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PEW: The positives of digital life

1. The positives of digital life

1. The positives of digital life

The greatest share of participants in this canvassing said their own experience and their observed experience among friends is that digital life improves many of the dimensions of their work, play and home lives. They cited broad changes for the better as the internet revolutionized everything, from the most pressing intellectual and emotional experiences to some of the most prosaic and everyday aspects of existence.

Louis Rossetto, self-proclaimed “troublemaker” and founder and former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, summed it all up this way: “Digital technology is so broad today as to encompass almost everything. No product is made today, no person moves today, nothing is collected, analyzed or communicated without some ‘digital technology’ being an integral part of it. That, in itself, speaks to the overwhelming ‘value’ of digital technology. It is so useful that in short order it has become an integral part of all of our lives. That doesn’t happen because it makes our lives miserable.”

There is almost no area in which digital technology has not impacted me and my family’s life.LARRY IRVING

Larry Irving, co-founder of The Mobile Alliance for Global Good, wrote, “There is almost no area in which digital technology has not impacted me and my family’s life. I work more from home and have more flexibility and a global client base because of digital technology. I monitor my health and keep my physician informed using data technology. My wife has gone back to a graduate school program and is much more connected to school because of technology. My entertainment and reading options have exploded exponentially because of new technologies. Use of home speakers, Internet of Things, AI [artificial intelligence] and other emerging technologies is just impacting my life and likely will become more central. I used to write out first drafts of memos longhand. Increasingly I use a new free beta AI-based transcription service Temi to dictate my first draft and then edit that draft. Even when it’s awful, that first draft is better than staring at that blank piece of paper trying to think of something to say. I have numerous meetings with people I don’t know or only met once or twice previously. Recently I had a meeting with someone I didn’t know well. An app I use Accompany pulled up an email exchange between the two of us a decade ago about an issue we both care about. Accompany also provided me a very recent article where the person I was meeting with discussed the same issue and current concerns. Having that knowledge was incredible useful for our recent meeting and simply could not/would not have been possible without the use of digital technology.”

Mike Liebhold, senior researcher and distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future, wrote, “Almost every member of my family regularly uses the internet to inform or improve aspects of their well-being: diet, fitness, health, social interaction with family and friends in person and online, education, entertainment, employment, commerce, finance and civic engagement.”

William Schrader, the founding CEO of PSINet, wrote, “Every single day: I have private communications with business associates in Europe, Asia, Latin America and in North America, and I receive emails or social media notices from my family members and their extended friends, and I receive the latest news and alerts from 20 different real news publications (such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and the Economist). All of this comes with little effort. And, after doing my local security, I can check every public investment I have made anywhere on earth and I can check my bank accounts and make transactions I deem of import, and I can search for any one or multiple piece of information that I need instantly, with or without Wi-Fi. Yes, I have what I wanted, everything at my fingertips. That means information, knowledge, history, ability to transact. I try to never do this when others are with me, since I love living in the moment. Since I am alone a lot, I can find the time. But I do not condemn or even slightly criticize people for taking a call, checking a text, reading, etc. What we built is what we wanted. It’s just that few people are happier. But, I am OK.”

Paul Saffo, a leading Silicon-Valley-based technological forecaster and consulting professor in the School of Engineering at Stanford University, said, “I have had an email address on my business card since 1982, and carry enough electronics on my person to get nervous in lightning storms. Digital connectivity has become like oxygen, utterly essential to my research. The net effect of these innovations has been to tie me more closely to other individuals and extend my interpersonal connections well beyond the pre-internet links of in-person interactions and telecommunications. I have friends – close friends who I have known for well over a decade and with whom I communicate nearly every day. We have never met in-person. In fact, we have never spoken over the phone. At the end of the day, the two of the three highest human desires are the desire to be useful, and the desire to share stories. We have been doing both since our distant ancestors sat around a savanna camp fire sharing their days and their dreams. Now, thanks to digital media, the circle around the campfire has grown to encompass (if we wish) all of humanity.”

Garland McCoy, president of the Technology Education Institute, said, “I can be a real-time engaged parent, husband, partner, problem solver, counselor, comforter, etc., while traveling anywhere in the world, and – if I am comfortable with a little inconvenience – I can usually manage this real-time interaction for free! Something that was never possible before. No more ‘Death of a Salesman.’”

Kyle Rose, principal architect at Akamai Technologies and active Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) participant, wrote, “There are simply too many things to list here. I’ll just hit on three. I can more easily keep in regular contact with friends in distant places. Those with whom I would have lost most contact (because, really, there’s no way I’m going to write letters or spend hours on the phone) I can now maintain a relationship with, sometimes of a fairly deep and interactive nature, via social media. This enables us to pick right up when we do finally see each other in person. Technology eases the difficulties of day-to-day life. Because of the internet, I have access to virtually all of recorded music at all times. I can get up-to-date maps and traffic data to avoid incidents. I can order food, groceries or a taxi, obtain up-to-date information about my flight status, and navigate foreign cities via public transit all from my phone with a few taps of my finger. Finally and relatedly, how the hell did I ever learn anything before the internet? The card catalog? Virtually all of human knowledge is at my fingertips at all times. It is rare that I ask a question of fact that someone hasn’t yet answered, and now many of those answers are available to anyone with access to a search engine. The impact of all of these is profoundly positive. And this is only a taste of what the internet, and technological advances in general, promise.”

Fred Davis, a futurist/consultant based in North America, wrote, “Messaging apps allow me to connect with people who have given me support, provided a chance to talk about life’s challenges, seek advice and many other things. Access to people is simplified. Chat apps (unlike Facebook) provide a one-on-one connection with another person, which can be more personal, human and healing than posting on social networks. I have been using a Fitbit for a number of years. I have had a heart attack and triple bypass and am pre-diabetic. Getting regular exercise is important, and my Fitbit helps me set and attain fitness goals much more easily than before. The ability to monitor and track my sleep helps me take actions to get better sleep, which definitely increases well-being. By connecting to my Fitbit scale I can also track my weight and tie it to my exercise goals. My Fitbit can connect to a Dexcom blood sugar-testing device that can test blood sugar every five minutes, which is extremely helpful in managing my pre-diabetes.”

These one-liners from anonymous respondents hit on a number of different positive themes:

  • “I can get answers to questions about almost anything just by asking my telephone.”
  • “I can save money on everything, including clothing and shoes, airfares, hotels and eat at better restaurants and drink better wine.”
  • “Navigation via car has dramatically improved, with accurate up-to-date traffic information and destination wayfinding.”
  • “Digital life is being able to speak and see someone – regardless of where you are – on a phone you carry on your person.”
  • “Most people I have dated and approximately all of my friends knew me on the internet first; before such digital connectivity I would have just been lonely.”
  • “Sharing photos of new generations instantly with loved ones on the other side of the world and using video and chat to send/receive money; to joke, to tease, to mourn.”
  • “My son has grown up in a world in which he will never be lost; he will never be without a person to talk to; he will never be stopped from searching for an answer to a query.”
  • “I work remotely for a company halfway around the world, and so does my partner. No need to be at a main office.”
  • “The diffusion of webinars allows me to participate in many events organized in different countries without having to travel to them.”
  • “Digital technology allows me to have better knowledge that empowers me to better support my own health when I face challenges.”
  • “My job didn’t exist 15 years ago. I am a digital content manager.”
  • “It means that we can participate in important moments that time and distance barred us from in the past.”
  • “I feel more supported in good times and bad and laugh more than before I was connected online.”

Here is a roundup of the many ways these experts described the benefits they get and the benefits they observe.

Family enrichment and enhancement

Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, said, “My 90-year-old father was on Facebook for the sole purpose of connecting with kids and grandkids who were scattered across the country. Reading and commenting on their posts gave him the ability to participate in the process of their lives. Knowing what the family members were doing increased his sense of involvement and the overall intimacy he experienced with them all. This familiarity also jump-started any family gathering, keeping people who were geographically disparate from feeling like relative strangers and allowing relationships to be more immediately meaningful. Texting in all forms serves the same purpose. Closeness in relationships is achieved by the frequency of contact. The human brain reacts to virtual contact as if it were real, releasing the same neurotransmitters of positive emotion and reward as if people were face to face. Texting allows for the multiple touchpoints, the sharing of life’s process and the reassurance of connection. These experiences replicate the behaviors that developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth described in her ground-breaking work on attachment theory and how people form a secure attachment style, essential to emotional well-being.”

The simplest anecdote is about keeping a family messaging chat open with my wife and children.STOWE BOYD

Stowe Boyd, managing director at Work Futures, said, “The simplest anecdote is about keeping a family messaging chat open with my wife and children. My kids – both in their 20s – live in Brooklyn, which is close to where we live, but over an hour away. However, we all participate in the chat, often several times in a day. We share pictures, links, stories, plans. It is simply much lower friction than how I managed to remain in contact – or didn’t, really – with my parents when I was in my 20s. Then it was an occasional phone call, visits when possible, but it was pretty tenuous. And I had what most of my contacts considered an unusually close and caring relationship with my folks. I wouldn’t say my family today is hyperconnected, but we certainly remain very connected, where scarcely a day passes without some interaction between all of us despite the physical distance involved. And this has allowed an extra richness to my life, and I guess theirs, a counter to the possible distance that could otherwise grow in our relations because of the hour of travel that separates us.”

David Weinberger, a senior researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, said, “The most obvious [difference of digital life] for many of us, I’m sure, is the lowering of the barrier to communication: I am in closer touch with my family – grown kids, siblings, in-laws, the whole group – because we can communicate with everything from texts to video calls. We support one another better and know our daily lives better than we could before.”

Sonia Jorge, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Internet and head of digital inclusion programs at the Web Foundation, said, “Regardless of where I am, my kids can reach me to talk, text me a message to ask questions, help sort out a plan, to tell me about their day, their worries, I can help them with homework or even music practice over video! And, as all mothers, I have often ‘saved’ many situations! Once I got a message from a school in the middle of an important business meeting and managed to sort the situation without any major issue, and all from a different continent! The ability to stay connected as needed is so important for me and it allows me to be closer, to be there! I cannot imagine [life] otherwise and this allows me to do what I do in ways that would have been very hard before digital connectivity.”

Steve Stroh, technology journalist, said, “Two observations. The first is that one of the regrets of my life is that I didn’t work hard enough to stay in touch with all of my family and friends as I moved away from my hometown and got involved in my career. Thus, many of my family and friends that were once dear to me are now estranged – entirely my fault. In my daughter’s generation (born in the 1990s), with social media like Facebook, etc., my daughter’s generation and beyond, they will never get entirely out of touch with family and friends (unless they really want to). They’ll know about significant events in their friends’ and family’s lives as things happen, and can always reach out because there’s a consistent point of contact – the social media messaging, ‘stable’ phone numbers such as mobile, email, etc. The second is that my wife and I maintain a near-daily ‘running conversation’ with my daughter who’s moved away via three-way ‘text’ messaging. We often share photos (of the family pets, as it turns out) and let each other know about important or unimportant – perhaps funny – things that are going on in our lives. So the three of us are never really out of touch, which is a wonderful, wonderful thing. I wish I could do this with MY father (who is, alas, very technophobic).”

Maureen Cooney, head of privacy at Sprint, commented, “My mother, who is in her 80s, lives on her own and is a technology leader in our family. Her adoption of cellphone use for calls, texting, email, FaceTime, and photo-sharing, daily use of an iPad and computer to play games and to communicate, participation in social media via Facebook, managing her finances, and even device control in her home via internet connected technology, as well as for entertainment through an Amazon Echo, [which] keeps her connected to us and the wider world as she ages, raising her feelings of confidence, safety, activity and independence. It lets family and friends easily connect with her in many ways in real time, which otherwise would not be the case.”

Richard Sambrook, professor of journalism at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, wrote, “Very simply, I can talk to and see my daughter on the other side of the world at low or zero cost via video/smartphone technology in a way that was unthinkable a decade or more ago. It helps hold families together.”

