The core question guiding this study explores experts’ attitudes about the future of people’s well-being. A plurality of the participants endorsed the abundant positives of digital life and said they expect humans and technologies will continue to build upon them. On balance, this hopeful group argued that the beneficial impact of digital life will make its negatives mostly tolerable.

Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said, “Like most technologies, the overall benefit is positive, otherwise people would not adopt them. The internet and its continuing evolution is no different. With all the popularity of ‘internet-is-harmful’ books, articles and talks these days, they overlook the amazing good that it provides for most people. As the internet has matured and become more ubiquitous we have all too often taken for granted the amazing improvement in our lives.”

The optimistic internet visionaries of the 1990s were neither naive nor mistaken. The expected future always arrives late and in unexpected ways. We are in for a wild period of disorder, but beyond is a sunny upland.
Paul Saffo

Vint Cerf, Internet Hall of Fame member and vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google, commented, “I am persuaded that we will have more tools at our disposal to improve our ability to do knowledge work, to discover relevant information, to keep ourselves and others informed. Machine learning will be part of that toolkit. Autonomous software running in the background (think: Google Alert for example) will also prove useful. Automatic translations (spoken and written) will improve our ability to conduct international business or maintain relationships. New businesses will form around these advanced information-processing capabilities.”

Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, wrote, “We are becoming more aware of the dangers and shortcomings of a digitally connected life. That said, we can’t forget the many people who’ve built new connections or rebuilt old ones through online tools. We’re at a moment of waking up to downsides and figuring out how to address them – this isn’t a moment to back away from the internet as a space for interaction.”

Paul Saffo, a leading Silicon-Valley-based technological forecaster and consulting professor in the School of Engineering at Stanford University, said, “Heraclitus put it eloquently over two millennia ago – ‘nothing new comes into our lives without a hidden curse.’ The greater the marvel, the greater the unexpected consequences. Five centuries ago, the advent of the printing press utterly atom-smashed the social, religious and ultimately the political order of Europe. It ushered in a half century of chaos and conflict. But it also opened the door to the Enlightenment and the rise of representative political orders. The optimistic internet visionaries of the 1990s were neither naive nor mistaken. The expected future always arrives late and in unexpected ways. We are in for a wild period of disorder, but beyond is a sunny upland.”

An anonymous technology developer/administrator said, “The harms brought by technology are considerable, and should not be minimised. They represent both the adjustments that we need to make to accommodate new ways of doing things and structural changes and shifts in power that result. However, the benefits should not be forgotten; for every person who risks ‘internet addiction’ or ‘smartphone overload,’ there are people elsewhere who see quantifiable improvements in quality of life, opportunity, education and human rights as a result of technology.”

David Weinberger, a senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, said, “It is difficult and possibly impossible to evaluate a change of the magnitude that we are living through, for our values themselves are changing. For example, it is changing some of the most fundamental formations of sociality. We worry that our children or our colleagues are spreading themselves too thin across a loose network of ‘friends’ – putting the word in quotes to indicate our concern and disdain. At the same time, we are spending more time being social in these thin networks, and we carry our friends and acquaintances with us through our lifetimes in ways we never could before. Perhaps we’ll look back and pity the millennia when we were limited to a handful of friendships formed among people who happen to live close to us, and when we had to say final farewells to friends when we move away. This is not to say that everything is working out great so far. For example, bullying and intolerance are flourishing on the Net, and there is no future state in which that is a good thing. We can blame this on the Net, or we can say that we have uncovered a nastiness in the human social makeup that needs to be addressed by norms, morality, art and education. Or both. But if I’m going to call out some negatives after saying that we can’t evaluate what we are becoming, I feel compelled to point out some of the hopeful values that have already emerged on the Net. We are more social, more creative, funnier and more collaborative. This is a flourishing of our social nature so deep that it is transformative. It is important to remember the positives we see on the Net or else we will shut it down for fear of the negatives. My secret hope is that in this transitional stage we are poking at every extreme to explore the boundaries of the possible, and will eventually – before too long – file down the most hurtful edges.”

