Imagining the Internet Center born out of people’s Web predictions in the ’90s

22 01 2010

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, approached Elon University professors Janna Anderson and Connie Book in 2000 to propose a challenge: Do some research to find 20 “kooky, out there” predictions that were made about the Internet in the early 1990s.

As Book and Anderson embarked on their research, it became clear that there was much more to these predictions than they had expected.

“We started looking into what people were saying, and they were saying profound things,” said Anderson, now director of the Imagining the Internet Center. “They were very prescient. They were looking ahead, tackling vital issues we would face in the years to come, and we really couldn’t find 20 ‘kooky’ predictions.”

What started as an engaging project to identify some “out-there” predictions led to a gathering of more than 4,000 predictions from the early 1990s. After publishing this information online in a searchable database, Anderson analyzed trends in the predictions and gathered those insights into the book Imagining the Internet: Personalities, Predictions, Perspectives.

Rainie and Anderson saw the importance of asking highly engaged Internet stakeholders to assess the potential future of the Internet in order to inform policy, identify key issues and work toward the best future possible. They instituted a series of “Future of the Internet” surveys, continuing to collect people’s visions of the future.

The surveys are posted on the Pew Internet & American Life Project site and on Imagining the Internet, which has grown to encompass a vast repository of written and video documentation of people’s thoughts about the Internet today and tomorrow.

Anderson and Rainie have also published books based on the survey data. The “Future of the Internet” book series includes “Up for Grabs,” “Hopes and Fears,” and “Ubiquity, Mobility, Security.”

Anderson said among the top issues that stand out are the future of privacy, ownership, openness and security. “Most experts agree that the future of copyright, of the ownership of information is a very big question,” she said. “Many are concerned about law – about the future of property, privacy, there are a lot of legal questions out there that are still being defined.”

Anderson noted that younger people are more likely to have a different take on ownership and privacy issues than those who lived most of their lives in pre-Internet times. She said that industrial-age institutions – including governments, education and media and entertainment corporations, to name a few – are struggling with the new economic, social and political paradigms the Internet presents, and this leads to conflicts. She added that the struggle to balance privacy issues with security concerns is one of the largest of these.

The results of the fourth Imagining the Internet survey will be released in the spring and will be discussed by Rainie at the FutureWeb conference in Raleigh, NC, April 28-30.

Play the video to hear about some of the “kooky” predictions and also some of the most prominent predictors in the early 1990s.

For more on the Imagining the Internet center: http://www.imaginingtheinternet.org

-By Kirsten Bennett

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