Imagining the Internet: Predictions and opinions

A conversation with Susannah Fox of the Pew Internet Project

Over the next 10 years, will we see more government and business surveillance of our daily lives? Will there be a major cyber attack? Will we be voting online?

Recently, Pew Internet & American Life came out with a Future of Internet Report that talks about major directions for the Internet over the next 10 years.
The survey was compiled, conducted and assessed by Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, Susannah Fox of Pew Internet, Elon University School of Communications faculty Janna Quitney Anderson, and the team at Princeton Survey Research Associates. Results were revealed to the public in January 2005.

Associate Director Fox, who is also the author of the “Future of Internet” report, took a few minutes to share some of her survey findings.

GREENLEE: Why don’t you run through some of the highlights from the report? It looks like a major cyber attack was one of the biggest things that came out of it.

FOX: We did an online survey of about 1,200 Internet users. Most of them were scholars and leaders in different industries online but also interested members of the public. We started with a list of about 200 key figures, people that you’d think of if you thought of Internet experts like Bob Metcalf, Howard Rheingold, Esther Dyson. We asked people to react to predictions that we here at the Pew Internet Project made up. We asked them to agree, disagree or challenge a prediction and tell us why so we got some wonderful short essays about what they think will happen in the next 10 years.
One of the only areas where there was real agreement is they do expect attacks on the network to increase. Terrorists see the Internet as possibly a threat. As the Internet gets bigger and bigger and gets woven into people’s lives, it will become more of a target.

GREENLEE: A majority of the people felt that government and business surveillance will only get stronger with a network of all these devices. Will you elaborate?

FOX: We found 59 percent of experts agreed with the prediction. What we wanted to get out this was the idea of embededness. People might have heard of the phenomenon RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). They are tiny stickers on credit cards or tag in a sweater that can track you. Some people said that in a democracy, why worry. Others said they really didn’t want to see that prediction come true.

GREENLEE: What about electronic voting. In 10 years, will the security issue be taken care of so people can vote online?

FOX: People had almost a violent reaction to that. There’s no way security issues can be taken care of and people question the value of voting online. Even these experts who are highly wired say there is something special about going down to a local polling spot and filling out the Scantron ballot. People even said security issues won’t be taken care of, but we will still have online voting and yet we will still have low turnout.

The full report is at http://www.elon.edu/predictions. The full audio interview Susannah Fox, Assoc. Director of the Pew Internet Project, can be heard Feb. 12, on KLAY 1180 AM at 11 a.m. and Feb. 15, on KVTI 90.9 FM at 10 p.m. It will also be available at http://WebTalkRadio.com starting Saturday.

Dana Greenlee is co-host/producer of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based nationally syndicated radio and webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.

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