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Imagining the future of the Internet

By Christine Boese
CNN Headline News
HLN Buzz Factor
Technology (general)
Elon University

(CNN) -- I had more fun than I had any right to the other day. I looked into my crystal ball and imagined the future of the Internet.

What I really did was participate in a study by Elon University and the Pew Internet and American Life Database by taking an intriguing online survey. A big part of this prestigious study is longitudinal, taking place over a long period of time.

More than 10 years have passed since this research project began, so the database is full of predictions made in the early 1990s. The researchers intend to continue the study into the future, to judge the success of the predictions.

The site is open for browsing and searching, so you can hop in and read some of the famous, humorous and edgy predictions from pundits, journalists and ordinary people about what the Internet could become. As years go by, this should become an absolute treasure trove, but it already is an amazing read.

Make your predictions first!

But wait! If you plan to take the survey (and it is open-invitation, so go for it! Click the link in the sidebar) don't read the predictions before you start. This keeps your ideas from being influenced by all those other folks. The survey includes both quick multiple-choice questions and open-ended short answer space where you can describe your prophetic visions in greater detail.

What, you don't have prophetic visions? Sure you do. Whatever your point of view, dark and dystopian or utopian and blissful, it is worth recording, like in a time capsule. If you are interested enough to read this column, you too have something to say.

The questions range from topics such as what will happen to democracy and online voting, to predicting the future of creativity and art, personal entertainment and online media environments. The survey also asks participants to look back on the past 10 years and consider the impact the Internet has had on our lives, or where it has fallen short of expectations.

A surprising thought experiment

Because on certain days I am both dark and dystopian and utopian and blissful, I found myself writing many long-winded paragraphs on each answer. Each question prompted me to take on the thought experiment in a different way, so I found myself writing things that had never occurred to me before.

I've been studying Internet cybercultures and interfaces since the early 1990s, so as I went along in the survey I also started having a sense of déjà vu. I realized I had taken the same survey before, sometime around 1993 or 1994 when I was starting grad school. It may not have been associated with the Pew Foundation back then, I don't remember, but I see other people I knew at that time cited in the predictions. I think many of us participated because we were at an engineering school.

I wish I could remember what my answers were back then. That's why I decided to save a copy this time, by copying and pasting them into a text document. I recommend all participants save their own predictions for posterity, just to be able to look back on their own ride in Jules Verne's visionary balloon.

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