Many of the experts in this canvassing responded that there may not be a great deal of meaningful change in social and civic innovation in the next decade. Some said they expect 2030 to be relatively similar to today. Some said there will be change for the better and the worse, and, as such, the net effect is likely to be neither positive nor negative. These comments were selected from among all responses, regardless of an expert’s answer to this canvassing’s main question about the impact of people’s uses of technology on civic and social innovation. Remarks are organized under two subthemes: A decade is not enough time to see meaningful change; and the net effect of change is likely to be neither positive nor negative.
A decade is not much time when it comes to meaningful change
A share of these experts say their best estimate is that 2030 will look much like today in regard to social and civic innovation. Several said most large-scale societal changes take time; in the grand scheme of things, 10 years is likely not enough time to determine if any change is meaningful or to know if it will be temporary or long-lasting.
John Battelle, co-founder and CEO of Recount Media and editor-in-chief and CEO of NewCo, predicted, “It’ll feel like a decade of going nowhere while we digest the full impact of these technologies. But it won’t be lost in the eyes of history.”
2030 is a mere 10 years away. It is unlikely that we will see change to civic and social processes so quickly.
Gianluca Demartini, senior lecturer in data science at the University of Queensland, wrote, “I believe there will be an impact on social and civic innovation, but that it will take longer than 10 years to appear.”
Kenneth Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, said, “I’m optimistic – but it may take a very long time for good to overcome evil.”
Zizi Papacharissi, a professor of communication and political science at the University of Illinois, Chicago, responded, “Two things: 1) 2030 is a mere 10 years away. It is unlikely that we will see change to civic and social processes so quickly. We may see changes in the technology we use; these will not translate into deeper change. Change is gradual. It is possible that we will see some changes to our routines, prompted by technology use. Those will reflect superficial change and not deeper transformation of a civic or social nature. 2) Technology is not something external to us, that contributes, prevents or is neutral. It is human. It is designed by us, it is part of us, and it is influenced by our beliefs. Any changes will stem from core adjustments to our value system, which is dated. It supports the habits of societies that formed centuries ago. It is our value system (economic, political, social, cultural) that needs restructuring and is actually in the process of evolving. Until this process is complete, we will not observe actual change.”
Jennifer deWinter, a professor of humanities at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, said social and civic innovation will eventually have “tremendous effects, simultaneously positive and negative.” She added, “2030 might be too soon for the full social correction, but technologies are allowing wealth to be concentrated to an unprecedented extent. If internet and social technologies are the information rail system of the 21st century, then we can look to historical examples on how wealth and systems are disrupted while still maintaining the technological system – agriculture and land rights of the 14th century, rail and mass transportation of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. It is not about the technological system; it’s about the human interactions/systems dialogically shaped within those technological systems and ways to reconfigure relationships between one another and with human-created systems.”
Nigel Cameron, president emeritus at the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies, predicted, “Tech will be used on both sides. Hostile powers, especially China and Russia, have the capacity and huge incentive to bend Western opinion to their will and, at a minimum, cause chaos and damage confidence in the democratic process. Nonstate actors too. There will be a growing struggle; the future of democracy is not secure, and the response of both political leaders and the tech giants to the first round (Trump election, et al.) has been dispiriting. But innovation by new tech players and determination by the military and security communities may shift the ground in the favor of freedom and truth. The example of the Industrial Revolution is not comforting. I’ve been writing about it recently, and the evidence is increasingly clear that it took a long time – for example – for the economic benefits to benefit ordinary people in the UK (two generations?). One of the first impacts was to deskill large numbers, as the machines didn’t just require fewer workers, they were designed for child labor, which exploded and took decades to contain.”
Mark Maben, a general manager at Seton Hall University, wrote, “In terms of social and civic innovation, in 2030 the transformation will be in progress but not complete. Just as it took many decades to fully respond to the disruption, exploitation and damage that the Industrial Revolution brought to societies across the global, it will take time to address the effects of ‘techlash.’ Over the next 10 years, social technologies will be developed to better combat sexism and racism in the workplace and civic sphere. Apps will be created to facilitate more civic engagement on the local and state level. Laws and regulations will be enacted to better protect data privacy. The civic and social innovations that occur between now and 2030 will be modest compared to what will likely follow after 2030. The New Deal couldn’t have happened without the groundwork laid in the decades before it by civic activists, labor organizers and social reformers. The work of the next decade is taking the small steps that set the stage for massive transformation that will reshape traditional Western-style liberal democracy and market capitalism into something more responsive to the needs of the general population. If you are privileged enough to be in regular conversation with Americans between the ages of 16 and 30, you can sense that these young people are already working on how to use technology for positive social change outside of the current existing political and economic structure. Their desire for a fairer democracy is inspiring.”
