Internet to define media consumer of the future

Internet enhances reading, writing and the rendering of knowledge, says the Pew Research Centre report. (AFP)

Media consumption will be revolutionised in near future, with the increasing impact of the internet on industry and our lives as such, revealed a recently compiled special report on the future of internet prepared by Pew Research Centre.

"Experts say the internet will enhance our intelligence – not make us stupid. It will also change the functions of reading and writing, and will be built around still-unanticipated gadgetry and applications," says the report that was released to Emirates Business.

The report, fittingly called Imagining the Internet, is part of a series of documents on the subject that capture people's expectations for the future of internet, in the process presenting a snapshot of current attitudes, say the publishers of the report.

Defining our change in attitude towards various habits, the survey clearly defines the findings in five main categories covering: Google and its influence; reading and writing habits along with rendering of knowledge; innovations in the virtual world; information flow and concern about anonymity online.

This is the fourth Future of the Internet survey and was conducted through online questionnaires to which a select group of experts and the highly engaged internet public were invited to respond. The survey presents potential "future scenarios" to which respondents react with their expectations based on current knowledge and attitudes.

Respondents to the survey, that was conducted between December 2, 2009, and January 11, 2010, were asked to consider the future of the internet-connected world between now and 2020 and the likely innovation that would occur. They were asked to assess 10 different "tension pairs" – each pair offering two different 2020 scenarios with the same overall theme and opposite outcomes – and they were asked to select the most likely choice of two statements.

Publishers of the survey highlight that "this survey is primarily focused on eliciting observations on the likely impact and influence of the internet – not on the respondents' choices from the pairs of predictive statements.

"Many times, when respondents 'voted' for one scenario over another, they responded in their elaboration that both outcomes are likely to a degree or that an outcome not offered would be their true choice."

Clearing any doubts of the regional relevance of the report, Danish Farhan, CEO and Managing Director of Xische Studio, believes the virtual world of the internet is without borders and habits and practices on the web are more or less the same with very little disparity.

"The internet changed our way in the sense we communicate today, and media is bound to be impacted by the technology that is grooming and evolving at an unprecedented pace. Its effect is universal with universal relevance," said Farhan.

Google will not make us lazy

Highlighting the various aspects of internet usage and people's dependence on it, the report states that tools such as "Google will not make us stupid" and lazy, contrary to the belief of many of the industry experts.

The report emphatically stated that 76 per cent of the experts surveyed for the research agreed with the statement: "By 2020, people's use of the internet has enhanced human intelligence. As people are allowed unprecedented access to more information, they become smarter and make better choices. Nicholas Carr was wrong: Google does not make us stupid."

In support of the notion, Google Research Director Peter Norvig said: "When the only information on a topic is a handful of essays or books, the best strategy is to read these works with total concentration. But when you have access to thousands of articles, blogs, videos and people with expertise on the topic, a good strategy is to skim first to get an overview."

He said: "Google shifts responsibility from management to the worker, encouraging creativity in each job, and encouraging workers to shift among many different roles in their career."

"Google will make us more informed. The smartest person in the world could well be behind a plow in China or India. Providing universal access to information will allow such people to realise their full potential, providing benefits to the entire world," said Hal Varian, Chief Economist of Google.

Conclusively, the resources of the internet and search engines will shift cognitive capacities. We won't have to remember as much, but we'll have to think harder and have better critical thinking and analytical skills. Less time devoted to memorisation gives people more time to master those new skills, said the Pew Research Centre report.

Reading and writing

The second point highlighted in the report is the habit of reading and writing that contributes to the rendering of knowledge, that will improve immensely, as per the survey results.

"By 2020, it will be clear that the internet has enhanced and improved reading, writing and rendering of knowledge," agreed 65 per cent of the respondents in the survey. Still, 32 per cent of the respondents expressed concerns that by 2020 "it will be clear that internet has diminished and endangered reading, writing and rendering of knowledge".

Closely related is the issue of freedom of information flow and majority of the survey respondents conveyed that though there will be flashpoints over control of the internet, they hope information will flow relatively freely online.

Concerns over control of the internet were expressed in answers to a question about the end-to-end principle, and 61 per cent responded that the internet will remain as its founders envisioned. However, many who agreed with the statement that "most disagreements over the way information flows online will be resolved in favour of a minimum number of restrictions", also noted that their response was a "hope" and not necessarily their true expectation. A minority of 33 per cent of survey participants chose to agree with the statement that "the internet will mostly become a technology where intermediary institutions that control the architecture and content will be successful in gaining the right to manage information and the method by which people access it".

Anonymous concerns

Some of the anonymous online activity will be challenged, though a modest majority still think it will be possible in 2020: There is more of a split verdict among the expert respondents about the fate of online anonymity. Some 55 per cent per cent agreed that internet users will still be able to communicate anonymously, while 41 per cent agreed that by 2020 "anonymous online activity is sharply curtailed".

Respondents described their views about the future of anonymous activity online by the year 2020 with very specific concerns, but most of them conveyed very little concern. The outcome conveyed in the report revealed that pressures for authentication of internet users are growing, and many are legitimate. New methods to accomplish that are being explored, but it is not yet clear which ones will prevail in the marketplace.

"Anonymity online will gradually become a lot like anonymity in the real world. When we encounter it, we'll take a firm grip on our wallet and leave the neighborhood as soon as possible, unless we're doing something we're ashamed of," said Stewart Baker, Internet Legal Specialist at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson. Addressing the ethical stand on this issue, Larry Masinter, Principal Scientist and Standards Advocate, Adobe Systems, believes that "the question confounds 'authentication' with 'identification'. There are a few market forces that would increase formal authentication of user identity. But even though internet users may retain the perception that they are anonymous [and other users may not know who they are], advertising-funded service providers have enormous motivation to identify users, and are rapidly instituting monitoring capabilities everywhere".

The Pew Research Centre defines Imagining the Internet's objective as to "explore and provide insights into emerging network innovations, global development, dynamics, diffusion and governance". Its research holds a mirror to humanity's use of communications technologies, informs policy development, exposes potential futures and provides a historic record.

The centre investigates the tangible and potential pros and cons of new media channels through active research.

Among the spectrum of issues addressed are power, politics, privacy, property, augmented and virtual reality, control and the rapid changes spurred by accelerating technology.

 

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