Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Delphi Study Assessing Disruptively Transformative Futures in Journalism

The future of media and journalism is in turmoil. We are currently conducting a Delphi study comparing the views media experts and futurists hold about the future of journalism. In Phase I, the media experts participated in a two round Argumentative Policy Delphi about the future of journalism. The results were written into four images of the future. The experts were asked to review the four images of the future in terms of probability and desirability.

We are now looking for panelists to Phase II of our Delphi study. The four images of the future as created in Phase I, along with a selection of critical statistical data about technology and media will be sent to a panel of futurists. The futurists are then invited to review the four images of the future in terms of probability and desirability, and to imagine innovative breakthrough technologies and suggest a fifth image of the future that differs from the four previous ones.

The results from Phase II of this Delphi will be written into scenarios which will be sent back to all the panelists. This experimental approach combining the argumentation of both media experts and futurists is expected to bring forward new, versatile and even surprising arguments to the current debate about the developments regarding the future of journalism, press and media.

All the panelists will be invited to participate in a special session on Future of Media and Communications during the Conference "Trends and Future of Sustainable Development" organised by Finland Futures Research Centre in Tampere, Finland, in June 9-10, 2011. (Unfortunately we cannot cover travel and conference cost, but we can guarantee a seat for you in the future of media session).

Call for participation

If you are interested in participating in the expert panel for this Delphi, please contact researcher Sofi Kurki ( by February 7th, 2011.

Looking forward to your possible interest and thanking you in advance,

Professor Sirkka Heinonen and Researcher Sofi Kurki

Future of Media and Communications (FMC)

Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC), University of Turku

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Future of the Internet

Greetings from Santa Barbara, CA! Thanks to the advanced telecommuting practices of FFRC, I have had the possibility to spend the autumn here in this beautiful city (and lovely weather), immersing myself in a new culture.

For the lack of a physical working community, I´ve moved an even greater amount of my life to the Internet. As its position has solidified to form a central element of both the working and the social life, it is almost startling to consider the relatively short period of time we´ve been able to enjoy this digital lifestyle. Although the collapse of the Internet is a regular candidate for a possible black swan in many futures workshops, one rarely pauses to assess the probable, preferable and avoidable futures of the Internet itself. A few days ago, I made a small sidestep from the research I have been conducting on the future of news media and took a look at what has been said about the future of the Internet. Here´s what I found:

As usual, there are a few dystopic visions for the future, some very optimistic and lots of quite neutral but still rather interesting things. Most of the gloomier images for the future are connected to the commercial interest nowadays so intertwined with the Internet, with for example net neutrality forming one big discussion. Within the optimists, there are the classical visions of the semantic web and Internet of Things. Neutral issues include, among others, possible complications with moving from the current limited addressing system, IPv4, to the new but incompatible IPv6 and the paradigm shift brought about by cloud computing.

I will zoom in on one particular scenario for the future, which arguably classifies under the dystopias, but is among the more interesting in this category. Professor Jonathan Zittrain (co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, among other merits), in his 2008 book “The Future of Internet – and How to Stop It”, argues, in a nutshell, that when users switch their open and “generative” PCs to iPads, iPhones, Xboxes, Kindles and similar closed or “tethered” appliances, what they are actually doing is trading in their freedom to adjust and innovate for a more reliable, malware free user experience. This is problematic, because the basis of the Internet, according to the argument, has been the ability of a PC to run any code: this has been the source for an endless array of new kinds of uses for the Internet, and, essentially, has been the force behind the formation of the Internet itself. In “tethered” appliances, there are levels that are open only to the operating system, and which third-party applications cannot access, and this, says Zittrain, takes the “control” (or lack of it) from the users and places it on the whims of the commercial interests of the appliance manufacturers. From all this follows, that the end result could be an internet controlled by the companies, making the end of Internet more a “not with a bang but with a whimper” collapse of the sort of Internet we know now.
In an interview for the Wired magazine, the author even formulates a scenario on how he sees events could unfold:

“JZ: My worry is that users will drift into gated communities defined by their hardware or their network. They’ll switch to information appliances that are great at what they do [email, music, games] because they’re so tightly controlled by their makers. (…) It could happen through a watershed moment: A virus infects 50 percent of a corporate network and erases hard drives.
The problem is, we’re moving to software-as-service, which can be yanked or transformed at any moment. The ability of your PC to run independent code is an important safety valve.
W: You really think the sky could be falling?

JZ: Yes. Though by the time it falls, it may seem perfectly normal. It’s entirely possible that the past 25 years will seem like an extended version of the infatuation we once had with CB radio, when we thought that it was the great new power to the people.”

But before leaving you to consider this depressing image (or read the book, there is light at the end of the tunnel), I´d like to share a video clip: In a 1995 television show “Venture” the author Jonathan Zittrain introduces a novelty called PDA (personal digital assistant). At the time, these devices did not really catch on, but only 15 years later their descendants are so popular that they can be envisioned to take over the Internet? Once again, the famous quote attributed to William Gibson “the future is already here, it´s just not very evenly distributed” seems appropriate. The tricky part, of course, is to recognize the future when walking by it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

4C´s and social media

This FMC blog (Future of Media and Communications) is about media, communications, journalism, social media, technology foresight, innovation, and culture. Sofi Kurki and I will be writing about our activities in the research group of the Future of Media and Communications at Finland Futures Research Centre (University of Turku).

I wish to touch upon the issues that I foresee as important, striking, or worth exploring further, even if they were in the margins at the present. Foreseeing is proactive looking into the future with open eyes, ears and all senses (which does not mean forecasting or predicting, i.e. making “exact” predictions: this and this will happen in the year Z - e.g. the internet will collapse in 2020). I anchor this foreseeing into a grid of 4 C´s: connectivity, commitment, caring, and creativity. These four Cs are qualities which I regard both as goals and as prerequisites for social media to enhance people’s wellbeing and quality of life.

The other day I was listening with an intense ear to Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, special advisor to the prime minister’s cabinet on science, technology and innovation issues, tell about Japan’s new Innovation strategy. It is a long-term plan extending to the year 2025, and not a one-shot deal. This long-term perspective that is so natural to the Asian culture and way of thinking has always fascinated me, ever since I was working as a visiting research fellow in Tokyo exploring Japan’s plans for the information society and futures studies back in mid1980s. It is possible to nourish long-term thinking and at the same time try to generate innovations that will be directly focused on solving acute problems. In social media I see huge potential for tackling both problems that humans are facing in everyday situations, but also for addressing global issues on a wider scope.

Social media is an amoeba-like phenomenon that can be approached from many angles: technical, social, legal, business-wise etc. It is important to try to penetrate to the core of the concept: what elements, prerequisites, motivations, and impacts does it imply? In the Somed project at VTT we attempted a tentative conceptual analysis of social media, using innovative methods we developed for the purpose. The conceptual analysis is based on the nine interviews that Minna Halonen and I made, as well as on the conclusions that we elaborated. We invite you all to have a look at the reports “Making Sense of Social Media. Interviews and Narratives” and at the Social Media Roadmaps report – Exploring the futures triggered by social media. Currently we are planning new research on the future of social media with Sofi here at Finland Futures Research Centre.