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The Web Turns 25 – What Will The Next 10 Years Bring?

Wednesday, 09 Jul 2014 07:59 AM


By Dino Londis ( – On March 12, 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote a paper proposing an “information management” system – a proposal that became the conceptual and architectural structure for the Web. Even though the system of connected computers had existed for years, his idea was to make it easy for the everyday person to retrieve and share content through web pages, or the World Wide Web. (That’s where the “www” in web addresses came from.)

To mark the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, the Pew Research Center, in collaboration with Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, surveyed 1,900 high-profile technology thinkers to predict the Internet in the next 10 years.

The report is titled Digital life in 2025, with the tag line “Experts predict the Internet will become ‘like electricity’ – less visible, yet more deeply embedded in people’s lives for good or ill.”

Like any survey about the future, the report is more a product of the present. The survey was conducted from November 25, 2013 and January 13, 2014, in a year where Edward Snowden revealed the vast reach of NSA surveillance and the darker side of information management.

The experts were asked an open-ended question about how technology will impact life by the year 2025. While most experts agreed on the trajectory of tech change in the next 10 years, there was vast disagreement about its ramifications.

The “Less-Hopeful Theses” included:
• Dangerous divides between haves and have-nots may expand, resulting in resentment and possible violence.
• People will continue – sometimes grudgingly – to make tradeoffs favoring convenience and perceived immediate gains over privacy; and privacy will be something only the upscale will enjoy.
• Abuses and abusers will ‘evolve and scale.’ Human nature isn’t changing; there’s laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, crime and those who practice them have new capacity to make life miserable for others.

Llewellyn Kriel, CEO and editor in chief of TopEditor International Media Services, predicted “Online ‘diseases’ — mental, physical, social, addictions (psycho-cyber drugs) — will affect families and communities and spread willy-nilly across borders…”

A consultant who wished to remain anonymous also mentioned a new kind of malady due to people being “unable to manage their digital identities; new illnesses based on anxiety, stress and being connected all the time.”

The “More-Hopeful Theses” include:
• Augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life, especially tied to personal health.
• Political awareness and action will be facilitated and more peaceful change and public uprisings like the Arab Spring will emerge.
• An Internet-enabled revolution in education will spread more opportunities, with less money spent on real estate (schools) and teachers.

Hal Varian, chief economist for Google, wrote, “The biggest impact on the world will be universal access to all human knowledge. The smartest person in the world currently could well be stuck behind a plow in India or China. Enabling that person — and the millions like him or her — will have a profound impact on the development of the human race.

Sir Tim Berners’ vision of the Web was to enable users to easily find largely static information at CERN, where he worked. In those early years of the web, the biggest concern was keeping the web from becoming commercialized. We know how that went.

Back then browsing the web was largely anonymous. Predictions of the future were reflections of the early 1990s. The World Wide Web was predicted to be “5,000 different sources giving you the specialty information [like] a horse channel, a dog channel, a cat channel…” It was more like television, a one way conversation.

A generation later, information about us is not only the pages we visit, but how long we stay, how we got there, and where we went next. We’re creating information as we consume it.

The predictions were dead wrong. Or as Marc Prensky, one of the survey’s participants put it: “The biggest impact will come from something we don’t currently foresee. Stay alert!”

For more on our digital future, visit PewResearch Internet Project.

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