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How will the Internet look in 2020? – PEW research report

20. January 2009 – 18:17 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Forecasts of how technology and society will develop in the future are always difficult and get even more difficult if one tries to look in the far future – Or as the German comedian Volker Pispers said: “Would you have believed me ten years earlier that Romania will be part of the NATO?” However the PEW Internet and American Life Project did try to forecast the Internet of 2020 by asking a set of average persons and expert how much they would agree to certain scenarios of how the net will have changed in 2020. You can find the whole report here but I would like to highlight a few of the results.

One of the scenarios was concerned with the mobile internet and stated that in 2020 “The mobile phone is the primary connection tool for most people in the world”. 77% of experts and 81% percent of normal respondents agreed to this statement. This does not seem to be very surprising taking the current trend into account but the qualifications different experts and respondents made are very interesting. Many stated that the term “phone” will not fit the future device as it will be a wireless internet access device with voice transmission being just one of the services running over the Internet Protocols. I would agree to this point and also state that the borders between phone and personal computer are already starting to get blurred with devices like the Google G1 or the iPhone.

Another interesting scenario was looked upon very pessimistic by both the experts (32% agreement) and the average respondents (33% agreement). The scenario stated that: “Social tolerance has advanced significantly due in great part to the Internet”. The assessment by several participants was that the internet might make fragmentation of societies worse. I would agree that there might be a possibility that the internet uncovers conflicts, as we have just seen in the way the Gaza conflict was reflected in the net, but on the other hand the net has the potential to open up a room for discussion and offers possibilities of learning about other cultures.

The last scenario I would like to highlight is: “Content control through copyright-protection technology dominates.” If the persons questioned by the study are right (31% of both experts and average users agreeing to the statement) though times are lining ahead for the classical business of monetizing intellectual property. Of course this does not mean that intellectual property will vanish or that piracy will be the way everybody obtains content. On the contrary it might mean that the copyright system of today will be reformed to be more adjusted to the world of infinite perfect copies (the digital age). Maybe the Creative Commons approach could be one alternative system of both protecting creators’ rights and providing a system which helps to disseminate creative work.

The report discusses many more scenarios and provides great insights by quoting the statements about the scenarios of the experts and users questioned. I strongly recommend taking a look.

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