10 expert predictions on how the Internet will affect social relations

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The latest Pew survey on the Future of the Internet looks at the effect of technology on social relations, and the expectations of 895 Internet experts are overwhelmingly optimistic. It shouldn’t come as a major surprise that a sample of people who are selected for their expertise in technology take a positive view; 85% of them agreed that:

In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the internet has mostly been a positive force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future.

What makes the report worth reading are the fascinating predictions behind the optimism, and the questions that are raised by some of the respondents. From the report’s comments from respondents, here are 10 predictions about how the Internet will affect social relations by the year 2020:

  1. Social needs will dominate: “Humans are hardwired to connect and relate on a personal level. They need social validation and group membership. Technology and internet use will support people’s interpersonal and social goals because social needs dominate all others.” — Pamela Rutledge
  2. You’ll have to face your friends’ secrets: “It will be particularly interesting to see how we reconcile things about the people we know that we had not known in the past, or could not have known. How many of our friends will in some sense ‘come out of the closet’ on some issue or other by joining a group on Facebook, for instance, that might make us upset or angry, and what we will we do with that knowledge?” — Steve Jones
  3. Shy people will catch a break: “The internet breaks the shyness barrier in the beginning stage of every relationship.” — Jorge Alberto Castañoso
  4. We’ll start to recover from suburban isolation: “The internet is best seen as a reconfiguration of space. The internet modifies traditional space so that existing places are extended in ways that allow us to stay aware, share and intersect with people with whom we are not in the same traditional space. The internet is the opposite of suburbanization: suburbs took us away from other people and locked us into houses; the internet opens a door from the house into a potentially shared place…The internet replaced lack of physical presence with social presence.” — Zeynep Tufekci
  5. The further apart you are, the better the Internet will work for you: “The internet’s effect on relationships is paradoxical. It strengthens our relationships with distant friends and relations through social networks and email, but may damage the relationships of those nearer to us as always-on technologies and applications eat into family and social time.” — Mary Joyce
  6. You’ll spend more time with the people you care about most….: “By the year 2020 we will have figured out the best use of social networks: liberating people from offices. We can better use it to facilitate work relationships so that people might spend more time in the physical presence of the people they love, or, at very least, in the company of clients rather than in the company of superiors…There’s no reason why social networks can’t replace offices, but a Twitter feed will never replace family, a neighbor, a real community. ” — Patrick Tucker
  7. …but you’ll struggle to be present with them: “By 2020, the idea of turning off technology is going to be the equivalent of trying to stay dry when you are underwater. And I think relationships require uninterrupted time. They require being present. They require attention. And the more immersive our world will be by 2020, the negative result of this constant interruption with people we truly care about will be only harder as we are pulled in even more directions.” — Tiffany Shlain
  8. We’ll stop looking at the Internet’s impacts as before-and-after: “Personal predilections will be enhanced once one goes online. Those who are social will become more so, that is, and those who are loners will deepen their solitude. I expect research on this question to show something different over time. The early question had to do with the question of whether there were changes in the behavior of individuals when they went online. Now that digital natives begin and continue online, this is no longer a meaningful variable.” – Sandra Braman
  9. We’ll stop thinking about the social impact of the Internet per se:“The tension between the net and social engagement will vaporize in much the same way that thoughts about the telephone network vaporized and it came to be taken-for-granted. People do not ask if the telephone is an alienating social force. The phone is a utility supporting social life. Likewise, the net will come to be assumed as a utility for social life. How else would I know when church starts, when the game begins, where we are meeting for drinks, or what the weather for our trip might be?”— Robert Cannon
  10. We’ll see online friendship as legitimate: “My guess is that people who only make friends in person will be seen as socially handicapped.” — Charlie Martin

Read more predictions on the full report web site.

4 Comments on this site

  1. Lesli

    I can't say I agree with many of these. I think that there are many people who are socially handicapped BECAUSE they only make friends online, making in-person connections awkward and uncomfortable. Doesn't mean those online friendships aren't legitimate, but again, they're no replacement for contact in the real world, which is what we need the most.

    I also think the end of oil will have as much impact on suburban isolation as the internet – people who currently have “hub-and-spoke” relationships according to the suburban model will, however, be able to use the internet as a tool to make connections in their geographic area, while also staying in online contact with those who live in other suburbs or the city centre.

  2. Nicole Maunsell

    But the argument isn't necessarily that we'll make friends online, but that online interaction will help during the beginning stage of a relationship. I'm a shy person, and I find it a lot easier to interact with someone offline if I have some online context for them.

    Good point about the end of oil.

  3. Lesli

    I can't say I agree with many of these. I think that there are many people who are socially handicapped BECAUSE they only make friends online, making in-person connections awkward and uncomfortable. Doesn't mean those online friendships aren't legitimate, but again, they're no replacement for contact in the real world, which is what we need the most.

    I also think the end of oil will have as much impact on suburban isolation as the internet – people who currently have “hub-and-spoke” relationships according to the suburban model will, however, be able to use the internet as a tool to make connections in their geographic area, while also staying in online contact with those who live in other suburbs or the city centre.

  4. Nicole Maunsell

    But the argument isn't necessarily that we'll make friends online, but that online interaction will help during the beginning stage of a relationship. I'm a shy person, and I find it a lot easier to interact with someone offline if I have some online context for them.

    Good point about the end of oil.

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