- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A new report says that by 2025 the Internet will transform the global marketplace and create more informed, better connected and wealthier consumers — for those who can keep up with the technology.

The report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center surveyed 2,551 experts in technology and finance for their opinions about the effects of growing online activity in the next decade.

Respondents addressed how the Internet will affect social, cultural and political issues going into the future, but many of the experts touched on its ability to optimize the global economy. Information will be even more accessible by 2025, empowering consumers by giving them more tools to research the supply of what they demand.

“By far, the largest impact of the Internet is the ability it gives people to inform themselves,” said respondent Bill Woodcock, executive director for the Packet Clearing House. “In that sense, the most important service on the Internet is Wikipedia, followed by things like eBay and TradeMe, and even Amazon, not for the ability they give people to buy things in low-friction ways (which is also important), but for the ability they give people to see what things cost, and what people think about them.”

Other experts said, that as Internet users become more connected, they will also become more aware of the issues and struggles of their global neighbors — enacting more active, grassroots movements. The prediction was rooted in peaceful demonstrations, as well as political uprisings like the Arab Spring, which analysts said would become more of the norm in 2025.

But the high level of awareness and connectivity will also produce a more efficient global economy, self-employed science and technology writer Fred Hapgood predicted.

Mr. Hapgood said some people think the global economy will not grow much into the future because new revolutionary technologies, like electricity or the internal combustion engine, are unlikely to be developed. He noted that, in many countries, the working population will actually decline.

But Mr. Hapgood also said he thinks the global economy is currently operating “at a tiny fraction of its potential efficiency.”

“Over the next 20 years, the Internet will allow this potential to be tapped, and that will lead to real increases in wealth. An example might be crowd-funding or crowd-investing. These Internet-based innovations make it much cheaper for startups to raise their investment capital.”

The technology could be less beneficial for people who don’t keep up with the growing Internet community.

Some respondents predicted the gap will increase between those who keep up with the changes and those who are unwilling to learn new skills and adapt — leaving many people unemployable.

“Significant numbers of people will become structurally unemployed because they were unwilling to keep up their skills with the changing technology or unwilling to accept the changing technology,” said Pietro Ciminelli, director of finance for Boards of Cooperative Educational Services.