The Pew Research Center has released a series of reports on the history, status, and future of the Internet, in conjunction with the 25th Anniversary of the World Wide Web.
The Web at 25 in the U.S. looked at a range of surveys looking at how the Internet is used by people, and their views of the Internet and the content and services it offers. Over the 25 years of the Web, internet usage among U.S. adults has grown from 14% to 87%. 90% of those surveyed earlier this year indicated that the Internet has been beneficial for them, while 76% indicated that they thought the Internet had been good for society. In fact, the Internet is the technology that people are least willing to give up. In fact, a range of digital and mobile technologies have become an integral, and crucial, part of people's lives.
And while press coverage and political discussions often focus on the more negative aspects of the Web, most users (76%) report that they've been treated well (kind or generous) in their online interactions, two-thirds (67%) felt that online communication has strengthened their relationships with friends and family, more than half (56%) indicate they've witnessed online groups coming together to help people or to solve a community problem. In contrast, only 25% report ever been treated badly or have ever abandoned a site or service because it's gotten ugly (users attacked or discussions becoming virulent).
Digital Life in 2025 summarizes the predictions of a group of key experts. Most agreed on the key technological trends - that the Internet will become even more ubiquitous, integrated, and immersive; that the Web will increasingly integrate tags, sensors, apps, and intelligent agents to facilitate people's ability to use online content and services. They also widely agreed that the digital network economy will disrupt 20th century business models. This can be beneficial, creating the potential for fostering awareness and understanding, building relationships, and promoting collaboration and social group action. On the other hand, the same potential can provide opportunities for abuse. But the biggest threat is the possibility that nations (or other organizations) could co-opt the network, restricting and limiting the Web's potential through imposed regulations and structured access - turning the Internet into an instrument of political and social control rather than an open marketplace.
The choices we make today - our willingness to trade freedom for security, diversity for the safety of conformity, and privacy for convenience - will go a long way to determining what kind of internet we'll have in the future, and whether it remains a social good, or a mechanism for control.
Sources - What the Internet of 2025 Might Look Like, WSJ.com
The Web at 25 in the U.S., PewResearch Internet Project report
Digital Life in 2025, Pew Research Internet Project report