time-out zones, meditation classes without mobile, lessons in ignoring people.”
Marcel Bullinga, futurist

“Society is becoming conditioned into dependence on technology in ways that, if that technology suddenly disappears or breaks down, will render people functionally useless.”
Richard Forno, cybersecurity expert

“Short attention spans resulting from quick interactions will be detrimental to focusing on the harder problems and we will probably see a stagnation in many areas.” —Alvaro Retana, distinguished technologist, HP

“[When] the social currency of being able to say ‘I was there first’ rises, we will naturally devalue retrospective reflection and the wisdom it imparts.” —Stephen Masiclat, Syracuse University

“How we can help today’s kids to prepare for that world—the world they will actually live in and help to create—instead of the world we are already nostalgic for?” —Alexandra Samuel, Social + Interactive Media Centre

“Digital reputations will be judged by the level of leveraged meaningful activities one leads, and one is directly involved in advocacy for. Just-in-time, inquiry-based learning dynamics will evolve.” —Frank Odasz, expert on 21st century workforce

“Each new advance in knowledge and technology represents an increase in power, and the corresponding moral choices that go with that power.”
Martin Owens Jr., Internet law attorney

“Creativity, demand for high stimulus, rapidly changing environments, and high agency (high touch) will be what makes the next revolution of workers for jobs they will invent themselves, changing our culture entirely at a pace that will leave many who choose not to evolve in the dust.” —Alan Bachers, director, Neurofeedback Foundation

“High activity in online environments, particularly games, expends any political will or desire to effectively shape the environment so that there is none of that will left for engaging in our actual political environment.” —Sandra Braman, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

“Centralized powers that can control access to the Internet will be able to significantly control future generations…Future regimes may use control of access to the Internet to shape and limit thought.” —Paul Gardner-Stephen, director, Serval Project

“I have hope for improved collaboration from these new differently ‘wired’ brains, for these teens and young adults are learning in online environments where working together and developing team skills allows them to advance.” —Perry Hewitt, Harvard University

“We will renorm to the new tools. We have always had mall rats and we’ve had explorers. Ideally, people will improve their critical thinking skills to use the available raw information. More likely, fads will continue.”
Bob Frankston, computing pioneer and ACM Fellow

“Whatever happens, we won’t be able to come up with an impartial value judgment because the change in intellect will bring about a change in values as well.” —David Weinberger, Harvard Library Innovation Lab

A selection of anonymous comments:

“I wonder if we will even be able to sustain attention on one thing for a few hours—going to a classical concert or film, for instance. Will concerts be reduced to 30 minutes? Will feature-length films become anachronistic?”

“With deregulation, consolidation of media ownership and control, and the acceptance of capitalism as natural and inevitable, learning styles and attention spans are headed toward the inability to think critically. Trends in education, social activities, and entertainment all make more likely a future of passive consumers of information.”

“Popular tools allow us to move at a pace that reinforces rapid cognition rather than more reflective and long-term analysis. I fear that market forces and draconian policies will drive the technology/media interface.”

“We have landed in an electronics age where communications technologies are evolving much more quickly than the minds that are producing them and the social structures that must support them. We are not taking the time to evaluate or understand these technologies, and we aren’t having serious conversations about what effects these new tools have on us.”

“Parents and kids will spend less time developing meaningful and bonded relationships in deference to the pursuit and processing of more and more segmented information competing for space in their heads, slowly changing their connection to humanity.”

“How/why should we expect the next generation to be ‘different’ (implication = more evolved/better) when they’re raised in a culture increasingly focused on instant gratification with as little effort as possible?”

“Fast-twitch wiring among today’s youth generally leads to more harm than good. Much of the communication and media consumed in an ‘always-on’ environment is mind-numbing chatter. While we may see increases in productivity, I question the value of what is produced.”