Elon University

Survey XI 2020 + Analysis

‘The Future of Democracy,’ ‘Future of Social and Civic Innovation’ and an analysis of forecasts for 2020

In three reports, innovators, technologists, analysts and professionals assess trends and imagine the future, sharing thousands of insightful responses that identify challenges and illuminate hopes.

In 2020 Elon University and Pew Research released three reports. Two were based on their 11th canvassing of experts since the early 2000s. It asked participants to share their thoughts in answer to two series of questions. The first series probed their perspectives on “The Future of Democracy in the Digital Age.” The second asked them to consider “The Future of Social and Civic Innovation.” The third report, “2020 Digital Life: Predictions in Retrospect,” is an analysis of previous research questions asked between 2005 and 2011 about what, based on trends at those earlier times, was likely to transpire by 2020.

“The Future of Democracy in the Digital Age” – Released February 21, 2020

How are humans’ uses and abuse of digital technologies impacting democracy? This report shares thousands of insightful replies to the following questions:

“Between now and 2030, how will use of technology by citizens, civil society groups and governments affect core aspects of democracy and democratic representation? Will they mostly weaken core aspects of democracy and democratic representation, mostly strengthen core aspects of democracy and democratic representation or not much change in core aspects of democracy and democratic representation? Please explain your response. What do you expect democracy to look like in 2030 from the perspective of citizens? What aspects of essential democratic institutions will change? What role will technology play in whatever changes take place?”

Nearly half of these experts, about 49%, said that humans’ use of technology will weaken core aspects of democracy and democratic representation between now and 2030. A third, about 33%, expect use of technology to mostly strengthen democracy, while 18% say there will be no significant change on this front in the next decade. Respondents’ thoughtful in-depth insights – their concerns and their hopes – are detailed in this 118-page report.

“The Future of Social and Civic Innovation” – Released June 30, 2020

What can we expect over the next decade when it comes to social and civic innovation? This 131-page report shares thousands of insightful replies to the following questions:

“Today’s ‘techlash’ illuminates the issues that have surfaced in the digital era. We seek your insights as to whether and how reforms to ease these problems and others might unfold. Will significant social and civic innovation occur between now and 2030, yes or no? Will humans’ use of technology lead to or prevent significant social and civic innovation? (By ‘social and civic innovation’ we mean the creation of things like new technology tools, legal protections, social norms, new or reconfigured groups and communities, educational efforts and other strategies to address digital-age challenges.) Please respond by selecting one of these: Technology use will contribute to social and civic innovation that significantly mitigates problems of the digital age; Technology use will prevent social and civic innovation from significantly overcoming the negatives of the digital age; Technology use will have no effect on social and civic innovation. Please explain your response. If you see no relief, why? If you see success in social and civic innovation as likely, how might it come to pass and what kinds of new groups, systems and tools will be created?”

A majority – 84% – predicted there will be significant social and civic innovation between 2020 and 2030 in response to the recent techlash, while 16% said there will not be significant social and civic innovation in the timeframe. And, in answer to the follow-up question about the effectiveness of such innovation, 20% of 646 respondents predicted that technology use will effectively prevent significant mitigation of problems, while 69% said technology use will help significantly mitigate problems and 11% responded that it is likely that technology use will have no effect.

“Analysis: Predicting the Internet 2020” – Released December 29, 2020

How did experts expect 2020 to look when they were asked 10-15 years ago? This report from Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center isolates eight topics on which experts weighed in with their thoughts when surveyed between 2005 and 2011 after being asked to estimate what digital life might be like in 2020. Among the topics: human intelligence, social tolerance, the relationship between tech firms and government, organizational effectiveness and work/home life balance.

The report features new interviews with a few of the thousands of experts who responded to the original questions. New insights about what change over the past 10-15 years might mean for the near future are included from Nicholas Carr, Jamais Cascio, Christine Boese, David Clark, Stowe Boyd, Susan Mernit, ‘Gbenga Sesan, Louis Nauges and Stephen Downes. Experts who offered updated views said that the internet’s overwhelming impact on humans’ intelligence and emotional condition were vastly underappreciated.