The expert predictions reported here about the impact of the internet over the next 10 years came in response to questions asked by Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center in an online canvassing conducted between December 11, 2017, and January 15, 2018. This is the ninth Future of the Internet study the two organizations have conducted together. For this project, we invited nearly 10,000 experts and members of the interested public to share their opinions on the likely future of the internet, and 1,150 responded to at least one of the questions we asked. This report covers responses to two questions tied to digital life and individuals’ well-being. The overarching, primary question was presented as this:
Digital life’s impacts on well-being. People are using digital tools to solve problems, enhance their lives and improve their productivity. More advances are expected to emerge in the future that are likely to help people lead even better lives. However, there is increasing commentary and research about the effects digital technologies have on individuals’ well-being, their level of stress, their ability to perform well at work and in social settings, their capability to focus their attention, their capacity to modulate their level of connectivity and their general happiness.
They were then asked to respond to the question:
Question: Over the next decade, how will changes in digital life impact people’s overall well-being physically and mentally?
They were given three options to choose from when considering their response. The answer options were:
- Over the next decade, individuals’ overall well-being will be more HARMED than HELPED by digital life.
- Over the next decade, individuals’ overall well-being will be more HELPED than HARMED by digital life.
- There will not be much change in people’s well-being from the way it is now.
Then we asked:
Please elaborate on your response below considering these questions: Why do you think people’s well-being will be affected this way? What harms or improvements are likely to occur?
Some 47% selected that individuals’ overall well-being will be more helped than harmed, while 32% said well-being will be more harmed than helped, and 21% said there will not be much change in people’s well-being from the status quo. We also asked respondents to share brief personal anecdotes about how digital life has changed in regard to their own or their family’s or friends’ well-being. Those answers will be covered in a future report.
While about a third of the respondents expect that many individuals’ well-being will be harmed, the overwhelming majority of these experts assume that – no matter what the future may bring – people’s uses of and immersion in digital tools will continue to expand in influence and impact.
They were asked a follow-up question:
Do you think there are any actions that might successfully taken to reduce or eradicate potential harms of digital life to individuals’ well-being?
The answer options were:
Yes, there are interventions that can be made in the coming years to improve the way people are affected by their use of technology.
No, there are not interventions that can be made to improve the way people are affected by their use of technology.
Then we asked:
Please elaborate on your response about why you do or don’t think there can be actions taken to mitigate potential harms of digital life.
An overwhelming 92% answered that there are interventions that can be made in the coming years to improve the way people are affected by their use of technology; 8% said no.
The web-based instrument was first sent directly to a list of targeted experts identified and accumulated by Pew Research Center and Elon University during previous “Future of the Internet” studies, as well as those identified in an earlier study of people who made predictions about the likely future of the internet between 1990 to 1995. Additional experts with proven interest in this particular research topic were also added to the list. Among those invited were people who are active in global internet governance and internet research activities, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Internet Society (ISOC), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). We also invited a large number of professionals and policy people from technology businesses; government, including the National Science Foundation, Federal Communications Commission and European Union; think tanks and interest networks (for instance, those that include professionals and academics in anthropology, sociology, psychology, law, political science and communications); globally located people working with communications technologies in government positions; technologists and innovators; top universities’ engineering/computer science, business/entrepreneurship faculty, graduate students and postgraduate researchers; plus many who are active in civil society organizations such as Association for Progressive Communications (APC), Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Access Now; and those affiliated with newly emerging nonprofits and other research units examining the impacts of digital life. Invitees were encouraged to share the survey link with others they believed would have an interest in participating, thus there may have been somewhat of a “snowball” effect as some invitees invited others to weigh in.
Since the data are based on a nonrandom sample, the results are not projectable to any population other than the individuals expressing their points of view in this sample.
The respondents’ remarks reflect their personal positions and are not the positions of their employers; the descriptions of their leadership roles help identify their background and the locus of their expertise.
