The Internet of 2020: more cellphones, intolerance; less DRM
By Jacqui Cheng
December 15, 2008
The mobile phone will become the primary means of Internet access across the globe, and DRM will be well on its way out the door by 2020, according to a survey of Internet leaders, activists, and analysts. Those are just two of the trends predicted by a panel of experts surveyed by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in order to get a feeling for where key influencers feel technology is going over the next decade or so. In addition to DRM and mobile phones, these experts also believe that we will be more hyperconnected than ever and that people will become more transparent, but that social tolerance will likely get worse.
Pew asked 578 Internet "activists, builders, and commentators" their opinions on social, political, and economic life in the year 2020, in addition to 618 stakeholders, for a total of 1,196 participants. More than three-quarters of experts and 81 percent of overall respondents agreed that the mobile phone would be the primary Internet connection tool in 2020, largely due to the "bottom" of the world's population relying on mobile communications to get online. And, although more than half of experts and stakeholders feel that copyright protection technology will no longer be widely available as of 2020, they do feel as if the arms race between content owners and crackers will continue, as the remains of DRM are beaten to death.
That's not all that will change over the next 11 to 12 years, though. 57 percent of total respondents believe that the demarcation between work and personal time will disappear thanks to the Internet and technology that keeps us constantly connected. Not everyone is excited about this possibility. "While some people are hopeful about a hyperconnected future with more freedom, flexibility, and life enhancements, others express fears that mobility and ubiquity of networked computing devices will be harmful for most people by adding to stress and challenging family life and social life," reads the report. Can someone put us down for a little bit of both, but heavy on the "more work" side?
The panels were evenly split on the issue of personal and corporate transparency online, however, and whether it will actually affect the general public in any meaningful way. Although they generally believe that transparency will increase thanks to the increased threat of being outed for past indiscretions, respondents were unsure of whether such a change in behavior would spur more public forgiveness or social acceptance. In fact, social tolerance in general was a topic that those surveyed were particularly pessimistic on. Only 33 percent of total respondents felt that social tolerance on the Internet would advance by 2020, with the experts pointing out that the expansion of the Internet would also expand the potential for hate, bigotry, and terrorism.
"Tribes will be defined by social enclaves on the Internet, rather than by geography or kinship, but the world will be more fragmented and less tolerant, since one's real-world surroundings will not have the homogeneity of one's online clan," SPARTA's chief scientist for information security Jim Horning was quoted saying in the report.
Finally, the large majority of experts and stakeholders believe that the Internet's architecture will continue to be improved, but won't be replaced by a new system by 2020. They also feel that voice and touch are overtaking the traditional keyboard when it comes to common input devices, and that haptic feedback is allowing on-screen keyboards to provide the kind of feedback people desire when dealing with a touchscreen. Whether all these predictions will actually come true by 2020 will be another story, but it certainly seems as if the Internet-using public has a good grasp of how things can realistically evolve in that time. Now, let's just hope that DRM's demise is a little closer than the year 2020.