Pew Report: Internet to Revolutionize Social Interaction

Article excerpt

Nothing has consumed the popular imagination and changed our lives in the past 30 years as the internet has. It's impossible to ignore the impact that it's had on commerce, communication, and social interaction since 1980.

According to a report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, in cooperation with Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center, 85% of experts polled in the survey say the internet will be a positive social force in the future, compared to 14% who said it would have a negative effect.

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The report, the fourth "Future of the Internet" survey, is based on an online questionnaire given to nearly 900 specially selected experts. In the questionnaire, the respondents are asked to evaluate 10 "tension pairs," choosing the more likely of two predictive statements representing opposing outcomes on a similar theme. In addition to predicting an ongoing positive impact of the internet in general, the survey respondents tackled more specific topics, with a particular emphasis on the impact of the internet on social interaction.

"The net is about people connecting online, for commerce, politics, and personally, and we already see that enhances real-life relationships. Location-based social networking, in particular, will be a big part of our lives," says craigslist founder Craig Newmark in the survey report.

For each tension pair, respondents chose one of the two options, but the questions were designed to leave room for nuanced answers. As a result, even though the vast majority of respondents agreed that the internet would have a positive impact on human interactions, many of them had reservations. For instance, Robert Ferrell, a former systems security specialist at the U.S. Department of the Interior, reports that internet communication might help people overcome physical or emotional obstacles to social interaction in the future.

"If--and I believe this will happen eventually--the tendency to make remarks and adopt positions you would never consider in person can be overcome, online society stands a very real chance of taking interpersonal relationships to a level never before possible," according to Ferrell in the report. "Balancing out the anonymity and lack of physical contact is the ability to mask a plethora of medical and psychological conditions that until now have proven serious handicaps to social interaction. No one stutters or stammers on Twitter."

On the other hand, those who did not agree that the internet will benefit our social interactions worry about the predisposition of internet friendships and relationships to be more superficial than in-person relationships. …