The World Internet Project was originated at the UCLA Center for Communication Policy and was founded with the NTU School of Communication Studies in Singapore and the Osservatorio Internet Italia at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. From the beginning it was recognized that the increasing influence of digital technology and the Internet is not an American phenomenon. It has always been the project’s intent to expand to include all the regions of the world and within five years to include 25 or more countries.
The originators of this project believe that the Internet (in whatever distribution system: PC, television, wireless or some yet to be developed system) will transform our social, political and economic lives. We further believe that the influence and importance of the Internet will dwarf that of the most important cultural influence of the past 50 years: television. Potentially the Internet represents change on the order of the industrial revolution or the printing press. Believing this, our Internet Project is designed to get in on the ground floor of that change and to watch and document what happens as households and nations acquire and use the Internet.
Surveying the Digital Future
How the PC and Internet Are Changing the World
Everyone – whether they have the Unabomber’s attitude toward new technology or if they buy any new innovation the moment it is available at an inflated price knows that the world is undergoing significant change from digital PC/Internet technology. Everything in our social, political and economic lives is being affected and much will be transformed. This technology promises to have a far larger and more serious impact on our society than the introduction of television, possibly as great an influence on history as the industrial revolution or the printing press. Television primarily involves only leisure time; this technology will affect work, school and play personal, family and business relationships.
It is essential that we understand how our world is changing and gather reliable information on that change and place it in the hands of policy makers, business leaders and academics. No one went into households in the late 1940s to understand what the introduction of television meant to the course of our lives and how our consumer behaviors, sense of the world or family relations were affected.
Surveying the Digital Future” is a plan to conduct the study of computers and the Internet as well as successive technologies that should have been conducted when television entered our lives.
Using a combination of scientific methods, this will be a longterm longitudinal study. The data and analysis that will come from this study will strongly govern how both technological and nontechnological companies will make basic business and marketing decisions from the beginning of the project through much of the 21st century. Though a longterm project, it will deliver tangible results that will be of direct use to business and policy makers beginning with the first release in the Fall of 1999 and every year thereafter.
Furthermore, partners in the study will have the opportunity to conduct followup studies or to design proprietary research investigating their business concerns between the releases of the international results.
Now is the perfect time to conduct such a study. The 50% (and rapidly growing) of households with computers is sizable enough to examine changes that are already occurring. The 50% (and rapidly shrinking) of households without computers will afford an opportunity to examine why these households are not participating and how, when and why that will finally change. Some changes are already apparent. We know that for the first time in the history of television, viewing by children under the age of 14 is down. In computers some children have found a pastime as interesting as television and one that will draw away their attention.
The study will look at approximately 2,000 households throughout America. Already six international partners in Europe and Singapore are cooperating on the project, and plans are in the works for several nations in Latin America as well as the People’s Republic of China. Within three years it is expected that there will be 30-50 international partners sharing methodology and coordinating the release of data.
By the release of the second annual study there will be a national conference examining the project’s findings. Policy makers, industry leaders and others will be invited to learn about the nature and extent of the influence of PC/Internet technology and to speculate on its meaning. The results of each year’s conference will be compiled into an annual volume that will begin with an analysis of the study’s basic findings.
This will be one of the most significant research projects of this generation. Its findings will be of immense importance to government officials, business executives, academics and all who live in our society. To lose another opportunity to truly understand the change we see all around us would be tragic.