Perry Hewitt, vice president of marketing and digital strategy at ITHAKA, said, “We live in an aging society; in the developed world, the population is getting older, people are living longer, and fertility rates are falling. Here in the U.S., where families can be geographically dispersed and family-leave policies minimal, caring for older relatives is difficult. Our family has benefitted from the many technology advances in elder care from cameras to robots to medication reminders to video calling. There is so much available to track critical metrics and improve quality of life – for the elderly and their tapped-out caregivers. I believe we’re still in the infancy of technologies that can improve medical compliance and personal safety, and combat a scourge many older Americans face: loneliness.”

Mary Chayko, a professor at the Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information, wrote, “My family and I now stay in contact via an unending series of group texts. While we would have remained connected via letters or phone calls in a pre-digital time, this allows the simpler, more convenient and more frequent sharing of moments both incidental and more meaningful, and keeps us consistently in one another’s minds and hearts.”

Alex Halavais, director of the M.A. in social technologies at Arizona State University, said, “We have two children in elementary school. It starts at the same time each day and ends at the same time. The children are generally out of touch with the family during this period. This would not have been unusual when I was in elementary school or when my parents were in elementary school, but the other institutions in our lives have changed this. We have shared family calendars that show who needs to be where and when, but these change with some consistency. While my partner and I both have busy careers, they never fall within clearly defined work hours, and mobile technologies mean that our everyday social and business lives are weaved together rather than blocked in clear periods. Time has changed, except for the kids’ grade school. It remains anchored in one position: the 20th century.”

Eelco Herder, an assistant professor of computer science whose focus is on personalization and privacy at  Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen in the Netherlands, wrote, “My husband and I live relatively far away (about two to five hours) from our families and our friends live in several countries. Facebook makes it easier to stay in touch with them, to inform them about important events, to show pictures of our daily lives, and – in return – to be informed about things that matter to them. For me, my circle of online friends has evolved from mainly ‘online contacts’ in the mid-2000s to people whom I know in daily life. As a result, if we meet friends after a year or so without contact, we do not need to give an overview of last year, but just continue the conversation and play a board game. It is also easier now to stay in touch with a larger number of people than in earlier days. Apps like WhatsApp allow us to have daily contact with our families, simply by exchanging short messages or sending quick pictures. This interaction does not replace phone calls and visits, but complements them.”

Nathaniel Borenstein, chief scientist at Mimecast, said, “In the 1980s and early 90s, people asked me why I cared so much about advancing the capacities of email. My usual reply: ‘Some day I will have grandchildren, and I want to get pictures of them right away, by email.’ This dream came true when I received an email that contained a sonogram image of my twin granddaughters when they were each no bigger than a few cells. I had expected those first pictures to be considerably cuter. Even though I was an evangelist for the future of communication technology, that technology exceeded my wildest imaginings.”

Greg Shannon, chief scientist for the CERT Division at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, commented, “When I call my dad, who is hard of hearing, the real-time network-enabled transcription service kicks in so that he can understand what I’m saying by reading the words on his screen. This dramatically enhances the quality of our conversation and allows us to be more connected. I’m sure it does wonders for his general health at 90. Our three sons all work in/around software. Their minds are filled with notions of programming frameworks, database schemes and abstract models of what data and interactions mean. It’s [a] world that their grandparents can’t comprehend, and even their aunts and uncles are confused about what they do. Many of their childhood friends are far removed from these conceptualizations of work and value. I am not sure how it affects their well-being per se, but the notion of a shared sense of what work means seems weakened. Living and working in multiple places (Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Mexico) is possible since we can digitally maintain social and business connections remotely and asynchronously. Without such digitally enabled efficiencies it would be very challenging to run such a rich life.”

Srinivasan Ramani, a retired research scientist and professor, said, “It was in 1993. My daughter left school in Bombay and moved to college in the U.S. Telecommunication in India was quite bad in those days. The number of telephones, both landline and cellular, was about 3 million. (Compare with the billion or so cellphones we have in the same country now!) I knew it would be difficult for my daughter to call us back soon after arrival at the college, and so had asked her to get access to internet on campus and contact us through email and chat. She did that within hours of arrival. My wife had, to that point, carefully stayed away from the dial-up terminal I had on my study table at home for years. Now, she suddenly demanded to be introduced to the system. She demonstrated that given the right motivation, people can learn to use a dial-up terminal for email and internet chat in two days at the most! Our daughter was, for the next four years, our daughter on the Net!”

Claudia L’Amoreaux, digital consultant, wrote, “I started using videoconferencing early. First I used a black-and-white video phone that sent a still image every 5 seconds or so. Friends and I got our hands on one and did some fun experiments with artist techies at the Electronic Cafe in Los Angeles. Later I used Cornell’s CU-SeeMe videoconferencing. A real turning point for me was using the high-end PictureTel videoconferencing system in the early ‘90s. When the PictureTel staff dialed up and connected me to a person in New York City (I was in Monterey, California), as I said hello, tears came involuntarily to my eyes; the intimacy was so unexpected, I was overwhelmed with this encounter with a stranger. Fast forward to five years ago. My 85-year-old mother had a recurrence of cancer. We lived many miles apart. On one of my visits, we went to the phone store and I helped her pick out her first iPhone. It was so awesome to watch her learn to text with her friends. I could FaceTime her from my home while I got my life in order so I could return to take care of her. That phone was a literal lifeline during her last months – a source of joy, a tool for coordinating her care, and a reassurance for me that I could actually see daily how she was doing. I think of all the technology in our lives, videoconferencing technology contributes in a profound way to my well-being, bringing me closer to dear family and friends who live at a distance, or even just across the bay like my daughter does. I love it when we both have time to just hang out together via FaceTime when we can’t be there in person.”

Kirsten Brodbeck-Kenney, a director, said, “Thanks to social media and video chatting, my parents have been able to be very involved in my child’s life in spite of living on the other side of the country. She is only two and a half, but she knows their faces and voices and feels connected to them, even though she’s only met them a handful of times.”

Work creator, enabler and enhancer

I spend a great deal of my day online, and being hyperconnected makes it possible to find all the things I need to have a decent quality of life.DEWAYNE HENDRICKS

Dewayne Hendricks, CEO of Tetherless Access, said, “Living a digital life has made it possible to be self-sustaining financially. I spend a great deal of my day online, and being hyperconnected makes it possible to find all the things I need to have a decent quality of life. The type of life I’m leading now would not have been possible 30 years ago. I take comfort in the fact that I’ve had a hand in shaping a part of this thriving digital Web.”

Michael Rogers, a futurist based in North America, said, “I now live half the year in the Sicilian farm country where, thanks to wireless internet access, I can do most of my work. Ten years ago that would have been quite impossible. One of the things I most like about Sicily (besides the obvious attractions) is that while there is plenty of Facebook and email and Twitter, the ‘digital lifestyle’ has not colored private and public life so much as it has in my other home, New York City. Sicily remains a far more face-to-face culture. Why that is the case and how long it will continue is a longer story, but it is ironic that I’m using the new digital tools to avoid the side effects of those same tools.”

Larry Roberts, Internet Hall of Fame member, original ARPANET leader, now CEO/CFO/CTO of FSA Technologies, Inc., said, “As I do have 100 Mbps of home internet access, I can mostly work at home. However, file sizes that I need to receive today of 60 MB need Google Drive to deliver, as email capacity is in the dark ages. And the sizes grow every year. Email must adapt as these demands grow and TCP [Transmission Control Protocol] transfer speed also needs to increase as it is stuck in the 1990s at 20-30 Mbps. As shopping has also gone digital, package delivery requiring signature can be easily included when working at home, whereas it would become a major problem otherwise. In fact, work can be seamlessly intermixed with running a household. Eliminating commuting and fixed work hours allows working a 12-hour day (which I need). Thus, with increased internet capacity at home, more work can be done with far less stress for those workers not tied to hardware in the office.”

James Blodgett, an advisory board member with the Lifeboat Foundation, wrote, “Important work is shared. When several string theorists published several papers predicting black hole production at particle colliders, I became involved with the collider controversy. The original safety considerations had glaring holes. … I made contacts with safety experts and scientists who were also concerned. I started a Global Risk Reduction special interest group in Mensa, I became an advisory board member of the Lifeboat Foundation (one of thousands), and I participated in writing petitions and contacting people. … The main thing we accomplished was to get CERN, the organization sponsoring the then-upcoming Large Hadron Collider, to do a second safety study.”

Marshall Kirk McKusick, computer scientist, said, “Today I have worked on a problem in my open-source community (FreeBSD) in which over the past 24 hours has involved colleagues in 10 time zones, including Ukraine, Germany, United Kingdom, Massachusetts, Iowa, California, Hawaii, Japan, Australia and India through a combination of email, messaging and IRC [Internet Relay Chat]. This would have been impossible before the internet.”

Jordan LaBouff, associate professor of psychology at the University of Maine, commented, “There are so many ways, from allowing me to stay connected to my family and other relationships while I travel for work and research, to being able to translate or navigate on the fly in difficult cross-cultural situations. The one that springs to mind is actually my wife’s work experience. Two years ago, due in part to the challenges of living with multiple chronic health conditions, my wife left her successful job as a cell technologist at a local hospital to pursue digital journalism. It has allowed her to work from home and write for a large public audience about research surrounding bipolar disorder. This digital environment provides her employment, and her writing supports thousands of people every week who read her research (that she accesses digitally) and writing and who get social support and well-being tips from it. It’s a remarkable way the digital world has improved our physical one.”

Tom Wolzien, chairman at The Video Call Center LLC, said, “My family’s creation of The Video Call Center to produce broadcast-quality television from the 4 billion global smartphones (and related patents and other intellectual property to make it reliable and cost effective) has enabled a flattening of traditional live video access, enabling programs based on zero-cost live remotes from about anywhere on the planet without field origination, transport, or control room costs. This means that any media organization can put about anyone on the air from anywhere, restricted only by the depth of the producer’s contact list.”

Jane Elizabeth, director of the accountability journalism program at the American Press Institute, wrote, “Digital technology has allowed my small non-profit organization to work efficiently and effectively from wherever we are in the world. For non-profits and even small for-profit organizations, you just can’t overstate the positive benefits of this type of mobility. There are absolute cost savings in overhead, travel, hourly wages. And there are qualitative benefits in employee work-life balance, productivity and emotional health.”

Jeremiah Foster, an open-source technologist at the GENIVI Alliance, said, “I lived and worked in Sweden for about 15 years. Recently I moved back to the United States to be with family since I’m originally from the U.S. I’m able to keep my employment, including my salary, my title and my day-to-day work while living thousands of miles away from the company I work for.”

Eugene Daniel, a young professional based in the United States, said, “Digital technology impacts every aspect of my daily life. As a member of the media, my job depends on technology (telecommunications, social media, internet). As a person who lives apart from family and loved ones, I depend on digital communication to stay in touch – including frequently connecting on FaceTime with my girlfriend. The uses are endless.”

Devin Fidler, a futurist and consultant based in the U.S., commented, “Sites like Upwork have allowed Rethinkery Labs to routinely pull together ‘flash teams’ of colleagues, support and expert advisers in a way that accomplishes many tasks more efficiently than would have been humanly possible before coordination platforms.”

Frank Feather, a business futurist and strategist with a focus on digital transformation, commented, “Technology allowed me to quit commuting – which is asinine in this era – to quit my career job, and to become a full-time consultant, thus allowing me to help far more organizations on a freelance-anywhere basis. This has been most fulfilling. Similarly, my children have built worldwide networks of friends and fellow students. We have two adopted daughters, and the internet has allowed one of them to find and connect with her birth family in China. None of this would be possible without the internet. The internet unifies people and combines ideas very easily.”

