Audiences, Towards 2030: Drivers, Scenarios and Horizons of the Future

  • Lucia Vesnić-Alujević
  • Gilda Seddighi
  • Ranjana Das
  • David Mathieu


The year 2030 seems to be beckoning a fair amount of prospection and critical speculation, with regard to the roles of ICTs in governance, public policy in a variety of sectors, and its interfaces with digital futures, with the arrival of Big Data. In the context of a book located theoretically within the long tradition of audience studies, we report in this chapter, from the unique third step of our foresight analysis—a horizon scanning exercise on the future of audiences in the year 2030, anticipating the ubiquity of connected technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT), amidst interfaces governed by algorithms, and the rise of datafication and its myriad consequences. Tracing a set of future scenarios along the dimensions of diverging responses to the IoT on the one hand, and the changing nature of institution-individual relationships on the other, we follow a set of 16 drivers of societal change, as audiences, users, and those who analyze them move towards 2030. We conclude, by drawing attention to media and data literacies as fundamentally crucial for audience agency in the futures we envisage.

This chapter presents the outcomes of a horizon-scanning exercise that sought to ask what kinds of futures lie ahead for audiences and users, as we anticipate societies marked by rising datafication and the impending ubiquity of the Internet of Things (IoT). In doing so, we begin, as we must for any attempts to scan horizons, from the here and the now, distilling dimensions of interests and drivers of societal change, from our trends analysis and stakeholder consultation exercises, reported on in previous chapters. Those exercises, and the chapters that reflected on them, in Parts II and III of this book, looked at the diversely mediated communicative conditions unfolding around us, right here, right now—in terms of interfaces, intrusions and engagement. From a strong grounding within that scanning of the present, this chapter launches itself into thinking, carefully, about possibilities for the future, opening up Part IV of this book—Futures.

The futures we envisage draw attention to challenges and concerns around audiences’ best interests. We find ourselves thinking, where next for the agentic audience, and what are the ways in which we might make visible, and transparent, the many pressures and structural challenges that audiences increasingly have to engage with? The answers to this, we suggest, lie in renewed critical attention to the consequences arising at the intersect of what this book has called intrusive interfaces on the one hand, and audiences’ practices of engagement, including digital and data literacies, on the other (including those responsible for both of these), as part of a task that positions audiences as critical-reflexive participants engaging with the technological developments we find unfolding. As Chapter  1 of this book has elucidated, our aim is not to paint a bleak, cynical future of nightmares, where audiences succumb to pressures—a vision that holds both institutions and audiences in static roles—but rather, to make apparent the intrusions arising in datafied societies, the writing in of audiences into interfaces, the prospects, via digital and data literacies, for the agentic, critical, even resistant audience to contribute to mediated societies, and the tasks and responsibilities involved, not just for audiences, but for a variety of others (as Chapter  13 later elucidates).

Approach to Horizon Scanning

As Bakardjieva and Gehl (2017) have argued recently, critical approaches to technology, communication and society have recently followed the strands of digital labour and its exploitation; big data and the process of datafication of social life; social media platforms with their inherent algorithmic control over users’ behaviour and sociality; and the subjectivation and commodification of individual selves. These strands carry different implications for a range of fields in communication scholarship as the room full of screens this book began with (see Chapter  1). CEDAR’s analysis of emerging scholarship in audience analysis revealed four key pivots of transformation across the last 10 transformative years, related in many ways to these strands above, and these pivots then guided the design of this book, and became the foundations from where we launch our horizon-scanning work. As Das has noted recently (2017), these intersecting pivots of transformation:

…relate to audiences in their role as users of networked platforms, audiences as producers of content, audiences as people whose work is often co-opted by larger players and audiences and their capacities for action. Individually, each of these…were shaped by and shaped the material and symbolic transformations that swept through audience research in these 10 crucial years. Collectively, they represent the state of the art in a newly transformed field that has just begun an exciting new phase in its history. (Das 2017, p. 1262)

In what follows, we move from these pivots of transformation, onwards and forwards, to distil a set of 16 drivers of societal change. Tracing a set of future scenarios along the dimensions of diverging responses to technological transformations on the one hand, and the changing nature of participation, in the context of changing institution–audience relationships on the other, we follow these sets of drivers, as audiences, users, and those who analyse them move towards their futures. Our approach to horizon scanning for a future yet to unfold has tried to strike a balance between retrospection and prospection—looking forward while maintaining clear connections to the present day, as we dealt with a short temporal frame of 15 years from the inception of our work, and targeted the year 2030 to pinpoint analysis. The year 2030 seems to be beckoning a fair amount of prospection and speculation in public policy sectors, with regard to the roles of ICTs in governance, public policy in a variety of sectors, and its interfaces with digital futures, with the arrival of big data (we note here, in particular, the Future of government 2030+, the White paper on the future of Europe 2025, and the ‘Global trends to 2030’ conference, amongst others). As the consortium has recently noted, ‘in making the choice to scan the horizon of what the contexts of audience research could look like in 2030, we note that we do this task at the brink of the potentially transformative IoT (Ashton 1999) mediating the lives, worlds and practices of audiences as individuals and communities’ (Das and Ytre-Arne 2017a). Of course, we also note, as one of us has commented previously, in writing about the achievements of this network (Das and Ytre-Arne 2017b), that this task demands caution, because, following the sociology of expectations, certainty about individual and collective enthusiasm about technological transformations is difficult to propose (cf. Borup et al. 2006). Echoing socio-technologically transformative moments in the past, developments in big data, sitting in close relationships with connected gadgets and the IoT, have begun to attract both optimistic and critical perspectives. Optimism hails the prospects of emancipation through open access to knowledge (cf. Baack 2015), the potentials of big data in humanitarian contexts (cf. Monaghan and Lycett 2013) and its superiority to other social science methods (cf. Veltri 2017). Critical voices note that:

