The Internet tsunami: 8 big insights on what it disrupts next

The Internet tsunami: 8 big insights on what it disrupts next

Summary: The disruptions that the Internet has unleashed on society have only just begun. Learn what the next stages will bring over the coming decade.

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TOPICS: CXO
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Image: iStockphoto/Aero17

The world wide web remains one of the greatest disruptive forces in human history. On an average day it can give you access to a vast wealth of human knowledge from a simple search box, show you snapshots from the lives of friends and family spread across the planet, provide a world-class education for free, crowdfund solar power in ways that governments can't afford, redistribute food that would have been wasted, and sweep corrupt rulers into the dustbin of history.

Not bad for a 25 year-old.

Last week we celebrated the 25th anniversary of when Tim Berners-Lee first proposed the world wide web. While the web technically rides on top of the Internet—which had its origins a couple decades earlier—it was the web that turned the Internet into a world-shaping phenomenon. And today, the two terms are virtually synonymous among the masses.

Throughout 2014, as part of the web's 25th birthday celebration, the Pew Research Internet Project is releasing a series of reports on the impact of the web—as well it's future. This past week, in honor of the anniversary of Berners-Lee's 1989 proposal to create the web, Pew released the report, Digital Life in 2025. It surveyed a group of 2,558 technology experts on their expectations about the future trajectory of the Internet. It then mined that data for patterns and the most poignant comments.

The remarks that Pew highlighted from these experts include a little navel-gazing, fear-mongering, and overly-optimistic blather. But, the interesting insights far outweigh the drivel. While I recommend reading the full report, I've pulled out the most useful insights and listed them below.

1. The end of being online

"The Internet will shift from the place we find cat videos to a background capability that will be a seamless part of how we live our everyday lives," said Joe Touch, director of the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute, "We won't think about 'going online' or 'looking on the Internet' for something—we'll just be online, and just look."

2. A dashboard of your life

"When the cost of collecting information on virtually every interaction falls to zero, the insights that we gain from our activity, in the context of the activity of others, will fundamentally change the way we relate to one another, to institutions, and with the future itself," said Patrick Tucker, author of The Naked Future. "We will become far more knowledgeable about the consequences of our actions; we will edit our behavior more quickly and intelligently."

3. The data-layered world

"We will grow accustomed to seeing the world through multiple data layers," said Daren C. Brabham, a journalism professor at the University of Southern California. "This will change a lot of social practices, such as dating, job interviewing and professional networking, and gaming, as well as policing and espionage."

4. Dealing with bad actors

"Of course, there will be bad acting by some, taking advantage of organizational vulnerabilities and gaming systems in other ways," said Doc Searls, director of ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "Organizations in the meantime will continue rationalizing negative externalities, such as we see today with pollution of the Internet’s pathways by boundless wasted advertising messages, and bots working to game the same business. But … civilization deals with bad acting through development of manners, norms, laws and regulations. Expect all of those to emerge and evolve over the coming years."

5. Disruption of the state

"The most neglected aspect of the impact is in the geopolitics of the Internet," said Randy Kluver, professor of communication at Texas A&M University. "There are very few experts focused on this, and yet the rise of digital media promises significant disruption to relations between and among states. Some of the really important dimensions include the development of transnational political actors/movements, the rise of the virtual state, the impact of digital diplomacy efforts, the role of information in undermining state privilege (think Wikileaks), and … the development of cyber-conflict (in both symmetric and asymmetric forms)."

6. Reinventing jobs

"The Internet, automation, and robotics will disrupt the economy as we know it. How will we provide for the humans who can no longer earn money through labor?" said Robert Cannon, Internet law and policy expert. "The good news is that the technology that promises to turn our world on its head is also the technology with which we can build our new world. It offers an unbridled ability to collaborate, share, and interact. 'The best way to predict the future is to invent it.' It is a very good time to start inventing the future."

