A while ago, Sarah Gray reported in Salon about major findings from a massive study done on what the Internet will look like in 2025. According to Gray, the study, which harvested information from experts in all kinds of technology and informatics fields, was conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and Eton University’s Imagining the Internet Center. The research spans many different categories, ranging from how reality will be changed by the impossibly swift evolution of the net, to security of individuals and government entities. All in all, the extensive study reveals how scary the Internet is becoming.
To some experts, the Internet has allowed us humans to be “Villagers” inside a virtual reality. We live, to some extent, in some fragmented Internet world that is becoming more and more real than the fleshy reality outside our screens. Instead of simply experiencing life, human beings are growing used to dealing with life and experience as data to be analyzed and organized. Gray reported that professor Nicole Ellison (University of Michigan) hopes the Internet will raise more awareness of social injustice and disparity. As much as I share the same hope, it seems that the Internet inspires grand piles of comments and information, but at a rate at which people can’t process it emotionally.
Other experts believe the vast informational connectivity of the Internet (or Ubernet as David Hughes calls it) will start to dissolve the control governments have over specific populations of their nation states. A two-way (well, billion way), information superhighway diminishes the use of geographic boundaries. This could also manifest in a violent manner, with more and more people able to share what they believe to be inequality and how to challenge said phenomenon.
One of the scariest things about the Internet, now and in 2025, is how little privacy the Internet affords us. Now, Facebook and other social media sites have stockpiles of our personal details, banking information, everything right down to our most basic human desires. This is kinda extremely terrifying. And not only that, the entities that snag all our information are programming more ways to control and make money off our desires, algorithms constantly utilizing our uploaded personalities to advertise directly to us. Gray cited some experts as saying that criminal networks will take advantage of these tools and cyber terrorism will be very commonplace. Only the really Internet and technology savvy will be able to stop from falling into virtual, but also very real, trouble.
As much as the study showed positive applications of a broader, more powerful Internet in 2025, the dangers seemed to outweigh all the positives. To some experts, the idea that the Internet will be even more a part of daily life sounded inspiring and a fantastic way to bring education into a whole new level. However, I agree with many of the negative predictions. Many experts fear that the Internet, if current trends reveal the future, will make people more and more superficial, the amount of social interactions and information shared being too much for the primate brain. By the same token, criminal activity may increase online because we are more predisposed to commit minor acts (that could lead to bigger issues) when no face to face interaction has to be dealt with. Basically, people are more likely to be massive ass-hats on the net than in person, the virtual universe not hindered by our being tethered to a mortal flesh body. It’s like a wild science fiction idea of many years ago; the Internet is millions and millions of brains gone wild in an environment where the body can’t be harmed (although your identity, a symbolic thing anyhow, can be totaled easily).
Gray’s headline of her detailed account of the study asks the question of whether the Internet is a dystopia or “global village,” but I think it is and will be both. We’ll be living more inside this system, or set of systems, with each passing year, until our daily experience on this planet and in the Internet are one and the same. We’ll be living in a massive information system of easy, relatable iconography and superficial communication. The future looks to be a dystopìa of cyborgs, the present not too far off from what should be a fantasy. I’m certainly terrified, are you?