A cinema & television arts major conducted ethnographic interviews as part of ongoing research on the future of the Internet.
As technology continues to evolve and more people rely on the Internet to stay connected, it’s beneficial to know what works well or poses problems and the best actions to take to ensure future developments of the Internet are positive.
Elon University junior Mia Watkins was part of a five-student research team that conducted interviews with top Internet leaders to find out the Internet’s status and likely future. Watkins shares the results of that research, “Global Leaders Reiterate Historic Internet Principles as Crucial to Its Future Evolution,” on April 28 at the Spring Undergraduate Research Forum during CELEBRATE! Week 2015.
“We are such a wired community,” said Watkins, who is a Communications Fellow. “It’s crucial that we are wired. We have to use email for work and school. We have to use the Internet for so many things. I think if we are using it so much that it’s important to know how it’s evolving.”
Along with Skyler Cowans ’15, Adrianne Haney ’14, Brian Mezerski ’15 and Jason Puckett ’14, Watkins conducted video interviews in April 2014 with 28 people who were attending the Internet Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Hong Kong. The participants interviewed included 2014 Internet Hall of Fame inductees and members of the Internet Engineering Task Force and Internet Society Board of Directors.
The students worked under the guidance of mentor, Anthony Hatcher, associate professor of communications, and Janna Anderson, professor of communications and director of Imagining the Internet Center.
After recording and transcribing more than five hours of interviews, the research focused on responses regarding descriptions of the Internet using a weather analogy, hopes and fears for the Internet and best practices to ensure positive evolution of the Internet. The outlook is sunny in terms of people connecting. “We have this huge global connectivity going on,” Watkins said. “We have this wealth of information that we are sharing.”
But when it comes to security and privacy issues and government control, the view of the Internet remains cloudy.
“We are so wired,” Watkins said. “We might be too wired and there is fear of government control in various countries. Most Hong Kong Internet officials talked about their trials in making sure the Internet stays free in China and remains connected to the globe as a whole.”
Many leaders feared government control, breaches in privacy and security and a lack of education of the next generation about the importance of being involved in the development of the Internet. In addition, there were concerns about division.
“Many feared the Internet was going to balkanize,” Watkins said. “One country would have an Internet and another country would have an Internet. All these Internets would make it difficult for us to connect as a world.”
While the realization that millions of people living in impoverished areas and Third World countries still aren’t online, global connectivity remains a hope and will ensure the best possible future for the Internet along with careful watch of privacy and security issues and teaching older and younger generations how to adapt as the Internet evolves.
In addition to presenting at SURF, Watkins went to Spokane, Washington, earlier in April to present at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. She is currently working with Hatcher on publishing a paper about the research. For that they are organizing their results around “connect, share, trust and innovate”—four of the six principles that guide the Internet Society’s work.
Conducting interviews and shooting video came easy to Watkins, but she was new to undergraduate research.
“It’s been a really interesting journey,” Watkins said. “It’s been great getting out of my element. This is a whole different field for me, but I feel really confident about bringing everything together for a really good end result. It’s been an awesome journey and I’ve learned so many skills because of it.”
CELEBRATE! is Elon University’s annual, weeklong celebration of student achievements in academics and the arts. For more information, visit elon.edu/celebrate.