Shane Kerr, lead engineer for NS1 internet domain security, said, “The biggest problem facing humanity – climate change – is unlikely to see any real improvement due to social or civic innovation since the only real solution in the long term is moving away from economic models based on unending growth. The problems of exponential growth have been recognized for hundreds of years, and I don’t expect these to get solved in the next 10 years.”
Frederico Links, a journalist, governance researcher and activist based in Africa, observed, “I think there is already much – even if mostly still crude – social and civic innovation emerging in parts of the world, which suggests that with time such phenomena will emerge in other parts as well, as technology becomes an ever greater force in everyday interactions across diverse and varying societies as regards tech penetration and adoption. The major social and civic questions are already being grappled with to a greater or lesser extent across the globe, and this will only intensify, probably leading to more substantive globalised discussions and multi-stakeholder and multidisciplinary approaches to solving emerging and still unforeseen questions and qualms of the still unfolding digital age. I think we’ll only really see the fixes and innovations effectively play out beyond 2030 in most parts of the world, especially developing countries. But I do believe there’ll be much social and civic innovation – and at an ever-accelerating pace – over the next decade or so.”
Angela Campbell, a professor of law and co-director of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University, said, “It usually takes a long time for laws to change, as well as social norms. Ten years is a very short time to expect significant social change, especially in a country where the population is so diverse and polarized. At the same time, technology can change very fast. So it is hard for law (and society) to adjust to these changes. Often, we are facing issues that have not been addressed before (e.g., big data) and so the solutions are far from clear. It may be made even more difficult, given that the major technology companies have such large market shares and are vertically integrated, thus making new entry and innovation harder. This problem is magnified because almost all other sectors of the economy depend on technology.”
Jeremy Malcolm, director of the Prostasia Foundation, formerly with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote, “Except in the case of revolution, current political structures are not amenable to the kind of disruptive innovation that characterizes the tech industry. It is difficult to envisage the U.S. or other major democracies embracing sweeping social and civic innovation in such a short timeframe. Innovations adopted by governments can affect the way government communicates and how government services operate. But larger innovations (e.g., blockchain-based currencies, liquid democracy experiments) have longer-term and subtler effects on government.”
Kenneth A. Grady, an adjunct professor and affiliate of the Center for Legal Innovation at Michigan State University, commented, “Although 2030 may seem like it is rapidly approaching, in terms of social and civic innovation it is far in the future. Barring some major trigger event, society will slowly adjust to technological changes rather than try to proactively control them. The convenience those changes bring will outweigh the moral outrage that could spark rapid change.”
A research scientist focused on fairness, transparency and accountability in artificial intelligence said, “I think there will be a proliferation of tech tools to try to address the negative effects of technology. As people increasingly identify the negative effects technology is having on their lives, our capitalist system will supply purported solutions to these problems. That said, I don’t think these solutions will necessarily be effective. We will likely require longer-term reforms to laws and culture to truly address these problems, but I don’t think these will happen by 2030.”
The net effect of the decade of change is likely to be neither positive nor negative
Some experts foresee change ahead but warn that such change will have both good and bad results. They do not expect to see society in a much better or worse position than it is today – possibly only a slightly different position.
Philip J. Salem, a professor emeritus at Texas State University, expert in complexity of organizational change, commented, “Every new technology creates its own unique challenges in addition to solving some problems and failing to prevent others.”
David Sarokin of Sarokin Consulting, author of “Missed Information,” wrote, “It seems obvious that technology will both help and hinder. It’s a mindless tool that can be used for good or ill. Society will continue to respond to concerns with new laws and cultural pressure on companies like Facebook and Google to amend any practices seen as detrimental. From an American standpoint, the most interesting dilemma posed by the internet is the status of free and unfettered speech. People are generally allowed to tell lies, no matter how outrageous, and other people are entitled to believe them, no matter how ridiculous. There’s no easy framework for deciding when a false statement crosses the line into an unacceptable post on social media.”
It seems obvious that technology will both help and hinder. It’s a mindless tool that can be used for good or ill.
John Pike, director and founder of GlobalSecurity.org, said, “The impact will be a mixed bag, with some things getting better and others worse, and it is too soon to judge the net effect. Social change requires organized social movements, and these seem to be increasingly scarce. Social change requires a coherent policy agenda, which in the old days was simple, and now that the world is increasingly diversified, the agenda are fragmented and unstable.”
