Human Nature Forecast: Rop Gonggrijp

Exploring this year’s Human Nature theme, we ask thought leaders about their vision of the future. What does human nature mean both personally and professionally? In the first episode of our Human Nature Forecast series Internet expert Rop Gonggrijp tells us how the Internet has affected human beings.

Keeping up with changes
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Gonggrijp, former hacker and founder of Internet provider XS4all, has been closely following the rapid technological developments of the last decades. He says the world was essentially the same place in 1972 and 1988. Ever since, however, the world is changing at a higher speed than we can adjust to. Sometimes these changes are manifested in small details. Twenty years ago, people would carry dimes in their pocket to make a call from a phone booth when necessary. Now, phone booths have all but disappeared from our streets. What has online communication changed in people’s behaviour?

Let me look that up for you

Even though the Internet has a great potential to stimulate learning and creativity, there is a risk that it leaves people wondering why they’d learn things at all when answers are so easily found. “I remember from my own school days that I was very much against all these arcane bits of knowledge, like remembering the exact amount of rainfall to qualify as a sea climate. Why would I study that, when it’s available in a book? This belief has only amplified since we have all these technologies.”

Your online persona is real

Another potential problem is the issue of privacy. “We value our privacy generally when it is too late, when our drinking pictures are visible to potential employers. But young people now are treating social media different than before. More people realize that in real life they will be judged on their online persona.” Sharing knowledge and personal information is all a matter of trust – in one another, and in our institutions. “Whether governments are a problem for privacy, depends on their role. When the government is benign, there is no problem, but that might change. I can see futures where we perhaps cannot trust government. Similarly, forcing people to use their real names under the label of transparency, by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, is problematic. How can we allow a company to force people to identify themselves when they live in a country like Syria?”, Rop wonders out loud.

“I’m not ready for personalized ads”

“In the future, advertising will be even more personalised and more relevant to the individual, than it is today. This will come at the cost of advertisers and companies such as Facebook and Google knowing every little details about everybody. These companies are evaluating every click you do and every post you make. I’m not sure that’s a world I’m ready for.”

Rop finds it difficult to say what the Internet will look in twenty or thirty years. “Life is going to be radically different, and not only because of the Internet and technology. Life on earth is profoundly unsustainable. Today, human activity uses about one and a half planets. Between now and 2030, we’ll see a dramatic decline in the amount of oil and fossil fuels. I see huge problems, but I hope the Internet can play a great role in getting people together to work on solutions.”