Shiru Wang, a research associate at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said, “Two sides coexist. On the one hand, the internet will significantly improve social communication and economic opportunities (e.g., e-shops) of the world population as a whole, especially when the former digital have-nots are able to access the internet. On the other hand, the redundancy, information explosion, the tendency of the internet’s (sic) dominating one’s life will continue bothering the ‘post-Internet’ generation, if not becoming worse. But I believe that there will be an inverted ‘U-shape’ on which the digital communication technologies benefit the overall well-being of the world population. We have not reached the peak point yet.”

Fred Baker, an internet pioneer and longtime leader with the Internet Engineering Task Force, wrote, “Will there be innovations? Yes, definitely. Will they impact us negatively or positively? Yes. And I would imagine the ones we will talk about will be the negative impacts, not the positive.”

Brad Templeton, software architect, civil rights advocate, entrepreneur, internet pioneer and chair emeritus for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote, “That we need to do a better job mitigating the bad effects does not stop the good effects from being worth it. There are still scores of ways we all find it hard to imagine how we did things in the past without our digital tools.”

In the next few sections of this report we share respondents’ thoughts on the myriad ways digital life enhances individuals’ well-being and builds a better future for people living digital lives. This content is organized under these commonly occurring themes: connection; commerce, government and society; crucial intelligence; contentment; and continuation toward quality.

Connection: Digital life links people to people, knowledge, education and entertainment anywhere globally at any time in an affordable, nearly frictionless manner

The essence of digital life, these experts argue, is connection. It is the most apt one-word reason people today feel they simply cannot get along without it. Doug Breitbart, co-founder and co-director of The Values Foundation, said, “The internet and the connectivity it provides offers greater and greater numbers of people access to information, education, social connection and affinity with others, and the potential to distribute, empower, enfranchise and unleash individual human generativity on a scale of unlimited potential.”

Louis Rossetto, founder and former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, said, “For all the negative effects of digital technologies – and there have been many – the net effects have been overwhelmingly positive. Across the planet, people in every culture, in every economic group have seen their lives improve dramatically, directly because the development and deployment of digital technologies and networks.”

Alejandro Pisanty, a professor at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and a longtime participant in the activities of the Internet Society, wrote, “The benefits of digital life will continue to outweigh the deleterious effects for a long time and for increasing numbers of people. At the very least this is a sampling and baseline issue: A fresh billion people will soon gain access to the most basic benefits with little or no significant damage from the negative side effects.”

Across the planet, people in every culture, in every economic group have seen their lives improve dramatically, directly because the development and deployment of digital technologies and networks.
Louis Rossetto

Hassaan Idrees of Karachi, Pakistan, said, “People will be helped more than harmed by digitization. Already, important discoveries and developments in areas as diverse and impactful as genomics, cancer and stem cell research, energy access, curriculum delivery and health solutions have been, and continue to be shared. I foresee continued positive developments in this regard.”

Fabian Szulanski, a professor at Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires, said, “Well-being will be helped. The democratic distribution of knowledge and decision-making; remote access to health monitoring and to doctors and health workers; communication platforms for bottom-up peaceful and generative conversations; socialization of disabled people; communities of wellness; PTSD and depression treatment; and the 3D printing of everything, including medicines, are just a few examples.”

Frank Feather, a business futurist and strategist with a focus on digital transformation, commented, “Every technology is an extension of human abilities and capabilities. To succeed, it must be technically viable, economically worthwhile and politically and socially acceptable. It must be used wisely and for good not ill. Overall, while each technology causes certain disruptions, over the long term, if well administered, every innovation improves the overall quality of life. So it is with the internet and digital technologies. These technologies will continue to enhance education, aid in research, foster a simpler lifestyle and work processes, and they will create far more jobs than they eliminate. They also will enhance life and commerce by creating wealth, higher productivity-induced incomes and shorter workweeks. They will enhance the leisure aspects of life, and also make it easier for people to connect worldwide, eventually helping to overcome differences in values and cultures.”