Jonathan Kolber, author, “A Celebration Society: Solving the Coming Automation Crisis,” predicted, “Actually, technology will in some ways facilitate social and civic innovation, and in some ways impair it. It will facilitate by creating platforms for people to engage with each other in focused and efficient ways for which today’s niche websites and social media platforms are only the beginning. (Full immersion, multisensory VR, for which we see the beginnings in Dreamscape, will enable whole new ways of living and engaging.) The impairment will come when governments and other powerful interests are able to continuously scan all internet traffic, probably assisted by AIs, for anything deemed ‘subversive.’ Whoever holds those levers of power will have unprecedented ability to nip change in the bud. This is one reason we need new kinds of model societies in which no such centralized control is possible.”
John Harlow, a smart-city research specialist in the Engagement Lab at Emerson College, responded, “Technology will both support and prevent social and civic innovation. Social media will help social and civic groups organize but also help governments oppress dissidents. Open government, open innovation, CrowdLaw, etc., have promise and draw on technology for social and civic innovation, but I think technology will mostly prevent those innovations from achieving scale. In particular, status quo legacy systems will exhibit inertia and path dependence, and the digital divide between generations will prevent rapid, widespread adoption of social and civic innovation. It’s not necessarily that technology will inhibit these innovations, but that facility with new technology among the constituency who might adopt it could be low.”
Ian Fish, an internet and communications technology professional and specialist in information security based in Europe, predicted, “Technology use will contribute to social and civic innovation but that it will not significantly mitigate the harms. The reason for this is that those who are either deliberately or as a side effect causing the harms are far more agile than civil society and infinitely more agile than the law and regulation.”
Keith Moore, author and co-author of several Internet Engineering Task Force Request for Comments documents wrote, “I would not say that technology will have no effect on social and civic innovation, but rather it will be a mixed bag and it’s hard to tell whether the net effect will be positive or negative. Ordinary individuals are already widely attempting to adapt to the ills of new technologies. Ironically, some of these new technologies will play a role in helping them to adapt. But the anti-democratic effects of these new technologies and mega-companies will not easily be overcome, and the laws and technological infrastructure are now well-rigged against the interests of individuals.”
David Eaves, a public policy entrepreneur expert in information technology and government at Harvard’s Kennedy School, commented “My sense is that this question is somewhat perplexing. Technology will be impeded and cause social and civic innovation. People will be using technology to suppress others’ voices and impede organizations from engaging in reforms, while others will be using technology to drive change.”
Brandt Dainow, whose research specialty is ethical aspects of ICT innovation over the next 30 years, said, “Tech will be central to innovation, but the net effect will neither mitigate nor exacerbate. It could do either and will do both. The result will be the outcome of competition between users of the tech.”
Faisal A. Nasr, an advocate, research scientist, futurist and professor, predicted, “There is no doubt there will be some relief, but the net effect will not be significant. The confluence of technological change and social and civic innovation has to be reinforcing in nature and thrust for it to have a meaningful and lasting impact. Meaningful reform has to occur in many critical areas to support such envisioned and desired outcomes and results. To begin with, the rule of law has to be seen within the context of inclusivity, tolerance, diversity to ascertain that the legal process serves all societal groups equally and efficiently. Otherwise social and civic innovation will have a dampened impact as it had thus far. Schools and universities play an important role in this process, not to mention the role of the public sector and effective governance. With what is being currently witnessed, the public sector is increasingly emulating the private sector mindset, much to the detriment of accountability, transparency and effective leadership.”
Christian Huitema, president at Private Octopus and longtime internet developer and administrator, said, “Yes, I can see resistance organizing, an underground movement to fight for liberty. There is some of that already, with tracking blockers and decentralized alternatives to the big technology companies, but it is hard for these to compete against surveillance-funded competition. It is very hard to compete against surveillance-funded competitors who can give away their wares and finance themselves from the data stream. Will motivated customers be ready to pay more and get less services to escape surveillance? The example of the organic food movement gives me some hope, but it will take time before the resistance becomes mainstream. Besides, the behavior-manipulation techniques of the surveillance companies may well guarantee their dominance over the popular discourse.”
A professor of information science commented, “Actually, a significant body of work in Science and Technology Studies (and social informatics) shows that tech always has intended and unintended consequences, that its implementation creates winners and losers, and that it helps and hinders social and cultural change. The same type of technology can help alleviate congestion in the delivery of government social services and be used for voter suppression. The important question, in my mind, is who will be in charge of designing, implementing and managing these technologies? The political aspects of new technologies will be important in determining the range of effects they will have.”
An anonymous technology journalist predicted, “Technology will both help and hinder social and civic innovation. After a period in which it looked like social media would be a new tool for challenging the powerful, as in the Arab Spring, the current perception focuses on the damage it’s doing. This damage is real, but the potential for new social innovation hasn’t disappeared either. This doesn’t necessarily mean the two sides are a wash, cancelling each other out entirely. It’s an arms race.”