Imagining the Internet – Intro + Google

The Pew Internet and American Life Project produces the English-speaking world’s most thoughtful and comprehensive research on the Internet as a social institution. If it were Canadian, I’d call it a national treasure. Although their activities are pretty much confined to, well, American life, Lee Rainie and his team have insights for us all about life online.

Life in 2020

One of the Pew Internet’s most ambitious initiatives is “Imagining the Internet,” a survey that asks experts and analysts to contemplate what the Internet will be like in 2020. It was fielded in 2005 and again in 2006 and 2008. I was asked to participate in this year’s edition, and over the next couple of weeks I’m going to post the survey questions and my verbatim responses. I’ll add post hoc revisions or regrets as appropriate.

A treasure trove of material related to the survey can be found on this page at the Pew site. It includes an October talk by Rainie at the Internet Governance Forum – Unfinished Symphony: What we don’t know about the future of the internet – as well as findings from the three previous surveys. A date has also been set for an initial presentation of the 2009 results: February 19, 2010, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The survey is organized around 10 provocative questions – like “Will Google make us smart or stupid?” You take a stand one way or the other. Then you write in all the reasons why you don’t entirely agree with the position you’ve just taken. Or plunge ahead to the next question. Here comes the future.

Q.1 – Will Google make us smart or stupid?

A. By 2020, people’s use of the internet has enhanced human intelligence; as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information, they become smarter and make better choices. Nicholas Carr was wrong: Google does not make us stupid.

B. By 2020, people’s use of the internet has not enhanced human intelligence and it could even be lowering the IQs of most people who use it a lot. Nicholas Carr was right: Google makes us stupid.

[my answer: A]

Please explain your choice and share your view of the internet’s influence on the future of human intelligence in 2020 – what is likely to stay the same and what will be different in the way human intellect evolves?


“Google isn’t making us stupid – but it is making many of us intellectually lazy. This has already become a big problem in university classrooms. For my undergrad majors in Communication Studies, Google may take over the hard work involved in finding good source material for written assignments. Unless pushed in the right direction, students will opt for the top 10 or 15 hits as their research strategy. And it’s the students most in need of research training who are the least likely to avail themselves of more sophisticated tools like Google Scholar. Like other major technologies, Google’s search functionality won’t push the human intellect in one predetermined direction. It will reinforce certain dispositions in the end-user: stronger intellects will use Google as a creative tool, while others will let Google do the thinking for them.”

Dec.25 – Reads as unnecessarily harsh on students. What about the rest of the human race? And if people like Carr feel stupid, what makes me so smart?

One thought on “Imagining the Internet – Intro + Google

  1. In that case, would it not be safe to say that sponsors of Google and those who pay for their sources to appear first on the search hit list have a strong ability to shape and possibly control the amount of information that would be accessed by the general populace? My concern here is that if students only look at the first 15 or so hits, then would it not be likely that someone could pay their way into having false information appear before credible sources? Gives me a creepy big brother feeling.

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