7. The power to tackle bigger problems

"The problems that humanity now faces are problems that can’t be contained by political borders or economic systems," said JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for Salesforce. "Traditional structures of government and governance are therefore ill-equipped to create the sensors, the flows, the ability to recognize patterns, the ability to identify root causes, the ability to act on the insights gained, the ability to do any or all of this at speed, while working collaboratively across borders and time zones and sociopolitical systems and cultures. From climate change to disease control, from water conservation to nutrition, from the resolution of immune-system-weakness conditions to solving the growing obesity problem, the answer lies in what the Internet will be in decades to come. By 2025, we will have a good idea of its foundations."

8. Sweeping away existing structures

"It is going to systemically change our understandings of being human, being social, and being political," said Nishant Shah, professor at the Centre for Digital Cultures at Leuphana University, Germany. "It is not merely a tool of enforcing existing systems; it is a structural change in the systems that we are used to. And this means that we are truly going through a paradigm shift—which is celebratory for what it brings, but it also produces great precariousness because existing structures lose meaning and valence, and hence, a new world order needs to be produced in order to accommodate for these new modes of being and operation."

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

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43 comments
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  • I thought this article was about the future?

    While it is astute, all of this is happening now.
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter
    • There's a quote for that...

      "The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." - William Gibson
      jasonhiner
      • Now?

        More like it happened a decade or two ago. What is happening now is most of the world realizing they have to stop resisting change and accept the new world (or perish).
        winGeek
        • Partly untrue, winGeek

          What is happening now, is polarization. It's a lot like the industrial revolution or the Reformation. The first, came from the second. So long as we had stuffy prelates imposing on us what we were supposed to think of 'god', we stuck with serfdoms and 'the old ways'. Once the very basis of their power, the Bible, was made available from Gutenberg onward, people started to see the prelates were wrong. That lead to a lot of free thinking both pro- and con- the Bible, and hence to a lot of economic development. For once you break out of the IDEA mold, you break into just about anything contra.

          Industrial revolution resulted, and with it the mass-in-motion Feuerbachian idea; so we felt ennobled, better. Now, of course, we're realizing we don't want to be machines. So the internet allows us to TALK THROUGH all that change. Part of which, is the abandoning of Windows, which put everything in lock-step for computing, like the prelates of the Olde World had done for 'god'.

          So it's a free-for-all now. Web is essential to that change, and those who want the 'old guard' to continue, will polarize. That's why now all these software companies are suing each other, getting more proprietary, why the Muslims rose, etc. Old versus New at war. That's the future.
          brainout
      • Future is Now?

        And it will continue to become increasingly unevenly distributed, with potentially catastrophic consequences. A lot of what you wrote was about the largely good effects. I see potentially chilling negative effects also.
        artful@...
      • jagged future

        The future will never be evenly distributed, because is is constantly changing. Around here, the future is called "the bleeding edge".
        w_c_mead
      • Nor is it...

        Reliable. I like having my data available here and now and the primary source for versioning control accessible at all times. The cloud could be used for distribution, backup and collaboration if it could also provide adequate security. Which it never will be able to do given the conflicting need for seamless and instant access by all employees of the appropriate company and the need to block and prevent access by *anyone else*. It also suffers from speed of access. My intranet can provide speeds of 80MB/S on the 1GBaseT lines, but unless you're Mr. Gotbucks of TooBigToFail Corp. you don't have an OC link to the cloud.
        RyuDarragh
    • I was going to say the same thing

      We are already there, not everyone yet, but most everyone who can afford it.
      RayInLV
      • What a cloistered world y'all live in!!!!