Rob Frieden, a professor of telecommunications and law at The Pennsylvania State University, said, “On balance, access to digital technologies and the literacy to use them will enhance social quality of life. These technologies provide new and better tools for individual and societal transactions, including education, career development, tele-health, e-government. I do not consider it wishful thinking to believe that many people can more effectively use these technologies than what pre-Internet technologies offered.”

Nathalie Coupet, an internet advocate based in North America, said, “The internet will have positive aspects in people’s lives as far as it can be harnessed. It facilitates meaningful communication in an Information Society, but also creates ‘thought silos,’ stress and isolation. There is no substitute for human interaction, and public policies should be designed to increase human interaction in public places.”

Eileen Rudden, co-founder of LearnLaunch, wrote, “The broadening of access to information and education and work to all of the world’s populations by the internet will continue to create a net new benefit to humanity.”

Kathryn Campbell, a digital-experience design consultant, said, “There is no question that continuous connectivity and attention-enticing content is producing shifts in our behavior and even our cognition. I find it much more difficult to focus for long periods of time now, especially when I am online, which is most of the time. I also find it hard to disengage. However, the benefits of connectivity are enormous. Those who are physically and/or socially isolated can now interact with a wide range of people. All those with internet access can inform and educate ourselves according to our interests at little to no cost. Data on diseases can be pooled and analyzed in ways that were cost and time prohibitive in the past. Overall, the forces that connect us draw us closer together in myriad interesting ways.”

Neil McIntosh, managing editor of BBC Online, said, “Digital technologies have brought myriad improvements.”

A sampling of additional comments related to “connection” from anonymous respondents:

  • “The benefits include the capacity to find each other and network in new ways; access to information and services at your fingertips; higher-quality entertainment in homes and in hand; finding things with considerable less hassle and travel; new advances in analytics.”
  • “Digital tools are often free, easily portable and can automate tasks that would otherwise take up cognitive space.”
  • “A great section of society now has the ability to learn about any subject on the planet. We walk around with the contents of a global library in our pocket.”
  • “There is huge educational potential in online and technology-enhanced learning and that we have barely scratched the surface of that potential.”
  • “The entertainment uses of the internet will continue to expand. Although many of these will be harmful to people’s productivity, sense of purpose and well-being, in moderation they open opportunities for personal enjoyment that should not be discounted.”

Commerce, government and society: Digital life revolutionizes civic, business, consumer and personal logistics, opening up a world of opportunity and options

The rise of global communications networks in the past few decades has produced revolutionary transformations of many essential life activities, according to the more hopeful experts responding to this canvassing. Many respondents chose to illuminate the ways in which society’s political, economic and social realms have been enhanced globally, also enhancing individuals’ well-being. Only about half of the people in the world are connected; billions more are expected to gain connectivity in coming years.

The digital revolution has led to radical changes that many could not have imagined only a decade ago. Despite the radical shifts so far, the digital revolution is still at its infancy … While the potential for harmful effects will always be there, the use of the emerging digital tools in development will be transformative.
Olugbenga Adesida

Nalaka Gunawardene, science writer and information and communication technology (ICT) researcher based in Sri Lanka, said, “Digital tools/technologies come with some potential problems, but on the whole I consider them more beneficial in a developing country like Sri Lanka where a third of the 21 million population now regularly uses the internet. The spread of digital and Web tools during the past decade has had far-reaching impacts on our families, society, culture and politics. For example, they undermine our feudal and hierarchical social orders, enabling a meritocracy to emerge. They disrupt conventional business models in our unimaginative media, creating new opportunities for digital startups to innovate. They create new spaces and opportunities for youth to participate in politics and social reforms. Digitally-armed young people are challenging the status quo in schools, workplaces and civil society. These larger benefits far outweigh misuse and excesses of digital technologies.”

Larry Roberts, Internet Hall of Fame member, original ARPANET leader, now CEO/CFO/CTO of FSA Technologies Inc., said, “The improvement in allowing the majority of us [to] work at home will greatly improve our lives. This requires bandwidth and speed per home that many do not have today. Besides being able to do all our digital work online, this requires easy and cheap video conferencing with our co-workers, customers and outside contacts. Savings in office space, an office computer, our ability to mix business with other home demands like signature deliveries and eliminating the stress and time lost in commuting are a few of the benefits. They represent significant cost savings and also an improved quality of life.”

Akah Harvey, co-founder, COO and IT engineer at Traveler Inc., based in Cameroon, said, “We are already experiencing the many advantages that are brought by developing technologies that address our local problems. Most of these directly improve the well-being of people in this part of the world (Africa).”

Larry Irving, president and CEO of the Irving Group and co-founder of the Mobile Alliance for Global Good, wrote, “The opportunities in health, education, commerce, agriculture, finance, sustainability and even government will compensate for the very real negative potential consequences.”

Fernando Ortega, a director of the National Council of Science, Technology and Innovation of Peru, said, “New tech developments will allow the concentration of human efforts (including work) on more complex activities, leaving the routine activities to machines. This will generate new jobs and enhance the opportunities to new companies emerging from innovations. The key factors for a successful economy will be technological education, telecom infrastructure and a promotional environment for the creation of new ventures.”

Olugbenga Adesida, founder and CEO of Bonako, based in Africa, wrote, “The digital revolution has led to radical changes that many could not have imagined only a decade ago. Despite the radical shifts so far, the digital revolution is still at its infancy, especially with respect to its potential impacts on socioeconomic development in the developing world. The potential is high in various fields, from health, livelihoods, and education to governance. While the potential for harmful effects will always be there, the use of the emerging digital tools in development will be transformative. It will affect all sectors, from the way economic activities are organized, the way we deliver social services (education, health, etc.), to the way we govern ourselves. The critical challenge is whether Africa and the rest of the developing world will become active producers of the emerging technologies or remain primarily consumers.”

Jon Lebkowsky, CEO of Polycot Associates, said, “I believe we’re in a transitional phase – a phase that will last one or more generations. Digital literacy will evolve, as will global understanding of the implications of technology developments. Though we’ll always have issues and bad actors, I believe that we’ll catch up with technology and diminish the negative impacts. I’m lately focused on cooperative business, and I believe there are promising developments in that space – democratic worker co-ops forming, along with multi-stakeholder cooperatives facilitated by digital platforms. I’m also feeling hopeful about the impact of the ‘internet of trust’ that the blockchain promises to deliver. We’re way early in the development of that technology, but it feels promising. Our way out of current moral challenges will definitely include/require systems of trust.”

A sampling of additional comments related to “commerce, government and society” from anonymous respondents:

  • “The internet is bringing about profound changes in medicine, public safety, education, our economy, public discourse and civic engagement.”
  • “The internet will continue its diversified growth at the core of work, leisure, social, etc.”
  • “Digital technology is already making big contributions to monitoring and diagnosis, access to information, education and markets, to job creation and similar markers of human welfare.”
  • “Blockchain will change the way that we pay for goods and services and undertake legal contracts.”
  • “We will see solutions to disease, renewable applications that will help address our climate crises and dependence on fossil fuels, the architecture of shelters, transportation and our exploration into the larger universe around us.”

Crucial intelligence: Digital life is essential to tapping into an ever-widening array of health, safety and science resources, tools and services in real time

Many of the most enthusiastic experts made this argument: The advancement of knowledge in health and science globally and the potential future well-being of billions will be dramatically improved by the way digital technologies enable people to create, share, discover, monitor and remotely enable real-time actions.

David A. Bernstein, a retired market researcher and consultant, said, “The well-being of individuals will improve over the next decade as a result of greater integration of personal wearable technology and the internet. I see a day in the not too distant future where diabetes, heart conditions and basic diagnostic tools will be made closer to the patient through these. The distance and time between practitioner and patient will hopefully be greatly reduced.”

Shel Israel, CEO of the Transformation Group, said, “There is a very large mountain of evidence in how it will help the well-being of people. Just in immersive technologies, such as AR [artificial reality] and VR [virtual reality], we are seeing improvements to the care and treatment of all sorts of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, autism, non-opiate pain treatment and more. There are also clear improvements of surgery caused by use of the internet and immersive technologies in training medical practitioners.”

Just in immersive technologies, such as AR [artificial reality] and VR [virtual reality], we are seeing improvements to the care and treatment of all sorts of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, autism, non-opiate pain treatment and more.
Shel Israel

Alf Rehn, a professor of innovation, design and management at the University of Southern Denmark, wrote, “AR has already gotten kids moving more (Go, Pokemon Go!). This will only increase, and new fitness solutions will help even us couch potatoes get up more. The Internet of Things will enable better health tracking, and a ubiquity of sensors will nudge us into better behaviors. Next up: The internet of healthier diets (or ‘Who put a tracker in my liquor cabinet?!?’).”

Gary L. Kreps, distinguished professor and director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University, wrote, “Digital health-information systems have the potential to significantly support individual and public health promotion by providing needed health advice (recommendations and reminders), answering important health questions, minimizing health care/maintenance errors and delivering timely support to solve health problems.”

Fred Davis, a futurist/consultant based in North America, wrote, “There are a number of new transformative technologies that have the potential to increase people’s psychological and emotional well-being. The one with the most potential is VR [virtual reality]. It has been shown to increase people’s capacity for empathy. This alone is profound. VR [virtual reality] has been shown to treat depression more effectively and quickly than medications or talk-only therapy. VR has been used to treat anxiety disorders, phobias, social anxiety and PTSD. I know of a VR app for self-compassion targeted at quieting your inner critic, also known as negative self-talk. It uses cognitive behavioral therapy. Other VR apps reinforce pro-social behavior and help relieve stress. 25% of the U.S. population has a mental illness at any given time, and 50% will have one during their lifetime. Being able to develop treatments and therapies to address these issues could have a very positive effect on people’s well-being.”

Laurie Orlov, principal analyst at Aging in Place Technology Watch, said, “One of the most disruptive technology changes is underway – as significant as the browser, smartphone and tablet. ‘Voice first’ technologies (examples: Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple Siri) will be quality-of-life enhancements and enablers, for older adults in particular. Price points for devices, at $50 or less, make it feasible to speak a request or need, including communicating with family, friends and service providers. The opportunity is to reduce social isolation in the home, easily access information and services, and provide new ways to improve general quality of life.”

A sampling of additional comments related to “crucial intelligence” from anonymous respondents:

  • “We can anticipate major advances in health care delivery, active-wellness monitoring, management of chronic conditions, remote surgical procedures with potential for significant cost savings, patient access and improved outcomes.”
  • “Advances in technologies such as AI, machine learning and robotics will revolutionize fields such as medicine, healthcare and aged care.”
  • “There is a lot of potential for technology to help with affordances for people who have diminishing capabilities due to aging and mobility.”
  • “We can better monitor and respond to health threats, which can improve the health and well-being of the entire population.”
  • “There will be an expansion of remote medicine, improved information sharing, improved analysis of many types of data, from medical images to city traffic patterns. Smart cities that provide more information and accept more input from citizens can shorten the time to identify and resolve problems, from a broken street light to system issues like inappropriate police behavior.”
  • ‘The informational elements of the internet are unleashing a flow of data access, analyses and new knowledge that has led to many breakthroughs.”

Contentment: Digital life empowers people to improve, advance or reinvent their lives, allowing them to self-actualize, meet soul mates and make a difference in the world

The internet, web and associated technologies are powerful bootstrapping tools, according to some of these respondents. Digital life offers endless possibilities to anyone with a connection, anywhere, anytime. Yes, it offers these same possibilities to criminals, con artists and crackpots. But the enthusiastic experts in this sample say that the personal empowerment enabled by digital technologies allows the vast majority of earnest, honest individuals to discover possibilities, solve problems, come together, find their bliss and make their lives sweeter. Their predictions argue that most people will spend most of their time online doing something they believe to be beneficial to their own well-being.

People are able to access information about anything from anywhere, are able to speed up processes that ordinarily took much longer to complete, and with the advent of new technology will come new and improved ways of conducting business, learning, interacting and living.
Anonymous respondent

Richard Jones, an investor based in Europe, wrote, “The current development of IT tools in areas such as search, data mining and its feedback, voice interface and AI, AR and VR immersive experiences, drone and camera, blockchain and all applications thereof (such as value exchange and transaction enablement and accounting), smart-home management, remote education, mobility, etc., generally disintermediate, quicken and extend the possibilities for use of one’s time. There is undoubtedly a challenge to accommodate this effectively into mentally stable patterns of behaviour as it tends toward a quickening of pace akin to burnout, but some of this can be accommodated by digital natives whereas silver surfers will be flummoxed by having to rationalise rather than accept or simply be confused and feel out of control. Digital natives will generally have better habits and acceptance, but, having said that, the technology does appear to have the potential to spin out of control by either cyber warfare, chip design errors, systemic collapse due to some unforeseen problem, etc. Put simply, this is like any great change: a period of heightened uncertainty about direction and outcome so much so that the world order and the very survival of humankind and the planet are issues in flux.”

Ralph Droms, a technology developer/administrator based in North America, said, “New internet technologies will allow people to remain independent longer as they age as well as contribute to augmenting and improving daily life.”

Mary Chayko, a professor at the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, wrote, “People’s well-being will be both helped and harmed in substantial measure as they continue to use and depend on digital technologies. We will be positively impacted when useful and credible information and opportunities flow through our networks and negatively impacted by false or demeaning exchanges and interactions – and in the modern social media era there will always be plenty of both. Access to education, literacy, physical and mental health care and financial (and other key) resources help tip the scale to the positive; efforts to increase their distribution widely and equally are therefore critical to the well-being of societies and individuals.”

Kyle Rose, principal architect at Akamai Technologies Inc. and active Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) participant, wrote, “Positive changes resulting from the greater opportunities for learning and exploration, communication and collaboration for which the internet provides a foundation will persist. The net effect will be positive.”

Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said, “Improvements in access to information, services, knowledge will in some cases enhance personal, business and cultural empowerment. However, the opportunity for misuse and negative utilization is also a constant and needs to not be ignored.”

Glenn Grossman, consultant of banking analytics at FICO, wrote, “In the next decade, digital abilities will improve life and work with higher-quality services.”

Barbara Clark, Ph.D., said, “One has to think about the Gutenberg press. To control the impact, the Catholic Church created the Imprimatur. The Gutenberg press eventually allowed the common person to have access to textual information. Fast forward to the internet, which opened access to global information – most importantly the ability of the common person of any age to create text, video, voice and animation. While we, as a society, currently struggle with the ramifications of this new Information Age, the coming years will only allow us to grow intellectually and help create a working global society.”

A sampling of additional comments related to “contentment” from anonymous respondents:

  • “The internet is a primary defense against isolation, in particular for people whose age, abilities, family circumstances and incomes limit their face-to-face interactions to a narrow circle. It allows people to continue to contribute in their fields and communities.”
  • “More people are meeting their life partners and friends online. The internet allows people a larger pool of other humans from which to choose who they spend their time with and it makes it more clear which of them they are likely to fit in with.”
  • “People’s well-being will be improved because of increased efficiency at work and home. People can be more productive at work, and technology will improve convenience at home.”
  • “It expands the potential for local-community social safety nets, expands the potential for learning and education, expands the potential for exercising local-through-global citizenship.”
  • “People are able to access information about anything from anywhere, are able to speed up processes that ordinarily took much longer to complete, and with the advent of new technology will come new and improved ways of conducting business, learning, interacting and living.”
  • “Simply being online provides great benefits to people in many parts of the world, and in the next decade, a large number of people will get new access or faster access.”
  • “Technology affords a number of life-improving innovations. Technology will also contribute towards a reformulation of the social fabric, as online platforms begin to take the role that local communities have fostered and supported.”

Continuation toward quality: Emerging tools will continue to expand the quality and focus of digital life; the big-picture results will continue to be a plus overall for humanity

A common sentiment found throughout many of the responses about well-being in the next decade was shared by Christian Huitema, a technology developer/administrator based in North America. “I am optimistic,” he wrote. “Yes, we do see negative side effects of social networks in particular and various forms of automation in general. But I believe that society will adapt and that digital services perceived as unhelpful will be replaced by better and more convenient services. Given time, this process should lead to improvements.”

The road is bumpy, but we are moving toward freedom and prosperity for all.
Robert Metcalfe

Peter Lunenfeld, professor and vice chair of the Design Media Arts department at UCLA, said, “In the more than a quarter of a century since the advent of the World Wide Web, and the decade of smartphone-driven social media, we’ve explored and exploited a lot of the worst that the digital can bring into our lives. The next decade will see a pendulum swing to more conscious and deliberate use of emerging and extant technologies.”

Internet Hall of Fame member Robert Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet, founder of 3Com, and a professor of innovation at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote, “Connecting is a good thing. We have not yet developed the tools to deal with the sudden connectivity of the internet, but even still, reduced economic frictions are leading to better lives. The road is bumpy, but we are moving toward freedom and prosperity for all.”

Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois Springfield, wrote, “As the Internet of Things continues to expand, artificial intelligence applications become more integrated into the Web, virtual reality is refined and mixed reality is combined with geo-location, we will see a wide array of applications and uses that enhance the online experience. These technological advancements will combine with the network to disseminate services and create collaborations that we have not yet fully imagined.”

Peter and Trudy Johnson-Lenz, principals of Pathfinding Smarter Futures, commented, “Individuals’ over-all well-being will be helped by digital technologies – an increasing number of apps, virtual workshops, online support networks and the like emphasize aspects of positive psychology, work-life balance, de-stressing, personal and spiritual development and so on. Mindfulness is going mainstream and googling ‘mindfulness apps’ results in 1.7 million hits. A few mindfulness apps also include biofeedback. Mindful use of digital tools in one’s life can support and enhance well-being. Better yet, design of digital tools that encourage and reinforce more mindfulness, rather than obsession with whatever is on the screen, would be a big benefit. Some digital designers are speaking out about the ‘addictive’ qualities of smartphone interfaces. Key online articles by Farhad Manjoo, Stu Goulden, Bianca Bosker describe what makes interfaces and apps so addictive and what people can do to manage the negative effects. Former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris is now the executive director and co-founder of Time Well Spent. He writes, ‘We are building a new organization dedicated to reversing the digital attention crisis and realigning technology with humanity’s best interests … we are advancing thoughtful solutions to change the system.’ Harris is a graduate of B.J. Fogg’s Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford. Fogg is a behavioral psychologist whose insights about how people change habits and behaviors has led to him to develop the field of behavior design over the past 20 years. On his website ( Fogg writes, ‘Technology itself doesn’t magically change behavior. People creating products need to understand how human behavior works. Teaching people the psychology of behavior change is core to my work these days. I’ve created a set of models – how to think clearly about behavior. And I’ve created a set of methods – how to design for behavior. These models and methods work together and comprise behavior design.’ With people like Tristan Harris, Justin Rosenstein, B.J. Fogg and their many colleagues working to develop better digital technologies and supporting business models and organizational structures that contribute to personal and societal well-being, we are more hopeful about the positive impacts of digital life in the future.”

Some who said the next decade will be mostly helpful to well-being also mentioned that negative change may come post-2027. Dan Ryan, professor of arts, technology and the business of innovation at the University of Southern California, wrote, “I suspect that for most of the next decade we will be in the more-better, less-worse part of the social-change gradient. That’s based on the idea that there are still a whole bunch of folks who have not yet reaped what’s already there and an expected ‘second wave’ of ‘for the general welfare’ work that’s ongoing and upcoming. There are, I think, gathering negatives but I’d predict most of the decade will pass before they hit home.”

A sampling of additional comments related to the theme of “continuation toward quality” from anonymous respondents:

  • “With an increasing saturation of ‘digital awareness,’ people’s sense that they are any better connected than anyone else should dissipate.”
  • “There is increasing pressure on IT companies and network service providers to make our digital infrastructure more secure, more reliable, more affordable and much easier to use. We have many of the technologies needed to accomplish that and they are being deployed.”
  • “There will be a better learning curve of using the internet more effectively.”
  • “People will become more responsible for their own actions, comments and how they interact with the digital world.”