About 79% of respondents identified themselves as being based in North America; the others hail from all corners of the world. When asked about their “primary area of internet interest,” 27% identified themselves as professor/teacher; 15% as research scientists; 9% as futurists or consultants; 8% as advocates or activist users; 7% as technology developers or administrators; 7% as entrepreneurs or business leaders; 7% as authors, editors or journalists; 4% as pioneers or originators; 2% as legislators, politicians or lawyers; and an additional 15% specified their primary area of interest as “other.”
About half of the expert respondents elected to remain anonymous. Because people’s level of expertise is an important element of their participation in the conversation, anonymous respondents were given the opportunity to share a description of their internet expertise or background, and this was noted where relevant in this report.
Following is a list of some of the key respondents in this canvassing:
Micah Altman, director of research and head scientist for the program on information science at MIT; Diana L. Ascher, co-founder of the Information Ethics & Equity Institute; Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; Richard Bennett, a creator of the WiFi MAC protocol and modern Ethernet; Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association; Nathaniel Borenstein, chief scientist at Mimecast; Ildeu Borges, director of regulatory affairs for SindiTelebrasil; Stowe Boyd, futurist, publisher and editor-in-chief of Work Futures; Nicholas Carr, author of “Utopia is Creepy” and “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains”; Jamais Cascio, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future; Barry Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research and StreamFuzion Corp.; Narelle Clark, deputy CEO of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network; Maureen Cooney, head of privacy at Sprint; Judith Donath, Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Stephen Downes, researcher at the National Research Council Canada; Ralph Droms, longtime network scientist, researcher, architect and engineer; Esther Dyson, entrepreneur, former journalist and founding chair at ICANN; David Ellis, Ph.D., course director of the department of communication studies at York University inToronto; Charlie Firestone, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s communications and society program; Bob Frankston, internet pioneer and software innovator; Oscar Gandy, professor emeritus of communication at the University of Pennsylvania; Mark Glaser, publisher and founder of MediaShift; Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft; Seth Finkelstein, consulting programmer and EFF Pioneer Award winner; Jim Hendler, co-originator of the Semantic Web and professor of computing sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Dewayne Hendricks, CEO of Tetherless Access; Perry Hewitt, vice president of marketing and digital strategy at ITHAKA; Jason Hong, associate professor at the Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University; Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International; Christian H. Huitema, past president of the Internet Architecture Board; Larry Irving, president CEO of the Irving Group and co-founder of the Mobile Alliance for Global Good; Shel Israel, CEO of the Transformation Group; Jeff Jarvis, a professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism; John Klensin, Internet Hall of Fame member, longtime Internet Engineering Task Force and Internet Society leader, and an innovator of the Domain Name System (DNS) administration; Bart Knijnenburg, researcher on decision-making and recommender systems at Clemson University; Gary L. Kreps, distinguished professor and director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University; Leora Lawton, executive director of the Berkeley Population Center at the University of California, Berkeley; Jon Lebkowsky, CEO of Polycot Associates; Peter Levine, professor and associate dean for research at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life; Mike Liebhold, senior researcher and distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future; John Markoff, fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and longtime technology writer at The New York Times; Craig J. Mathias, principal for the Farpoint Group; Giacomo Mazzone, head of institutional relations at the European Broadcasting Union; Robert Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet, founder of 3Com and professor of innovation at the University of Texas at Austin; Jerry Michalski, founder of the Relationship Economy eXpedition (REX); Riel Miller, team leader in futures literacy at UNESCO; Mario Morino, chair of the Morino Institute and co-founder of Venture Philanthropy Partners; Gina Neff, professor at the Oxford Internet Institute; Lisa Nielsen, director of digital learning at the New York City Department of Education; Ian Peter, internet pioneer and advocate and co-founder of the Association for Progressive Communications; Justin Reich, executive director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab; Larry Roberts, Internet Hall of Fame member and CEO, CFO and CTO at FSA Technologies Inc.; Michael Roberts, Internet Hall of Fame member and first president and CEO of ICANN; Michael Rogers, author and futurist at Practical Futurist; Larry Rosen, co-author of “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World”; Louis Rossetto, founder and former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine; Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC; Eileen Rudden, co-founder and board chair of LearnLaunch; Douglas Rushkoff, writer, documentarian, and lecturer who focuses on human autonomy in a digital age; Anthony Rutkowski, internet pioneer and business leader; Paul Saffo, longtime Silicon-Valley-based technology forecaster; David Sarokin, author of “Missed Information: Better Information for Building a Wealthier, More Sustainable Future”; Jan Schaffer, executive director at J-Lab; Henning Schulzrinne, Internet Hall of Fame member and professor at Columbia University; Evan Selinger, professor of philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology; Brad Templeton, chair emeritus for the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Sherry Turkle, MIT professor and author of “Alone Together”; Joseph Turow, professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania; Stuart A. Umpleby, professor emeritus at George Washington University; Hal Varian, chief economist for Google; Amy Webb, futurist, professor and founder of the Future Today Institute; David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Daniel Weitzner, principle research scientist and founding director of MIT’s Internet Policy Research Initiative; Yvette Wohn, director of the Social Interaction Lab at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and expert on human-computer interaction; Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT.