        For many it is not only a matter of afford, but also of missing infrastructure! It's SO easy for those stuck in the abyss of urbanity to ass-u-me the entire world has the same infrastructure as they. Not so at all - the divergence is great, but only those without blinders will perceive it.
        Willnott
        • Actually, the web lessens the cost of modernization, Willnott

          It always shocks me how the so-called 'third world' was forced to modernize in 30 years, what took the 'developed world', hundreds of years to reach. The expense and loss was huge, as the Stalyins and Maos and imams of those days forced upon people, changes and revolutions. Now, however, since the infrastructure via webbing is much cheaper, the hurdle is education in it. Which, the third world is embracing well. India and China in particular have advanced a great deal from it. Africa, too. Mobile payments, for example, work quite well in Nigeria, but less well in the US.

          So the internet and webbing offer cheaper opportunities for bigger economic advancement, and 'modernizing' now has a much diversified face, i.e., a guy who still walks barefoot and lives in a thatched hut, has a cell tower nearby and can talk on his smartphone.
          brainout
  • In other words -

    from a nice option, the Internet is becoming a sad nesessity.

    This is so musch like driving - kids play toy cars, teenagers can't wait to get their permits and go on joy-rides, and then, when they get older, they find themselves commuting to work.
    ForeverSPb
  • I didn't see anything about browser-based operating systems...

    ...because that's surely coming too (and is already here in its early stages with Chrome OS and Firefox OS).
    CHIP72
    • Browser based operating system is same as steering wheel based car engine

      in other words it is an oximoron (a figure of speech that juxtaposes apparently contradictory elements).

      Operating system is a collection of software that manages computer hardware resources (allocates memory, accesses hard drive and so on) and provides common services for computer programs.

      Browser, on the other hand, is computer program (that sits on top of an operating system as noted above) for retrieving, presenting and traversing information resources.

      Browser it just a program that sends http requests, recieves http responses, and renders the result.
      ForeverSPb
      • The above might be true but...

        ...there is a big difference between having an operating system being exclusively or primarily powered by your computer, as has been the paradigm since the beginning of personal computing, and having an operating system primarily being powered by servers that are located remotely and rely on reliable, high-speed connectivity. Point #1 in the article above will play a significant role in this paradigm shift.
        CHIP72
        • What you want to say is - We are in the era of Thin Clients

          - with the browser-based GUI. Because this is what Chrome laptops are.

          Unfortunately the words Thin Client bring forth too many bad memories and failed promises, so people prefer to use this terrible word contruption of 'web based os'.

          Using incorrect names for technologies - just like with body parts - is silly and displays immaturity of the speaker.
          ForeverSPb
          • past "thin client" failures

            The ultimate in thin clients was back in the 70's when the mainframe sat in a cloistered room with all its tamers and operators, while the users were strung out (literally and figuratively) all over the place. It was a revolution to have power at your fingertips. Now, the cloud is reverting to a similar paradigm. The service of a network of limited bandwidth cannot match that of a smoothly operating, real computer at your fingertips. The performance, reliability, and security are in somebody else's hands (actually many disembodied somebodies and many machines). Costs become invisible and embedded. Could we please dampen the oscillations a bit?
            w_c_mead
        • Where?

          Where can I find these mythical "always" and "reliable" in a world where *kids* are hacking major corporations and shredding cloud based security to get their greedy little hands on 100's of millions of credit card number and user account info? And that's not to mention the internet is not and never has been 100% *anything* anymore than the power or phone system has ever been. Still far too many "and here is where we'll have this fantastic thing... when we get it working" going on here.
          RyuDarragh
  • Not To Put A Damper On Things....

    but it hasn't been all good. Our dependency on technology is scary. The internet has helped to massacre the written word, and we are losing the very necessary ability and downright pleasure of communicating face to face with living, breathing people. It will never substitute for a hug or simple touch of a warm hand. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy its tremendous accomplishments and how it has shrunk our world. But nothing comes without a price....
    EBathory
    • In other words...

      “One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything's fine today, that is our illusion.”
      ― Voltaire
      Biotechguy
  • One thing the internet won't change

    is the need "intellectuals" feel to use vague pronouncements and large words when pontificating.
    baggins_z