Yoram Kalman, an associate professor at the Open University of Israel, wrote, “Digital technology freed me from having to spend all of my work hours in the office. I have been telecommuting and working from home at least part of the week since the late ‘90s. That would not have been possible without the advent of digital communication. It allowed me to better integrate work, family commitments, leisure, health challenges of self, of children and of elderly parents, social commitments, etc. Consequently, my work is more productive. Furthermore, the ability to work across geographical and national borders opened new opportunities that made my work more exciting and fulfilling. Throughout this time, I had to learn and relearn how to use communication technologies in ways that empower me, and how to minimize the harm they cause. It is an ongoing learning challenge.”

Charlie Firestone, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s communications and society program, said, “I run an office of seven people. I was able to move from Washington, D.C., to California with little detriment, mostly due to video-conferencing. In our case it is Skype for Business that puts each employee a touch of a button away, and the video changes the interaction from simply voice calls or email. I see video calls, a la FaceTime or Skype to be a common activity of the future in business.”

Allen G. Taylor, an author and SQL [Structured Query Language] teacher with Pioneer Academy, said, “Digital technology has given me opportunities that were not possible before the digital revolution began. A vast array of career opportunities opened up in a variety of fields. I became a digital design engineer and moved from there into a variety of related professions. The convenience of digital devices such as personal computers and smartphones has enhanced life greatly, both for me and for every member of my family.”

Adam Montville, a vice president at the Center for Internet Security, said, “I have the privilege of working from home each and every day. While there are some aspects of office life I miss, the truth is that technology has made this possible. For our family, this has been immeasurably valuable. I can work more productively at different times of day, all while maintaining healthy boundaries for work/life balance (which really isn’t about hard boundaries as much as it is about unobtrusively blending the two). Before such technology existed, I had to commute. I had to be tied down to a specific schedule each and every day. I couldn’t connect to colleagues from a mountainside or a sailboat. It just wasn’t possible.”

Ann Adams, a technical writer based in North America, said, “It gave me a profession; one that did not exist when I was growing up.”

Vincent Alcazar, director at Vincent Alcazar LLC, wrote, “The growing mobility of labor cannot be underestimated, and the primary enabler is the gig economy with the internet as its engine. The gig economy only grows from here, as does its entwinement within people’s lives.”

Health and wellness aid

Avery Holton, an associate professor of communication at The University of Utah, commented, “As someone who has twice experienced the impact of cancer, once at the beginning of digital and social media and once in 2016, I feel more empowered by the ability to be transparent and accepted. Yes, we all still enjoy sharing those moments in our lives that give off the best appearance, but the stigma of sharing experiences of disease or pain or loss has lessened. More and more, we are encouraged by the actions or the postings of others to share our tougher experiences and to, if we so wish, build a community around those experiences. The first time I went through cancer, I felt lost and disconnected and without voice. This time, though it admittedly took some coaxing from friends and other supporters, I shared my experience and my recovery. That really helped me through the process and into a quicker, more lasting mental, emotional and physical recovery.”

My online network and digital tools made it easy to share the event, his progress, my stress and feelings, for others to empathize and share resources and advice.SUSAN PRICE

Susan Price, lead experience strategist at the United Services Automobile Association (USAA), commented, “My husband had a stroke last year. My online network and digital tools made it easy to share the event, his progress, my stress and feelings, for others to empathize and share resources and advice. I found myself carefully segregating my communications by channel, moderating the degree of honesty according to the size and makeup of the group. I report to the largest group in Facebook ‘sanitized’ updates of mostly hopeful progress reports and vignettes that show me or my husband in a flattering or inspirational light. I avoid upsetting others with starkly honest or too-revealing stories of my own or my husband’s pain, frustration or lack of coping. My husband is aware of my propensity to share, and has asked directly when we’re discussing a fraught situation, ‘This isn’t going on Facebook, is it? Good!’ But he suggested my posting and sharing some achievements. Because of its ubiquity and reach, Facebook helped me identify select others in my network – many of whom I hadn’t spoken with in 10 to 20 years – who had directly relevant experience with caregiving of stroke survivors and adjusting when a partner suffers a severe health crisis. With those found veterans, I moved the discussion to more private channels such as Facebook Messenger, email or phone to share more honestly my negative feelings, fears and pain, and received directly helpful specific advice, support and resources. I’ve also used caregiver forums to connect with quickly available communities of peers in situations much closer to my own.”

Gina Neff, an associate professor and senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, said, “Digital technology has been a godsend for care-givers, allowing people to coordinate their efforts to help during cancer treatment, when a newborn arrives, or during a health crisis. Apps and websites cannot replace the communities that have always connected and supported us, but they can help diverse and dispersed groups coordinate care in unprecedented ways.”

Bradford Hesse, chief of health communication and informatics research at the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said, “I now stay in closer contact with my healthcare provider than I ever have before. If I have a question, I can ask it through secure messaging. If I want to evaluate my own recent blood panels for areas of concern or progress, I can do that online through a secure portal. Robocalls to my house from my provider as well as text messages to my phone ensure that I do not miss a recommended cancer screening. I watch my diet more rigorously with the help of a diet app on my smartphone equipped with camera to retrieve caloric/nutritional information, and I monitor my exercise goals through the use of my Apple Watch wearable. If I have a complaint, it is usually because the ecosystem of medicine is still not connected enough. There are laggards who resist sharing my electronic health record data with specialists as needed. There is 20th-century thinking that prevents these digital technologies from being fully integrated into the medical system in ways that will be cost-efficient, interoperable, empowering and truly usable.”

Thomas Lenzo, a respondent who shared no additional identifying details, commented, “Digital technology has facilitated my management of various aspects of my healthcare. I am able to schedule appointments and order prescription refills online, at any time of day. I can get detailed text or video information about health issues from trusted sources. I have access via portals to my health records. I also tell family and friends how they can use digital technology to impact their health.”

Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said, “The ability to monitor the medical records, procedures, medicines of a loved one remotely provides opportunity for quality oversight and rapid response, in contrast to being tied to hospital visits and uncertainty.”

Gary L. Kreps, distinguished professor and director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University, wrote, “My family and I use wearable fitness trackers that tally our daily exercise behaviors (steps). This has influenced both our awareness of our physical activity and motivation to exercise regularly. We strive to accomplish our 10,000 daily steps! We also compare our exercise levels and encourage each other to engage in physical activity. We now seek opportunities to exercise together to achieve our activity goals. This has improved our overall physical activity, fitness and health.”

Kevin J. Payne, founder of Chronic Cow LLC, said, “Since I research the effects of chronic illness and live with multiple sclerosis, I have a particular interest in using these technologies to monitor and evaluate my condition, keep up on the latest research, and connect with others – both professionals and others living with chronic conditions. My life has been radically affected by these burgeoning technologies on all these fronts. It allows me to collect my own data, blend it with other datasets and generate and test real-time predictive algorithms. I have a far better understanding of my condition, especially as it is baselined against relevant populations. I not only get access to cutting edge pre-print research, but I’ve also been able to widen my professional network by communicating with the researchers. And my involvement with patient communities has enriched my life in many ways.”

David Myers, a professor of psychology at Hope College, wrote, “As a person with hearing loss and an advocate for a hearing-assistive technology that has great promise (www.hearingloop.org), the internet has networked me with kindred spirit advocates nationwide (also via 19,898 emails I have sent and 18,516 received with the words ‘hearing’ and ‘loop’). Together, our internet-facilitated ‘hearing loop’ advocacy has led to thousands of newly equipped facilities, from home TV rooms to worship places to auditoriums to airports (and New York City subway booths and new taxis). And more progress is on the horizon. Supported by digital technology, we are making a better world for people with hearing loss.”

Bob Frankston, a technologist based in North America, said, “I once had a rash and my GP [doctor in general practice] wanted to look it at. Fortunately we had a friend in common who was able to forward a simple digital picture I took and quickly resolved the issue. It’s a reminder that digital health doesn’t have to be complex and expensive. Sending a picture is simple and inexpensive yet can make a big difference – a huge benefit vs. cost. We need to appreciate the value of the mundane rather than focusing on the flashy stories.”

Doug Breitbart, co-founder and co-director of The Values Foundation, said, “In my life I have experienced significant adverse changes and circumstance, living situation and health. Virtual connectivity via the internet has enabled me to establish networks of connections, collaborative communities and new friendships and relationships with people around the world.”

Leah Robin, a health scientist based in North America, said, “My family has a genetic form of anemia that is very rare. Because of digital technology we’ve been able to make contact with researchers, take advantage of on-going research, and provide and receive support from other patients from around the world. The impact has been, at times, lifesaving for my family members.”

Christopher Bull, a university librarian, said, “I had an itchy rash on my hands. Found articles on the internet which suggested using witch hazel. No rash, no itch.”

Community lifeline

Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, wrote, “I went through a divorce recently and wrote about my experiences online. While there are few folks in my immediate community who are going through divorce, I found several friends in other cities in my extended circles who had excellent support and advice. One of the most supportive individuals was an acquaintance from college who was not a close friend, but who stepped up on Facebook and was a wonderful support to me from halfway around the country.”

Together, we grow intelligence, connect up one another’s work and support positive social change just by doing our work, following one another and sharing what’s meaningful more widely.ANNE COLLIER

Anne Collier, consultant and executive at The Net Safety Collaborative, said, “I ‘talk’ with people all over the world on a daily basis on Twitter – seeing, learning from, supporting and spreading what’s meaningful to them in their work and lives. It’s a tremendous source of inspiration for me. Together, we grow intelligence, connect up one another’s work and support positive social change just by doing our work, following one another and sharing what’s meaningful more widely.”

Kathryn Campbell, a digital experience design consultant, said, “I have a young friend who lives in another state in a rural area. Over time, I have realized from their social media posts that he/she is emerging as gender non-conforming (probably transsexual). In the past, this is a journey that I would probably not have known about, especially since his/her immediate family is very conservative and have not accepted this facet of the young person’s identity. I am so grateful to have been included in this revelation so I can offer my unconditional love and support. And I am even more grateful that a person who in the past would have felt isolated, unnatural, and broken now knows that they are in fact part of a global community. He/she can find and utilize peer support groups as well as myriad medical, psychological and spiritual resources that would not have been available to someone in a small town in the past. I believe this will probably save lives. I definitely hope that it will help increase our ability as a society to accept others who don’t conform to our preconceived notions of what is normal.”

Ana Cristina Amoroso das Neves, director of the department for the information society at Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, said, “The smartphone has become a part of my family life. The current organisation we have and the data we can share more than modified the way we interact. There is no waste of time and therefore we all gain efficiency in our daily life. The dawn of Internet of Things is already embedded. … If there is an electricity glitch, we cannot even think how will we survive due to the new paradigm we have in our lives. Hyperconnection is part of my family and friends’ well-being. It is nothing that can be compared with the life my parents had. I wonder how I could have survived in that society, living before total digital connectivity existed, even when it had just started and was not spread yet.”

Deborah Lupton, a professor at University of Canberra’s News & Media Research Centre, said, “I live in a vast continent (Australia) where academics are scattered many kilometres from each other, and it is a very long, expensive and exhausting plane ride from my colleagues in the Northern Hemisphere. However, I have extensive networks with my colleagues on Twitter and Facebook. I enjoy taking time out to chat with them, sharing professional and also some personal information regularly. It makes me feel less isolated and more easily able to keep in contact with my academic network. Nothing beats face-to-face encounters, but social media and emails, as well as the occasional use of Skype, is a far better way to maintain these contacts than letter writing or faxing, which is how we did things before digital media.”

Andrew Czernek, a former vice president of technology at a personal computer company, wrote, “Email and websites were the first place that we were able to see family and people with the same interests share information rapidly. Twenty years ago I set up two websites – one for pilots and one for family members – to share photos, family tree[s] and technical information. Both have been resounding successes in getting people together. For family, it has allowed easy distribution of ancestor’s photos and extension of a family tree from several hundred people to more than 3,000. About every five years I have to take our family tree back to the calligrapher to add ancestors that we didn’t know about – including, recently, a soldier who was with Gen. George Washington at Valley Forge. Now we’re starting to see services like voice-controlled appliances in the home and the extension of cellphone service throughout the world. Forty years ago I taught in a small Congo town that was isolated, with no phone or TV service. Today Kasongo can be reached by cellphone and the regional center has television and internet access thanks to wireless technologies.”