A selection of institutions at which some of the respondents work or have affiliations:
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Access Now, Adroit Technologic, Aging in Place Technology Watch, Akamai Technologies, Alliance for Affordable Internet, American Press Institute, The Aspen Institute, Apple, Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre, Berkman-Klein Center for Internet & Society (Harvard University), Boston University, Brainwave Consulting, Carbon Black, Cardiff University, Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences (Stanford University), Center for Civic Design, Center for Educational Technology, CERT Division at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute , Chinese University of Hong Kong, Cisco Systems, City University of New York, Clemson University, Cloudflare, Colorado State University, Columbia University, Comcast, Darwin Group, Democratise, Designed Learning, DotConnectAfrica Trust, EchoStar, Edison Innovations, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Emory University, Eurac Research, European Startup Initiative, Farpoint Group, FICO, Força da Imaginaçao, France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, George Mason University, George Washington University, Global Digital Policy Incubator (Stanford University), GlobalSecurity.org, Google, Hanyang University, HealthStyles.net, Hewlett-Packard, High Tech Forum, Human-Computer Interaction Institute (Carnegie Mellon University), Humanities Research Center (Rice University), Information Ethics & Equity Institute, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Institute for the Future, Intelligent Community Forum, International Telecommunication Union, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Internet Education Foundation, Internet Archive, Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Internet Initiative Japan, Internet Society, ITHAKA, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University, Lighthouse Foundation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), MediaShift, Michigan State University, Microsoft, Mimecast, Mindful Digital Life, Mobile First Media/Digital Healthcom Group, Nanyang Technological University, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Research Council Canada, National Science Foundation, Nautilus, The Net Safety Collaborative, North Carolina State University, Netmagic Associates, New York University, NewPathVR, National Opinion Research Center (NORC), Northwestern University, Open University of Israel, Oxford Internet Institute, Packet Clearing House, Parsons Corporation, Peace Innovation Lab (Stanford University), Penn State University, Polycot Associates, Princeton University, Queensland University of Technology, Rethinkery Labs, Reuters Institute, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, , Rochester Institute of Technology, Sprint, Stanford University, Statistics New Zealand, StumbleUpon, Sunlight Foundation, Syncfusion, Technology Education Institute, TechWomen.Asia, Telematica, Terbium Labs, Tetherless Access, The Millennium Project, The Mobile Alliance for Global Good, The Values Foundation, UNESCO, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. federal government, University of California (Berkeley, Irvine and Santa Barbara campuses), University of Chicago, University of Colorado, University of Copenhagen, University of Michigan, University of Milan, University of Minnesota, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill and Charlotte campuses), University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, University of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt University, Verizon, Volta Networks, Way to Wellville, We Media, Wired magazine, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, World Wide Web Foundation, York University.
Complete sets of credited and anonymous responses can be found here: