Nearly a third of experts predict digital life will do individuals more harm than good in the next decade, according to the 2018 “Future of the Internet” report from the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center.
Some 1,150 experts, including internet stars and technology leaders, most of whom preferred to remain anonymous, were asked, “Over the next decade, how will changes in digital life impact people’s overall well-being physically and mentally?”
In response, 32 percent said people’s well-being will be more harmed than helped. However, 47 percent said people’s well-being will be more helped than harmed, and 21 percent saw little change in the coming decade.
“Considering how it seems we can no longer get through daily life without our digital tools and how much pleasure and benefit they give us, the finding that 32 percent of experts say digital life will actually be more harmful than helpful to individuals’ well-being in the next decade is fairly remarkable,” said Janna Anderson, a communications professor and director of the Imagining the Internet Center. “Ninety-two percent said they believe there are some solutions that could mitigate the challenges.”
The responses were received from mid-December to mid-January.
Among solutions the experts proposed were:
Crafting new anti-trust laws to regulate large technology companies;
Holding algorithms — and the companies responsible for them — accountable for their roles in shifting and shaping social and political power dynamics;
Creating “nudge” systems to remind people when their data are being collected, and reminding them how algorithms work to deliver content to them;
Developing a “digital bill of rights” that privileges human dignity over the profit motive. A few argued for turning tech companies into regulated utilities;
Creating laws and regulations offering more privacy protection to users, and rights when they’re under surveillance — or “dataveillance” — from both technology firms and government agencies;
Integrating better-targeted digital media literacy more deeply into educational systems; and
Re-examining the industrial-era social contract of expected rights and obligations of companies and workers when it comes to jobs, and of governments and citizens when it comes to safety nets.
“Nearly all of the experts expressed their deep appreciation for the continually expanding benefits of digital life,” said Lee Rainie, director of Internet and Technology studies at Pew Research. “But many are also worried, and almost all of them have ideas about how to mitigate problems like distraction, addiction and polarization that are in the news environment now.”
The report examines experts’ views on the Internet’s impact on people in terms of:
Commerce, government and society;
Continuation toward quality.
Experts’ concerns are divided into:
Digital distrust and divisiveness;
Digital duress; and
Intervention ideas are:
Redesigning media literacy; and
Chapters expand on these themes.
“Many of those who argue that human well-being will be harmed also acknowledge that digital tools will continue to enhance various aspects of life,” the report says. “They also note there is no turning back.”