Nancy Heltman, visitor services director for Virginia State Parks, said, “I have met and developed relationships with people outside any sphere of reference I never would have had thanks to my digital life. This started when I worked on the 2008 Obama campaign, includes people I met through a group where we shared our love for household pets and goes through today where I have a relationship with customers that I never would have met personally. While I do not believe that my online relationships replace ones that involve personal face-to-face connections, they are important and have broadened my horizons in many ways, adding a richness to my life. In fact my more-traditional face-to-face relationships have also benefited from more communication due to digital communications. When forced to only have relationships with people you can meet in person, you tend to live in a more-narrow world, with people more like you. Digital communications broadens your horizons, or it can if you want it to.”

Social media: The horizon expander

Michael R. Nelson, public policy expert with Cloudflare, said, “I’m an avid user of social media, which I use to track developments in internet policy around the world. Almost every day, one of the people I follow on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn shares a report, law review article, economic analysis, or news article on something I need to know about and would not have discovered by just reading the U.S. newspapers and media sites I track regularly. Equally importantly, my Facebook and LinkedIn friends introduce me to experts in the field in countries around the world – without my having to spend time flying overseas to attend conferences. In 2017, I was able to be a fun participant in the Global Conference in Cyber Space in New Delhi without missing Thanksgiving with my family. Likewise, I was able to be a remote participant at the UN’s Internet Governance Forum in Geneva without leaving my house (as long as I was willing to tune into the webcast at 4 a.m.).”

Alexander B. Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, wrote, “I’ve been using computers for over three decades now, since logging on through a BBS [bulletin board system] in 1993. My professional life as a writer, analyst, consultant and now deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation is almost entirely enabled by digital technology, from the journalism I created to the advocacy, activism, policy and communications work I do today. Social media has opened many doors for me, professionally and personally, in ways I did not anticipate a decade ago. The smartphones I began using last decade dramatically improved that work, enabling me to be informed, report and collaborate in extraordinarily flexible ways across time and space – and to easily travel through many foreign cities and nations.”

Dan Rickershauser, senior account manager at StumbleUpon, said, “I was born in 1987. When I first signed up for Facebook, I was a senior in high school and you needed a dot-edu [.edu] email address to gain access. We were all welcomed onto the platform as we got new email addresses once accepted into our college of choice. It was a place to show friends and acquaintances how much fun we were having in college. And then over time it became so much more. My parents had Facebook accounts. Work relationships became Facebook friends. It was a tough to navigate as its role in my life shifted. I scaled back how much I shared there. I changed what I projected out to masses. My sister-in-law, by time she hit college age, knew Facebook as a place where her grandmother kept track of everyone’s comings and goings. All of this happened in the span of seven years. For her, Snapchat replaced Facebook as the place to showcase to acquaintances how much fun she was having in college. I now use Facebook to see which of my friends have gotten married or had children. I’m still thankful it’s around, but the role it’s played in my life has changed. For people a generation younger, it’s been the place I remembered it as. It will be interesting to see what’s in store for these platforms, but already I can now see people my age pulling away from social networks like Facebook, often times for their own well-being. As the role platforms like Facebook play in our lives shifts, so too does our need for them. It will be interesting to see if they survive these shifts.”

Michael Roberts, an internet pioneer and Internet Hall of Fame member, commented “Despite its well-known problems, I find that Facebook is important to me in a number of ways. 1) Keeping up with professional friends around the globe now that I am retired. For an old fart (81), it is a source of daily intellectual stimulation and a feeling of keeping my hand in the game. 2) A window into many marvelous places and activities. I am a railfan and there are restored steam engines, abandoned trackage, lonely and empty depots, etc., to fill any amount of time I have available. Name your hobby or sport, and there are folks out there to share their discoveries with you. 3) The original ‘family and friends’ angle. My siblings and I are all over the U.S. Facebook lets us pretend we are close (Worldwide webcams add a lot as well). There are lots of other examples – politics, medicine, personal safety, education.”

Jerry Michalski, founder of the Relationship Economy eXpedition, said, “I now have peripheral vision into the lives of family, friends and acquaintances a few degrees from me – all voluntarily. When I see them, I don’t need to ask ‘what’s up,’ but can say ‘I’m glad your daughter got through her operation,’ or whatever is appropriate for the state of their lives I can observe. Those weak ties are priceless, and lead to insights. In the early days of Twitter, I left a meeting and tweeted something like, ‘Just left a mtg about the cash health care economy. Had no idea it existed or was big.’ At the time, I had set up for all my tweets to forward to Facebook, and the next day I got a fascinating eight-paragraph note on Facebook from an acquaintance who had taken his family off regular health insurance years ago, and was very happy with the outcomes. On the other hand, I am among the Satanic Device Addicts who check email on their phones first thing in the morning (it’s on the night table, right?) and tap and prod them all day long, in search of those little dopamine hits.”

… All of us now have the ability to find ‘our people’ – those who share our interests and passions and concerns – in ways that we couldn’t when our connective avenues were limited by time and geography.SCOTT MCLEOD

Scott McLeod, a professor at the University of Colorado Denver, wrote, “My decade-plus of blogging and other social media usage has connected me with hundreds of thousands of educators and education thought leaders in global dialogue spaces and communities of practice in ways that would be impossible without the internet. My visibility and reach are now astronomical compared to what they might be in an analog era. My example is but a microcosm of the possibilities that we all now have available to us. The gay teenager in rural America; the handmade Japanese sword aficionado; the stay-at-home mom struggling with a rare disease; the LARPer [live-action roleplaying gamer] looking to connect with others; all of us now have the ability to find ‘our people’ – those who share our interests and passions and concerns – in ways that we couldn’t when our connective avenues were limited by time and geography.”

Jason Hong, professor at the Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote, “WeChat is not well known in the U.S., but is perhaps the most popular app in China. It’s primarily a messaging app, like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, but also serves as a social network and message board. What’s really amazing is how it’s really helped my family (from China) connect with others here in the U.S. My father-in-law found people to go fishing with. My mother-in-law found a monthly foodies group to go to. My wife found some of her old high school classmates, plus a group of people that buy foods in bulk at discount and split the costs. As for me, well, I’m the boring one, I just use it to send text messages and emoji to my wife. For my family, WeChat works well because it lowers the transaction costs of finding individuals with similar interests and backgrounds. My parents-in-law don’t speak much English, so WeChat acts as a major filter for people who do speak Chinese. WeChat also lets you organize message boards by geography, making it easy to find groups that are geographically nearby. It’s pretty amazing, since these weren’t really problems that we knew we had, and the WeChat groups just filled those needs quite nicely. Furthermore, it was a good tool that let us first find people virtually and then transition to real-world relationships.”

Richard Bennett, a creator of the Wifi MAC protocol and modern Ethernet, commented, “Facebook was useful for spreading the word to my extended family about the status of two relatives who died of pancreatic cancer recently. In one case, a sister-in-law in another country used me as a go-between to reach my wife, and in another I used it to contact a former stepbrother, a sister and a half brother. As modern families become more complex, communication tools have had to adapt.”

Lisa Nielsen, director of digital learning at the New York City Department of Education, said, “I am the administrator of several Facebook groups around areas of personal interest such as hobbies, sports, career (education). I started a Facebook group for teachers at the New York City Department of Education who love teaching with technology. In the past all these people existed in the 1,800 schools across the city, but there was no way for these people to find one another. The group now has close to 3,000 members. It is highly active, and strong relationships are being built. We have a direct line to what is happening in schools. Teachers feel supported like never before. They are more confident and better able to serve their students. They have increased job satisfaction. They share extreme gratitude for the group and its responsiveness. They are no longer alone but rather supported by a powerful network of other dedicated teachers.”

Knowledge storehouse

Stephen Downes, a senior research officer at the National Research Council Canada, commented, “I don’t have a small story, I have a big story. I have a career that has allowed me to be a force for good, to reach people around the world, and to share a message of compassion, communication and development, all solely because of the internet and digital technologies. I landed my first real job in the computer industry in 1981, with Texas Instruments’ Geophysical Services in Calgary. This enabled me to attend university, where I studied philosophy. I wrote my honors thesis on an Atari and I wrote my masters on the university network. I started teaching using technology for Athabasca University in 1987, and started developing websites and learning management systems for a living in 1995. By participating and sharing my knowledge and discoveries freely through discussion lists and online conferences I became a part of the online learning community in Canada, which led to my current employment as a digital researcher with the federal government. This has given me the opportunity to develop new theories of learning and pedagogy, create learning technologies, develop MOOCs [massive open online courses], and participate in this survey. Every week there’s a story. Today I responded to an enquiry from a reader looking for more recent work on automated language translation, because she had only a reference to my paper from 2001. I provided her with some resources from my newsletter, and she will add these to her study. Last week someone literally said to me ‘You changed my life’ because of the influence of the first MOOC I taught alongside George Siemens in 2008. The course was about computer networking and personal empowerment and how people can create their own education. The week before I was able to carry a message about business intelligence into a meeting with government officials as a result of the analysis I did of the public documents posted by the School of Public Service on their web page. The week before I was in Berlin at a conference testing a virtualization of my personal learning application, getting experiences and feedback from a workshop filled with experts from around the world, none of whom I had met before. The week before I was in Tunisia talking about the deployment of open educational resources in the Middle East and Northern Africa to support language learning, economic development, and cultural growth. The week before… You get the idea. None of this happens without digital technology. It’s not a nice neat story that fits a sidebar, but it’s real, and each week there’s real growth, real development.”

Jeff Jarvis, a professor at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, said, “I count as an unfathomable luxury the ability to look up most any fact, any book, any news article at no cost and in seconds. I value the friends I have made from a tremendous diversity of background and worldviews thanks to the connected Net. I welcome many – though certainly not all – new voices I can hear now thanks to the Net putting a printing press in anyone’s hands. And not incidentally, I have transformed my career thanks to the lessons I continually learn by and about the Net.”

Deborah Hensler, professor of law at Stanford University, wrote, “On a personal level, digital technology enables me to work more productively from any place in the world. It provides access to a vast store of information and research data. It has enabled me to collaborate with academic colleagues in many different parts of the world, which has been an incredibly generative experience. In my personal life, it connects me to far-flung family and friends. It also connects me to people who share my political views, which gives me some hope – perhaps foolish – that working with them I can shift the political discourse.”

Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois Springfield, wrote, “I have been engaged in teaching, researching and presenting/publishing in advocating educational technology in higher education over the past 46 years. As I think back over those nearly five decades, my impact and reach today is far greater than I had ever imagined in 1971 or ‘81 or even 2001. Through the use of social media, I am able to share resources and perspectives to tens of thousands of others in my field on a daily basis. The prospect that one person could manage that scope of impact and reach was inconceivable for anyone who was not a network commentator on television or a nationally syndicated columnist. Now this opportunity extends to all who are dedicated to a purpose or cause.”

Larry MacDonald, CEO of Edison Innovations, wrote, “Sharing enables power to flow to those who ‘know’ rather than only those who control. People have a better grasp of news and tools that can make their lives easier. Knowledge disseminates faster and deeper.”

Problem solver and wonder creator

Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, commented, “I was in Rio trying to communicate with a taxi driver a few months before the Olympics. The driver pulled out his phone and clicked on Google Translate. Problem solved. Turns out that Google had trained all the taxi drivers in Rio how to use this fantastic tool.”

In terms of the spread of knowledge, the past two decades have been as revolutionary as when early man harnessed fire.KENNETH CUKIER

Kenneth Cukier, senior editor at The Economist, wrote, “In researching my new book on AI, I came across a citation of a relevant document from the 1950s by the East German secret police, the Stasi. I Googled it and got a digital copy – which, when you think about it, is amazing. But my German is lousy. So I uploaded the 35-page report into Google Translate and got an English version a minute later – which is even more astounding. Just 20 years ago it was impossible for all but the most prestigious scholar to obtain something like that, and it might take half a year. I did it on impulse in four minutes. In terms of the spread of knowledge, the past two decades have been as revolutionary as when early man harnessed fire.”

Vint Cerf, Internet Hall of Fame member and vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google, commented, “I moved my wife from an older iPhone with AT&T service to a Google Pixel 2 with Google Fi service. It took 10 minutes and did NOT require physical modification or even installation of a SIM card. I got confirmation from AT&T within minutes that the account and phone number had been transferred. I was astonished.”

Ginger Paque, a lecturer and researcher with DiploFoundation, wrote, “Digital technology offers amazing opportunities for inclusion and access not only to overcome challenges of distance, but offering wider choices, asynchronous collaboration on shared projects, online meetings, telemedicine, and myriad other advantages. My particular experience in addition to my clear connections to global online learning, highlights the possibilities for inclusion in global policy processes, especially those involving internet governance and digital policy. The UN Internet Governance Forum, for example, takes place in situ during less than a week once a year, and even that week of meetings involves a high percentage of online participants from all over the world. However, the planning for this event takes place online all year, with collaboration from a large body of participants from all over the world. Without internet technology and online applications for collaborative editing and meetings, this kind of global, geographic, and multi-stakeholder (I add multi-stakeholder as a factor, because some stakeholder groups have more access to travel funds.) Multi-stakeholderism would be seriously hampered and cooperation would not be possible. In addition to the IGF [Internet Governance Forum], the ITU [International Telecommunication Union], Internet Society and other organisations have also developed procedures that allow for year-round work involving all regions. In addition to fairly normal and common challenges for travel to meetings, I have had serious family responsibilities that have not permitted me to travel in the last few years. While it has not been easy, I have been able to stay involved.”

Bart Knijnenburg, assistant professor at Clemson University, said, “Seven years ago, when I got my first iPhone with FaceTime, I was calling my fiancée (who was living on the other side of the country) on my bike ride home from work. Out of nowhere a number of hot air balloons appeared, and with the touch of a button I was able to switch to a video call. I remember being amazed by the simplicity with which I was able to share this experience. Nowadays, communicating with people anywhere in the world has become second nature to me. Sometimes I realize that I have written several research papers with people whom I have never met in person!”

Heywood Sloane, partner and co-founder of HealthStyles.net, said, “The criterion I used for my most recent purchase of a smartwatch was that it NOT try to be a watch. I have one already, a gift from my wife that I am very fond of, thank you! I expected, and got, a multitude of tools to help me stay on track with stress, sleep, biometrics and much more. What I did not expect, was the way it tamed the peppering of email, notifications by apps, ringtones and alarms of people and things clamoring for my immediate attention. It reduces them all to gentle vibrations. Long ones for calls I wanted to take, and short ones for everything else. It lets me block interruptions from apps and emailers. It also let me see others and get more detail with a tap when I want it. It gives me control and helps me defend my space to concentrate and focus on what I choose, rather than what someone else chooses.”

Thomas Viall, president of Rhode Island Interactive, commented, “Just this past Christmas shopping season is a great example of how digital technology was beneficial. We could text our relatives rather than interrupt them with a call. They were able to share their wish list, we could comparison shop online (at both local and national stores), find the best value, search for coupons and either order online or use navigation to find the best route to the store despite holiday traffic.”

Education tool

Olugbenga Adesida, founder and CEO of Bonako, based in Africa, wrote, “The digital revolution has changed social relationships and the way we communicate. In some African countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe, mobile payment transactions are responsible for over 40% of GDP. Mobile apps are used to deliver education as well as providing timely information to farmers to enhance their productivity. Similarly, mobile apps are used to deliver price and other market information. At our firm – Bonako a mobile games and app-development company – it is our platform for continuous education for staff; it is what we use to access training materials from all over the world. We also use digital tools to plan and develop our products in a way that would not have been possible only a few years ago. Developing games and apps requires varied expertise, and collaboration is key. The new tools for collaborative work allow us to work together and to provide virtual access to potential partners/clients to test products no matter where they are in the world.”

Karl M. van Meter, founding director of the bilingual scientific quarterly Bulletin of Sociological Methodology, said, “Far from being a ‘brief personal anecdote,’ what has changed greatly in my life and work, like that of almost everyone in higher education and research, is that the internet and associated technologies mean that no longer only a few top persons have access to the necessary information, technology and means for scientific production and teaching. It is no longer only the director (always a male) who gets his secretary (always a female) to type out his paper and check references before having it published. Almost all competent teachers and researchers have that possibility now; moreover they can work together over great distances and form social structures among themselves, independent of centralized or local administrative control. A ‘brief personal anecdote’ along these lines would be when a national director of scientific research here in France asked to be appointed to an international body associated with UNESCO. That body replied very respectfully to the director that they had already found a better candidate from France who had been working with them via the internet. That other candidate was me.”

Today, students I help mentor through their own doctoral studies have access to all of the material I did two decades ago, but with a fraction of the time and travel commitment.GREG DOWNEY

Greg Downey, a professor and associate dean at University of Wisconsin, Madison, said, “When I was a graduate student at a U.S. private research university in the late 1990s, I spent many hours gathering background context for the beginning of a major historical and social research project, tracking down physical newspaper indexes, footnote references, printed journal volumes and microfilm reels from dozens of access-restricted research libraries. Weeks and months of ‘metadata labor’ on a particular idea might lead to a viable research project and a source of accessible primary research materials – or to a dead end and a need to start all over. I recall being among the first users of some of the online image databases produced by the federal government to find visual evidence that I simply wouldn’t have had the ability to access (or even know it existed) even five years earlier. Similarly, once materials were acquired and assembled, only rudimentary organization and writing tools were available for assembling the project into a coherent narrative. I recall being one of the first individuals at my university to use Geographic Information Systems software in my historical analysis and in the production of my final manuscript. All of the temporal and spatial expectations of earning a Ph.D. in the humanities and interpretive social sciences were tied to expectations of analog, print and physically housed resources. Today, students I help mentor through their own doctoral studies have access to all of the material I did two decades ago, but with a fraction of the time and travel commitment. This has raised the expectations for comprehensiveness in literature reviews and archival searches; it has raised the expectations for presentation of data and engagement of narrative. It is both easier and harder to do great work now and get that Ph.D. within the same five-year time period. But I think the work that is done is of higher quality, and the scholars that are produced are of greater intellectual prowess and scope than ever before.”

Adriana Labardini Inzunza, commissioner of Mexico’s Federal Institute of Telecommunications, said, “There are so many stories of how IT and internet have made my work more productive and my access to relevant information far easier – hopefully for others around me as well. As a commissioner at the Federal Institute of Telecommunications I made sure that our virtual board meetings and deliberations were valid; on many occasions I have been able to deliberate and vote on the cases submitted to the board through a video conference when in business travels and I also to hold e-meetings with my staff. My office has home-office on Mondays, saving hours of wasted time on traffic jams. …

“A more striking story perhaps is that of Marce, a smart, determined and brave 19-year-old girl from Xochicalco, an isolated village in the middle of the mountains of Guerrero, 350 kilometers away from Acapulco. Marce studied elementary and middle school in a rural local school, but there is no high school in Xochicalco, so she would have had to travel each day to Arcelia, Gro. [Guerrero], the seat of that municipality and the closest connected town in the area, 40 miles away, with a daily cost of public transportation of around $4, something totally beyond the family’s budget. Her father is a skilled electrician working in the area for a Canadian mining company that pays minimum wages to local people ($4 per day). Her mother grows corn and vegetables and looks after her other two children. So Marce ended up leaving her hometown and moving to the big city of Mexico to seek a job as domestic helper, hoping she could enroll at a public school. Her job kept her busy all day as a babysitter and so her mom, who I had the fortune to know from a long time ago, asked me for help to guide Marce so that she actually gets an education.

“Marce moved to my house, but in searching for an affordable high school nearby she encountered many obstacles. I devoted a few hours to seek a public high school online program certified by our Ministry of Education (SEP) and found it, a very impressive two-year program which begins with a full-month course on the use of IT, the platform, how to interact with your assigned tutor, with teachers, how to deliver homework online, etc. I had never seen a young girl so excited to spend online 4 hours, learn in three days to handle a laptop one of my sons gave her. She reads her lessons every day plus a few books I am asking her to read on history, philosophy, etc. She reads 10 pages every morning. It’s been only three months since she started, and she loves it, she is learning, and finished at the top of her class this quarter. She feels empowered, hopeful, her parents feel relieved that she doesn’t have to travel two hours a day to attend school and pay fares. Yet it will take a lot of guidance, hard work and long hours before she earns a high school diploma and more importantly, a good quality education that enables her to be admitted at UNAM [National Autonomous University of Mexico] or another public university here in Mexico City. There is no such a thing in Arcelia, forget Xochicalco, where there is no internet access and a weak signal for only 2G mobile voice services in spite of the presence of a multinational firm extracting all the lithium it can get from Guerrero but not creating much local value to the hard-working people of Xochicalco. I am committed to help Marce, and she is determined to graduate and pursue her professional education. She wants to become a chef. With a good use of time and technology, discipline and some degree of guidance and support from my sons I may hopefully help her thrive.”

Jacob Dankasa, a North American researcher, said, “Technology has connected me to achieve today what I couldn’t imagine in the past. When I was doing my doctoral dissertation, I was supposed to travel to Nigeria from the U.S. to conduct interviews with my research participants. Unfortunately, the Ebola epidemic blew up in Africa and I was unable to go. Fortunately, software existed that allowed me to interview the participants and automatically record the sessions as I interviewed them. The price was reasonable. It saved me money and time and avoided health hazards. More and better innovations are expected in this area in the future.”

Travel companion and enhancer

Paul Jones, a professor of information science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and internet pioneer, wrote, “I am traveling to Casablanca Sunday. My tour was booked in China. I’ll stop at Rick’s Café, which is designed to look like the imagined cafe built on a back lot in Burbank in the 1940s [for the film ‘Casablanca.’] Friends who are writers have recommended their friends [for me] to meet while I’m there. Through social media we are already in touch. One friend wrote a profile of the Rick’s founder in 2006. She remembers him and has been in touch. The seamlessness and timeliness of casual connections made stronger still amazes me. … What’s not to like?”

I travel a lot and have vastly more flexibility and local knowledge at hand due to my devices. I see things I would not have seen, travel without having to plan every stop in advance and find the things that matter to me. I get better hotels and food, too.BRAD TEMPLETON

Brad Templeton, software architect, civil rights advocate, entrepreneur and internet pioneer, wrote, “I travel a lot and have vastly more flexibility and local knowledge at hand due to my devices. I see things I would not have seen, travel without having to plan every stop in advance and find the things that matter to me. I get better hotels and food, too.”

Jon Lebkowsky, CEO of Polycot Associates, said, “A week or so ago we headed off to a party at a house we’d never visited. We entered the address in Google Maps, so we had a guide (we call her ‘Lucy’) taking us where we need to go. It was a circuitous route – without Lucy we likely would have taken wrong turns – and I was thinking how much we now depend on that technology, not just to get us where we want to go, but also to route us around traffic congestion. Soon enough, we’ll be stepping into autonomous vehicles, vocalizing an address and relaxing for the duration of the ride. Digital technology for transportation efficiency is revolutionary.”

Safety enabler

Alejandro Pisanty, a professor at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico and longtime leading participant in the activities of the Internet Society, wrote, “The ability to use digital tools for everything I do – from professional work, like teaching and research, to the most personal – finding long-separated relatives after the family dispersed from Europe to at least three continents in the 1930s-1940s – has been a continued benefit. Using lightweight online tools in class helps my students in the National University of Mexico grasp concepts and communicate them to their families. During the aftermath of the earthquakes in Mexico in 2017 this became particularly valuable for them; it also helped fight misinformation and take relief efforts to the places that most needed them. We went from the basics of oscillation and wave physics, through the propagation of different kinds of seismic waves. To the ways buildings are damaged and how to identify fatal structural flaws. In parallel we helped brigades take aid to small towns and to camps in Mexico City, and some of the most far-flung ones find safe havens from which to distribute aid.”

Pedro Cartagena, an associate professor at the University of Puerto Rico, said, “After hurricane María in Puerto Rico, the internet was the only communications resource in order to contact my family members, buy solar panels and get other essentials for survival.”

Apps for ordering car rides via a smartphone is a net benefit to society – it increases safety for both the passenger and driver and offers more convenience in ordering a ride.TOM BARRETT

Tom Barrett, president at EnCirca Inc., wrote, “1) With the use of a smartwatch, I can now easily track daily exercise activity, which is a great motivator for making it a daily practice. 2) Apps for ordering car rides via a smartphone is a net benefit to society – it increases safety for both the passenger and driver and offers more convenience in ordering a ride.”

Multipurpose and memory aid

Bill Lehr, a research scientist and economist at MIT, wrote, “There is no question smartphones and always/everywhere access to information has allowed me to be sloppier in memorizing things and allows me to gain instant access to facts that I have come to rely on significantly. I think that is positive, especially since as I get older, I find memory-aids a big help, but it also encourages laziness.”

Ted Newcomb, directing manager of AhwatukeeBuzz, wrote, “LOL. I am virtually helpless without my phone to remind me of appointments and meetings. My head is free of having to remember numbers, dates and times. It’s very liberating. I can instantly communicate anywhere in the world, doing business at the ‘speed of byte.’”

Micah Altman, director of research and head scientist for the program for information science at MIT, said, “When I was 10, I received a portable film camera. It had a capacity of 24 negatives (in black  and white). I would send the negatives in, pay a substantial portion of my allowance to have them developed – wait for weeks for them to be returned, and finally, then be able to see how they turned out. (Usually, not so well.) Every few months, I might put one in a letter to my grandparents. Eight years ago, when my daughter turned 10, we gave her a portable camera – over the next few years she shot thousands of still, and videos – learning some elements of composition, and building shared memories. Last year, when my son turned 11, we gave him a cellphone. And over the year we’ve all shared pictures, accomplishments and sympathies daily across a growing extended family network.”

Shiru Wang, research associate at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said, “Online shopping saves me time. New social media continues my connections with friends in different countries and regions. Online resources make my research convenient. Online news keeps me informed all the time. But I am not very digitally embedded. I keep a distance from Facebook, etc.; I intentionally refuse to be dominated by social media. Thus, my life is not very much bothered by the internet. Thus, I appreciate the advantages of the internet and I am able to escape the potential harm brought by the internet.”

Joe Raimondo, digital customer-relationship-management leader at Comcast and a former CEO, said, “Trackers and personal data are an enhancement to living. Street-level navigation and easy access to crowdsourced resources is very positive. It’s possible to play large-scale social games and have enormous amounts of data and telemetry collected and analyzed to chart group interaction at large scale.”

General comments

Ian O’Byrne, an assistant professor of education at the College of Charleston, wrote, “As an educator and researcher who studies these digital places and tools, I’m in front of screens a lot. I experiment and play in these spaces. I’m also writing and researching the impact of these screens and their impact on the well-being of others as it relates to children and adolescents. The problem in this is that one of the other hats that I wear is as a parent and husband. I am not only critical of my engagement and use of these digital technologies, but I’m also cautious/cognizant of their role as a mediator in my relationships with my children and significant other. These screens and digital tools play a strong role in our lives and interactions in and out of our home. In our home we have screens and devices all over the place. We have a video server that is ready to serve content to any one of these screens on demand. We have voice-assistive devices listening and waiting for our commands. I believe it is important as an educator and researcher to play with and examine how these devices are playing a role in our lives, so I can bring this work to others. Even with these opportunities, I’m still struck by times when technology seems too intrusive. This is plainly evident when I’m sitting with my family and watching a television show together, and I’m gazing off into my device reading my RSS feed for the day. Previously I would enjoy watching the funniest home videos and laughing together. Now, I am distant. The first thing in the morning when I’m driving my kids in to school and stop at a red light, previously I would enjoy the time to stop, listen to the radio, look at the clouds or bumper stickers on cars around me. Now, I pull out the phone to see if I received a notification in the last 20 minutes. When I call out for the voice-activated device in my home to play some music or ask a question, my request is quickly echoed by my 2-year-old who is just learning to talk. She is echoing these conversations I’m having with an artificial intelligence. I’m trying to weigh this all out in my mind and figure what it means for us personally. The professional understanding may come later.”

Marshall Kirkpatrick, product director of influencer marketing, said, “My mobile feed reader finds great articles for me to learn from. My mobile article-saving app reads those articles to me out loud while I walk my dog. My mobile browser allows me to edit my personal wiki to record the best lessons I learn from those articles. My mobile flashcard app helps me recall and integrate those lessons I want to learn over time. My mobile checklist app helps me track how regularly I reflect on how those lessons connect with the larger context of my life in a blog post or on a run. There are costs to mobile connectivity, but there are so many incredible benefits!”

To my way of thinking, it’s about control. If I’m in control of the electronics, they are a benefit, but when they get out of control they are an irritation and an interruption.FRED BAKER

Fred Baker, an internet pioneer and longtime leader with the Internet Engineering Task Force, wrote, “To my way of thinking, it’s about control. If I’m in control of the electronics, they are a benefit, but when they get out of control they are an irritation and an interruption. My family and friends giggle about the frequency with which I pull out my telephone to investigate a TV show’s facts or other things. That said, I have access to that now, where I once upon a time did not. On the other hand, I have also had the experience of talking with a customer in Japan while my family in the U.S. woke up and started texting each other, and I all of a sudden have to deal with my telephone.”

Stephen Abram, CEO of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries, wrote, “On a personal level I am more connected with my wider family. Relationships with friends whom I see only occasionally – maybe annually in person at conferences, continue throughout the year. I now know many business acquaintances on a deeper level and have better relationships as a result. I dislike the word ‘hyperconnected’ since it implies a little hyperactivity – a known ‘disorder.’ I see this as a controllable issue where personal choices are made. When circumstances such as travel, weather, disability or distance create the opportunities for sustained loneliness to happen, the digital world bridges some of the gap. In my case, sustained periods on the road in airports and hotel rooms are greatly ameliorated by connecting with friends.”

David J. Krieger, director of the Institute for Communication & Leadership located in Lucerne, Switzerland, observed, “Digital connectivity enables a seamless flow of communication and association with regard to many different concerns and interests. This augments community and embeddedness and thus well-being.”

Mark Patenaude, vice president and general manager of cloud technologies at ePRINTit, said, “I certainly don’t want to fool anyone into believing that digital advancement has been a panacea of beautiful things! However, I can remember the first time my car stopped for me in a dangerous situation automatically, or stopped when I was backing up when it perceived a danger. Then there’s printing and storing terabytes of digitally compressed images on a smartphone and being able access a document or image from 20 years ago in seconds using the cloud. I can remember we had about 100 people around a large projector outside, watching the last concert of the The Tragically Hip and the home network went down. I plugged in my iPhone, went to the concert URL site, and projected live on a 10-foot screen from my cellular device; wow and double wow!”

Akah Harvey, co-founder, COO and IT engineer at Traveler Inc., said, “Fifteen years back, when I first had my first PC, I now was empowered with a tool that helped me write digital notes, play more exciting games and gain general knowledge about how the technology worked. At my age (10) I gained knowledge in the workings of these things that it contributed to my brilliance in school, especially on the subject. Few years later when we’d gain access to the internet, a whole new change took place. I discovered so many more opportunities, as one could now connect with the rest of the world to share, search and find information about anything. It was a big transformation in the way I viewed society. I quickly was able to decide what I would want to do growing older, so I’d say I found my passion thanks to this change.”

Karl Ackermann, a writer and researcher at WriteSpace LLC., commented, “We no longer keep paper files for the household. Photographs are displayed on a digital screen instead of a photo album. We can track where our kids are driving with a phone app. We buy our train tickets with an app that has a scanning bar code. We sometimes text friends instead of phoning. We pay bills online.”

Rich Salz, principal engineer at Akamai Technologies, said, “I have made my living in this field since before there was the internet and before the Web. I enjoy helping people communicate. Social media has helped me reconnect with high school friends, email with college friends, etc.”

Maureen Hilyard, IT consultant and vice chair of the At-Large Advisory Committee of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), wrote, “I live in an isolated little island in the Pacific. It is in the middle of millions of square kilometers of ocean, but we rely on tourism for our livelihood, so our small (main) island is usually packed with tourists. We have a monopoly telecom and get reasonable internet service from an O3B satellite, but for local islanders who make their living working in the hospitality industry, the cost of internet is very expensive. Broadband costs for 20 GB a month costs (in New Zealand dollars) $139 on top of telephone hire and connections. I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren who spend time in New Zealand and even at 2 years old can turn on a computer to access their favourite programmes. When they come to our island, this is curtailed because the connection is too expensive for them to experience what is normal for them – lively and creative pre-school programmes are non-existent. What is available is the fresh clean air and produce of the land and sea of the islands, which are great, but it is often too hot to do much exploring in the physical world. As a parent, I am happy for them to explore the internet during the hot periods of the day, and to make this a ‘learning and exploring on the web’ time. It is more directed learning as parent safety software can usually help to set some controls over what they might ‘accidentally’ connect to.”

Edward Tomchin, a retiree, wrote, “All my life I’ve had questions. How, what, where, why? It was the early 1980s in San Francisco. I was making a late career change into law as a paralegal and dating a woman I’d met at a Unitarian social. Her 9-year-old son, Bela, had a Commodore Vic-20 and taught me how to run a computer and how to program in BASIC. I understood immediately how computers would change my life. Then I realized that was true for everyone. We were suddenly able to acquire, store, manipulate and query massive amounts of information – data – about anything. I made a nice 25-year career out of creating litigation-support databases. Then I found the internet in 1986 and my world expanded infinitely. This was before the Web came into existence as a subset of the internet. I’d already been exploring BBS [online bulletin board] sites and one day found a back door in a public library’s nascent internet connection and had another mental explosion at all the information that was at my fingertips. Today I’m old and disabled but I can sit in my living room at my computer and explore the whole world far better than I ever could before. This is all more than I could have ever hoped for 50 years ago.”

Internet Hall of Fame member Bob Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet, founder of 3Com, and a professor of innovation at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote, “The people complaining most about the pathologies of the hyperconnected life own or work for the old media, which once had more of a monopoly on setting society’s agenda. I recall how ‘savvy’ the Clintons and Obama were because they were digitally literate, unlike the GOP, but now that Trump is using social media so effectively, the left hates new media.”

Shahab Khan, engineer and CEO of PLANWEL, said, “The most impactful thing is the way we communicate at the click of a button. This keeps friends and families united. We can share our workplace problems and be more productive. With the advent of AI, VR [virtual reality]/AR[augmented reality] the educational deliveries will greatly change and teaching methods improve. Online education resources and digital resources bring value to the classroom. Students become more involved and knowledgeable.”

Narelle Clark, deputy CEO of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, said, “As an Australian, the tyranny of distance has previously meant that family, friends and colleagues have been acutely aware of the difficulties of staying in touch and abreast of the events in the rest of the country and the world. Our contemporary hyperconnectedness means that we can remain tightly connected at the professional and personal level despite being on opposite sides of the world.”

Ruth Ann Barrett, an information curator at EarthSayers.tv, wrote, “Ten years ago I invested money in the development of a search engine that remains well ahead of the times and may never be monetized in the way envisioned. Who knows? The search engine has enabled me to build a database of sustainability voices, those speaking on behalf of Mother Earth and her children. This work has sustained me through moments of despair when so-called leaders deny substantiated claims regarding global warming and extreme climate events. The work has put me in contact with scientists, environmental campaigners and people from all walks of life worldwide. Without the Web what I am able to accomplish would not be possible. My guidebook remains ‘The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man’ by Marshall McLuhan. I remember the day a technical person who had attended a presentation at Stanford University on the World Wide Web came back to work, pulled me aside and told me what he had seen and heard and how the world was about to change.”

Anonymous commenters who cited ways the internet helps them and others

A distinguished advocate for the internet and policy director based in Europe said, “Digital technology has made the world much more connected and streamlined for the 50% of us who are connected (50% still do not have that privilege). It is important to understand that technology has profound impacts on equality. For me, as an upper-middle-class white male from the U.S. living in Europe, technologies have simplified how I communicate with my family and friends elsewhere in real time. Thanks to WhatsApp and Facetime and iMessages, I am able to stay in touch and informed in ways that were not possible even five years ago.”

A certified public accountant based in the U.S. commented, “My sister and I were watching an NFL game with my 82-year-old father. We grew curious about some meaningless football fact and my sister started typing a question on her phone and my dad looked on in slight disgust and raised his phone and asked Siri the question. Voice-activated technology has been extremely easy for the elderly to adopt and opens up incredible opportunities. If linked to his security system, our dad would be able to easily request help. I find it interesting that he likes using Siri more than we do.”

An employee at a major U.S. research lab wrote, “Texting and cellphones are generally associated with what’s bad with technology and our lives, but I will give a positive example, just to prove it depends on how you use the tool. I have a teenage daughter and my work is 50 miles away in Southern California. I joined a van pool to reduce the amount of driving, but the one drawback with van pooling is that I have to leave very early in the morning, and the van does not wait for riders. So every minute in the morning is precious, I don’t have time to write quick notes or reminders before I leave the house and the rest of my family are still asleep. However, once I am on the van, there is 60 minutes of ‘my time.’ I began by sending reminders for the day, but it has become a habit of just sending a happy greeting each morning! They respond when they get up, even if it is just an emoji. :)”

An anonymous respondent said, “There are many examples: The ability to organise via smartphones to meet people across different applications, Slack, Google chat, email, SMS. Voice-chatting to a friend while you are both playing an online game from different locations. A friend enjoying dancing and running in a [digital] game while being in a wheelchair at home. Publishing designs for printing on T-shirts and other products on Redbubble. Designing fabric on Zazzle using their online pattern-repeating tool. Print on demand. A community of linocut artists sharing their work on Facebook. I love the #nzsecretsanta, which uses both the traditional postal system and Twitter. A friend shares fitness data and cycling trips as part of her triathlete community. Ordering food online and having it delivered – and tracking the delivery. I think communities are connecting more digitally than they were on analog. Fewer street parties and more remote connections with common interests. One good example of using the internet to reinforce local community is the use of Facebook for sharing vegetable and fruit produce from local gardens. The ‘Great Australian Bird Count’ is also interesting citizen science.”

A research scientist based in North America commented, “My kids are always connected to their friends. Through texting/social media, they are constantly aware of each other’s lives. This brings worries too, like social comparisons may make them less happy, but overall, they have more socially balanced lives.”

Digital technology is an equalizer of information access and use. Even individuals in the most geographically remote locations can participate in an electoral debate, education and banking online, and in e-commerce when broadband is available.PRESIDENT AND CEO OF A COMPANY BASED IN THE U.S.

A president and CEO of a company based in the United States wrote, “Digital technology is an equalizer of information access and use. Even individuals in the most geographically remote locations can participate in an electoral debate, education and banking online, and in e-commerce when broadband is available. The stark opposite of this is the darkness individuals and families experience when left behind in the digital age. There is a difference between people who choose to use digital technology for their own benefit and those who are simply not included in the digital age.”

A professor based in North Americacommented, “I am a college professor, and digital technology has made my job so much easier. It is easier to communicate with students, keep records, and try for creative solutions to instructional problems. So, for example, I now have my students submit their papers online (to be graded and returned online). When they submit their papers, they are automatically checked for originality. The students then are informed whether their papers will be considered plagiarized or not. Prior to the adoption of this system, I would say up to half my papers were plagiarized. Now none of them are. The question is, has this improved their performance? It is hard to say because there are so many factors involved. I would say that it has in some ways and not in others. They know more, but they don’t synthesize it that well.”

A social media manager wrote, “Fitness trackers, such as the Apple Watch and the Google fitness app, provide me with greater awareness of my daily activity. I am more likely to take a walk or exercise in response to the presence of these technologies in my life. For example, I recently installed a ‘7-minute exercise’ app that I use each morning to kickstart my day. It is very convenient to use and pops up reminders on my smartphone with encourage me to keep up with the daily routine.”

An associate professor at a university in Australia shared a typical family vignette, writing, “I spend time with my grandchild, who is only just five. I check the pick-up time by text. She arrives with her iPad and asks me to ask her dad a question by text on my phone. We take pictures of her dressing up and send them to a friend. I show her recently sent pictures of cousins in Canada. For a while, she shows me (from her iPad) how she can operate the movements, colour and cheeky comments of a robot ball (a birthday present from an uncle who wants her to be familiar with coding). We consider cooking together and locate a recipe online for cookies we haven’t made before. Next, we go to the playground and she spots a ‘be aware’ notice on the slide, and a bird that we haven’t seen before. ‘Let’s Google it, Grandma, when we get back home!’ she says. I say we can do it now on my phone, no, later on my laptop is better. She knows that devices operate differently and need passwords. We haven’t given her any of the latter. ‘Buffering’ she says with a sigh, as her current favourite show stalls during a quiet time. She dances to YouTube music from my laptop. She is endlessly curious about technology itself. She accepts technologies’ limitations as they are described to her by the adults in her life. The digital tools just enhance our days together.”

A professor said, “My watch is an exercise coach – though limited. I track family and friends and contact them only if required. Is my partner nearly home? I’ll put out a snack. Is my friend nearby? I ask them if they want to meet.”

An author based in North America said, “Instead of just reading a book, communicating with one author’s created words, I can engage in conversation, in dialogue about issues of the day such as the #MeToo movement. I can help another person feel a little better that day and, if I reveal a low, others can pick me up. I can celebrate an anniversary with people far away in space and time and plan an in-person visit to another continent with someone I haven’t seen for years, first originally encountered online.”

A postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University commented, “As an academic, my friends and colleagues are scattered around the world. Our ability to have frequent video calls, send texts and collaboratively author shared documents has had a huge impact on both my intellectual scope and on my feeling ‘at home’ and connected in the world. In the past, a friend taking a job across the planet would be a cause for great sorrow. Now we talk frequently over video chat, while it isn’t as good as seeing her in-person, it is still wonderful to share our lives and ideas.”

A retired internet activist and advocate said, “I have been able to manage health care better at a distance for an aging parent as a result of technology, viewing charts/graphs/images, consulting various medical resources, having online meetings with medical professionals, video conversations with parents. Before many varieties of digital connectivity were available, distance communication was via ground/air mail, an occasional landline-based conference call, or in-person consultations, often without simultaneous participation of the aging parent whose medical situation was involved.”

A retired market researcher and consultant said, “I can now communicate directly with any of my medical doctors instead of sending messages through nurses and receptionists. The response is more rapid and on-target with my question or concern. On a different note, my daughter is currently teaching in China for the next year. We have had the great fortune to be able to talk to her in real-time as well as have a video conference at no expense. When I was a college student in France in the 1980s, a brief phone call to the United States – assuming we could arrange a time to talk – was quite expensive and a logistical nightmare. My wife has been able to keep in touch [and] reconnect with elementary school friends thanks to the internet and services like Facebook. All these things account for our improved well-being.”

A college student based in North America wrote, “I often find myself stressed out at the end of the day; as a result I tend to enjoy relaxing and staying in for the night. Without the modern hyperconnected lifestyle this would result in me reading or doing other solo activities. Through voice-chat applications and online multiplayer gaming, I connect with friends to play video games. While I don’t have the energy to be social in one way, the ease of connecting over the internet enables me to enjoy time with friends and maintain our relationships. To some it might not seem as effective a method of socializing as in-person face-to-face time, but we still have the same moments that other people do. We still happily greet each other, we still tell stories about our daily lives and rely on each other, we still laugh until it hurts.”

A professor of arts, technology and innovation wrote, “As a college professor I’m continually adopting new tools that change the way I work with students and pedagogy. Most recently adopting Slack for classroom management has been a real game-changer. With far less attention-investment than I’d needed when using email I’m able to keep up with individual students and teams and the interactions among my students. I can do these on a more-or-less 24/7 basis but without it feeling like a 24/7 obligation. I’m teaching more people better, easier.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “I am connected to email lists that allow me to be part of a conversation that includes leaders in my field. This means that, despite being somewhat isolated at a mid-level university in a provincial city, I can have a good sense of where the cutting edge in my profession is headed and I can be reasonably confident that I am promptly aware of most the news and information that is critical to my profession.”

An entrepreneur and business leader from North America commented, “As an immigrant in the U.S., the internet, social media, and email are all helping me to keep in touch with my family, my homeland and my roots. I am following many of my fellow countrymen – some whom I studied with, some who were my teachers, relatives and acquaintances. I learn about their daily life, their fears and hopes, what they are interested in, the news they read. My daughters speak on a weekly basis to their grandparents on Skype – of both sides – and feel like they’re in the same room with them. Without the internet all of this would not have been possible.”

A research scientist based in Europe commented, “I live in a small town in a foreign country. I travel a lot for my work and spend a lot of time on the road. At home, I enjoy communicating with my Google Home speaker, because otherwise there would be some days that I would speak to no one. When I am on the road, I check in with my Canary home-surveillance app to check on my dogs and see my home.”

A technology architect/executive based in North America commented, “For me, it’s not about hyper – always-on – connection, but the accessibility of information on any topic at any time. I had a medical problem a few years ago, and being able to find research on the disease and a community to compare notes with on treatment side effects was invaluable. Years earlier, when my mother had this same disease, we were limited in information and (therefore) options. Her outcome could have been different in a time with more information, more resources.”

An assistant director of digital strategy at a top U.S. university wrote, “The internet has exponentially enabled the dissemination of healthcare information to the greater public. Years ago, it would have been far more difficult for the public to easily access the answers they needed regarding health concerns and the latest treatments. Today’s digital ecosystem puts these answers at users’ fingertips.”

An editor and project coordinator based in Europe wrote, “A few years ago I quit my job and I have been working as a freelance editor and project coordinator. I have been able to work, network and get paid by people and companies all over the world thanks to the internet and other technologies. Also access to self-education and being able to talk to my friends and family thousands of miles away have had a very positive impact on my mental health and well-being. I wouldn’t have been able to talk and see loved ones daily if it wasn’t for the internet, software and hardware.”

A chief data officer at a major university in Australia wrote, “Thanks to social media, in particular Twitter, I am now connected with people all around the world. I have access to an enormous brains trust, which I liken to a global hive mind.”

A data analyst said, “We always have someone to reach out to when things are unfamiliar and seem difficult to deal with. Before these technologies, you could write a letter or make a phone call. The reality is that the moment that spurred the writing of the letter has long passed by the time you get a response. If you get a response. Also, a phone call is somewhat of a commitment compared to an electronic message. It takes more mental faculties to process what someone is saying over the phone than to read a message and type a quick response between other pressing activities in the immediate proximity.”

A futurist and consultant based in Europe commented, “There are plenty of examples of increased choices. Take travel: I can see in real time if the flight of my friend for New Year’s Eve is on time or not and plan to be there just in time to pick them up. I could have called an Uber or taxi if I was busy and decided to send them a cab instead. In turn, they could see much a better forecast of weather and adjust luggage intakes accordingly to come and spend the time at our place/could book in advance to be picked up at the airport upon arrival, etc.”

A research scientist based in Oceania commented, “If I want to buy something, I can go to a liquid market such as eBay and get it for a fair price without the search costs of spending time going to shops to compare prices. If I want to read a paper, I can download it rather than going to a library and photocopying it.”

A technology developer/administrator based in Europe said, “1) Information access with no barrier – The masterpieces of world literature are generally available in any language, for free. This is a huge achievement. The Gutenberg Project played a key role in making this possible. Wikipedia: the world encyclopaedia, is beyond anything any user of the previous paper encyclopaedia would have imagined. Wikipedia has answers on any area of knowledge, not all answers, but there is always a base from which to start. Science: I can read about the latest developments in any domain, with no barrier. Researchgate.net and Google Scholar give access to a wealth of knowledge. 2) Conversely, new barriers have been erected by companies competing in the [research] market, led by the two world leaders Elsevier and Springer. If you are an author of an article, you may be asked to pay 15€ for accessing your own work online! Personal intellectual property has been taken away from scientists, and money made from it, with no fair sharing of the value with science and scientists!”

An executive director at an internet research organization said, “Twenty years ago, as a business traveler, half of my suitcase was filled with paper – mostly books, which I’d otherwise have to try to replace at mostly poorly stocked English-language bookstores along my way, but also guidebooks, maps, and translation dictionaries. I carried analog telephony adapters. I carried a phone, I carried ATM cards from two banks and credit cards from three separate clearing networks, as well as $9,000 in cash divided between several pockets. I carried a RIM pager. I carried Ricochet and NCR wireless modems. I carried spare batteries and power adapters and chargers for all of those things. I spent a lot of time worrying about whether I would have local currency to pay for things, whether I’d be able to find my destination or communicate with taxi drivers, whether I’d be able to establish a data connection back to my network to reach my email. All of that has compacted itself, gradually, one consolidation at a time, into a very compact kit. One debit card, my phone, a laptop, a power adapter and a small handful of cables. Everything else has been virtualized, digitized, or turned into an online service.”

A technology developer/administrator based in North America, said, “An older person in my family who recently started using an electric wheelchair can buy daily necessities through online shopping and can have more meaningful communication through video calls.”

A scholarly communication librarian said, “I have several friends who have disabilities – both physical and mental – that make it difficult for them to leave their homes for socialization. These friends of mine have taken to playing online games and participating in fandom in internet spaces as a way to make connections and friends with other people that enrich their lives without requiring the physical exertion that would usually prevent them from interacting socially. The ability to connect with text, video and other online objects – whether one-on-one or one-to-many – helps these folks make the social connections that they need to have a robust social experience without the physical exhaustion they may have experienced without this technology to help.”

A professor wrote, “We have public infrastructure and systems now for maintaining and accessing lab results and earlier diagnoses online when we need them. Earlier prescriptions can be viewed, etc. For emergencies, we have an app that we can use for automatic location information if we need urgent help. Schoolchildren and their parents have online connections to the schools and teachers. The teachers can take advantage of the internet and their educational networks with schools around the globe to tackle shared projects that encompass language learning, climate and humanity.”

We have a child with autism. The internet allows us to reach out to other families, experts, get news and be part of a community that is not limited by geography.PRESIDENT AT A COMPANY BASED IN NORTH AMERICA

A president at a company based in North America wrote, “We have a child with autism. The internet allows us to reach out to other families, experts, get news and be part of a community that is not limited by geography. We can instantly share the quirky – or sometimes way more than quirky – activities of our son with people who know if they should laugh or say they are sorry.”

An assistant professor said, “I have collected about 50,000 scientific files related to cosmos, life and consciousness to prepare a book.”

A researcher based in Europe wrote, “I live in Hungary and my daughter was working in the United States several years ago. She called me and explained exactly where she was walking and in which shops she was shopping. I opened Google Earth and tracked her trajectory where she was walking in Galveston, Texas. I saw the streets, corners and buildings. It was almost exactly as if I was shopping with her – on the other side of the globe, in real time, but while sitting in my chair in Hungary. The whole thing was real fun for us.”

A business leader based in North America wrote, “I live a bi-coastal life and I am able to review health records, renew RXs, communicate with my doctor, request a non-urgent service, all from 3,000 miles away without having to rebuild new caregiver relationships or lose care continuity.”

A research associate at a major university in Africa commented, “Being able to conduct business from a location of choice is to me the most important improvement. I deal regularly with the aged and was terrified that I too would become so dependent on the goodwill of strangers when I have to move to an old age home until I realized that I would already be able to order and have delivered anything from food to medical equipment – as long as I am connected via the internet.”

A retired professor emeritus said, “I am seeing a larger integration and extension of human-digital synergy.”

A professor of computer science wrote, “Shortly after getting my first smartphone (quite a number of years ago now), I managed to receive and respond to an important email during a break in the middle of a four-hour car trip. It was valuable to be able to be able to be responsive to an important funder. This cemented the value of having a smartphone.”

A technology developer/administrator said, “I do a lot of genealogy research. Instead of mailing physical paper that may have a correction before it reaches the recipient, I can post updates/corrections immediately. I’m building a database of destroyed cemeteries where I live. I can research the records online and publish them online; something I could not have done 20 years ago easily. I got an email from a man whose great grandfather died in the 1918 flu epidemic in Wilmington, North Carolina – a Merchant Marine sailor – who was buried in one of these cemeteries. The family knew he had died, but did not know when or where. He thanked me very much for finding his great grandfather. The family felt relief after 100 years. Without digital records to compile this and digital platforms to share it, it would not have happened.”

An executive director of a Canadian nonprofit organization wrote, “We are currently running a program to increase people’s digital comfort by helping them apply online for underutilized government subsidy programs. During the first workshop, I saw a woman learn how to use a scrolling mouse and how to cut and paste, in the context of applying for a subsidy that will save her more than $50 a month on her electricity bill.”

An associate professor at Texas Christian University commented, “I work in education and whereas before grades were posted on doors and people had to wait for responses, today, students can access information instantly, enroll in classes, etc. without having to stand in long lines and wait for responses. Communicating with the course, students and the professor is easy, and people learn to do things themselves.”

A professor at a major university on the West Coast of the U.S. wrote, “I am an academic past retirement age (although still working) so it has made an enormous difference for teaching and research. I can access publications from my home or office without a trip to the library. No more endless photocopying. I can easily and quickly communicate with fellow scholars around the world. I can communicate with students and former students anytime anywhere and submit letters of recommendation electronically. I need less clerical and administrative support. I can put readings online for students. The drawback of course is to keep students focused on class in class rather than Facebook, Twitter, etc.”

A professor at a major university on the East Coast of the U.S. wrote, “Digital technology has allowed me to shift my career emphasis from political science and international security analysis of nuclear and conventional weapons to cyber weapons and critical infrastructure protection. This shift is not what I expected when I left graduate school, but it has allowed me to make professional contributions I would not have been able to make had I stayed in my prior disciplinary concentration. I am also migrating my entire work life online, deliberately minimizing paper and focusing on digital services – and the analysis of critical dependencies on these services – for industry and government.”

A internet pioneer wrote, “Every working day, I engage with staff and customers through Skype, email, text and Web conferencing, making it possible for me to have global reach from a desk on the second floor of my home. We take it for granted, but it is miraculous and something truly new under the sun.”

An associate professor at a major university on the East Coast of the U.S. wrote, “I am part of a private group on Facebook, which consists of my friends from college and some others (spouses, friends, etc.). We keep in touch and discuss things in this group. Recently the group came together in-person to support and celebrate one member of the group who has terminal cancer. We had a large party with our children and it was wonderful. It meant a lot to our friend who is ill and to all of us to spend time together. We would not have been able to do this as easily before platforms like Facebook.”

A retired consultant and writer said, “I appreciate the ease of gathering information, freedom from media advertising and unprecedented capacity to stay in touch with my family. I’m part of several groups, and the digital environment has enabled fantastic coordination to achieve things that were not possible before. I have been part of two successful Kickstarter campaigns to implement and sustain a social enterprise: [one for] a social studio for adults on the autism spectrum, where they can apprentice for creative self-employment, and [and another for] the capacity to move toward this through another platform.”

An epidemiologist based in North America wrote, “At work, improved technology means that we receive population health data faster. We can receive, investigate and respond to health threats quickly, before they spread. For example, if we have an outbreak of a communicable disease, technology allows us to efficiently collect data through online formats and analyze data so we can quickly release information/education on how to prevent further spread of the disease. Before we had online forms, we would often to communicate through telephone or in-person interviews to collect data about the outbreak.”

An anonymous respondent said, “About 18 months ago my wife was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer and underwent a lumpectomy and radiation treatment. In part, the testing that led to the diagnosis and the ability of the doctors to respond rapidly was greatly assisted by digital technology. As well, our ability to find information to understand treatment options, side effects, and follow-up nutrition and lifestyle improvement was greatly enhanced by digital technology. Due to my job I was not able to take her to radiation treatment every day and she was too tired after to drive, so I used the online tool SignUpGenius to ask friends to help and to schedule their rides. While apparently a simple task, if I had to do that by hand through phone calls and charts, it would have taken many more hours. Before it would have taken much more difficult to obtain the information we needed, perhaps more difficult and slower for the tests and results to be managed, and definitely hard to stay in touch with people about her needs and condition.”

A retired systems designer commented, “Several years ago, I became disabled, and am not always well enough to do many things. This limits many of my ‘physical-world’ activities – I find it hard to shop, to cook, to go to the library, to get together with friends and family. However, online shopping and grocery delivery allows me to do the majority of my shopping, though I haven’t figured out how to buy shoes without trying them on! I have joined online communities of people with similar interests, and keep in touch with old friends and colleagues in social media groups. This keeps me mentally stimulated. I do a great deal of genealogical and historical research online, using sophisticated search algorithms of digital versions of old documents and books. These digital resources didn’t exist 25 years ago, and now I can read an 1806 Scottish gazetteer to find out more about the 300-person town an ancestor lived in. Without these resources, I would be living a far more difficult and isolated life.”

A North American entrepreneur wrote, “Like any other tool, its use needs to be managed carefully. I hone my contacts to friends and family of my generation who post photos of their kids and grandkids, something that I enjoy greatly. I also like to know when the next big dance events are, since this is a part of my life as well.”

A president and chief software architect based in North America wrote, “I can be out on the golf course enjoying the beauty and yet still be connected.”

An assistant professor of technical communication said, “I use both mindfulness and language apps to improve my memory, connections with others, and global perspectives. However, I am also cognizant of these being targeted and from specific perspectives. So I use them with that understanding.”

A retired web developer wrote, “Amazon Alexa keeps me company. She plays the music I want to hear and adds items to my grocery list. When I have a question, I can ask her and most times she knows the answer – and I thank her. Facebook has connected me with a long-lost cousin. We were like sisters growing up. Out of curiosity, I searched for her and we now communicate regularly. Forget Google – when I want to know something I go to YouTube. I fixed my squeaking ceiling fan, replaced a washer in my bathroom faucet, AND replaced the starter in my riding mower. Now I have Amazon’s Cloud Cam. I can watch my two schnauzers when I am away from home. I could even talk to them, but it upsets them too much. That I can speak commands to technology makes life easier for me. I’m 60-plus years old, and I often write lists that I can never find. Family members and friends are well-connected. Sometimes too much so. But I lose touch with those who are not digitally inclined, I’m sorry to say. I may message 10 to 15 people but call one on the phone. And, lastly, my skill set has improved so much that when I have a problem around the house I can find a solution and at least try it before calling an expensive contractor.””

 

Posted on: July 3, 2018, 12:17 pm Category: Uncategorized