…datafication is rooted in problematic ontological and epistemological claims. As part of a larger social media logic, it shows characteristics of a widespread secular belief. Dataism, as this conviction is called, is so successful because masses of people – naively or unwittingly – trust their personal information to corporate platforms. (van Djick 2014, p. 197)

The knowledge politics of big data, risks in terms of rigor and method (cf. boyd and Crawford 2012; Schroeder 2014), caution about safeguarding the rights of the vulnerable (cf. Lupton and Williamson 2017), these all belong to this end of the spectrum. We reflect, in the context of these conversations, on the findings from a consortium that sought, through the conduction of four cross-national exercises, to arrive at a set of driving factors and a set of horizon-scanning endeavours to think, rigorously, about the future of audiences and audience analysis in 2030.

Our approaches to horizon-scanning work adapted, rather than adopted, principles of foresight analysis in policy and industry-led foresight work. While the methodological principles behind it, and the nitty-gritty of the procedural aspects that went into our use of it, have been detailed at length in Chapter  2, we detail the steps involved here:
  • Dimensions: Our trends analysis and stakeholder consultations focused our attention on two fundamental dimensions of interest to us—people’s divergent responses to technological advancement in the context of datafication and the IoT (high uptake at one end, and low and sceptical at the other), and the changing relationships between audiences and institutions and the nature of democratic participation (with an involved state at one end, and a heavily neoliberal society at the other).

  • Drivers: We worked through the findings of our trends analysis and stakeholder consultation exercises to scrutinize these dimensions further, and arrive at a series of topics and sub-topics that were scrutinized and amalgamated to produce our next product of horizon scanning—16 drivers of change, which we anticipated would shape the mediated societies audiences of the immediate future would live in.

  • Scenarios: We then followed the drivers along the two dimensions, through a series of workshop-based exercises, to consider how these drivers would play out differently in various scenarios unfolding at the extremities of the two dimensions. We then arrived at a critical product of horizon scanning—four scenarios imagined at the extremities of these dimensions. We framed these not as predictions, but rather, aiming throughout to open up an analytical space, while being realistic and plausible, as far as a horizon-scanning exercise permits.

  • Narratives: In a further step (discussed at length in Chapter  12), a group from CEDAR developed fictional narratives emerging out of these scenarios above, to begin to understand how issues emergent from the scenarios may play out in everyday life. This last step is the subject matter of Chapter  12, and here, in this chapter, we focus on the three steps above—the dimensions, drivers and scenarios.

The Two Dimensions

Various priorities and findings emergent from preceding chapters, themselves fuelled by our trends and stakeholder exercises, feed into our framework for horizon scanning. Interfaces—the subject matter of Part II of this book—are fundamental to this process. They relate to the first dimension of the two we are dealing with here, in horizon scanning—people’s responses to evolving technological developments. Interfaces as findings from Part II, and as an idea in general, keep our eyes focused on the design of future interfaces, including ones that aim to eliminate and do away with human intervention, on the user anticipated and built into these interfaces, the variety of ways in which these might intrude or co-opt audience agency, and the ways in which these might approach, represent and analyse information about audiences. Engagement—the subject matter of Part III of this book—is equally fundamental to this process. This relates to the second dimension of the two we are dealing with here, in horizon scanning—the changing relationships between audiences and institutions and the nature of audience engagement and participation. Engagement, while dealing specifically with social media in the here and now, discusses ideas that demand careful attention on a micro level and small acts of audience engagement. In being everyday in nature, perhaps even banal, and often unnoticed for being small-scale, these acts form the corpus of links and relationships between not just media institutions and audiences as individuals (with power differences in between), but also between smaller and larger articulations of participation in a mediated world. Both Parts II and III keep our eyes focused firmly on a critical, agentic, trans-media approach, paying attention to the structures—interfaces and institutions—within and occasionally against which audiences operate. Parts II and III bring together the outcomes of our trends analysis and stakeholder consultation exercises that dealt with the here and now. Parts II and III contribute to two dimensions of our horizon-scanning approach, as we look towards the future here, in Part IV.

On the one hand, we have paid close attention to people’s diverging and diverse responses to technological transformations, anticipating the impending ubiquity of the IoT and the debates it comes with, around the intrusive features of emerging technologies and growing concerns around privacy, trust and surveillance in an environment of what van Djick terms ‘dataism’ (2014). On the other hand, we have paid attention to the transforming relationships between the state, public and private institutions, and audiences as individuals and communities, concentrating on participation. In thinking about the future articulations of these dimensions, we find useful the ‘sociology of expectations’ approach that deals with visions for the future, how these visions emerge, how they are shaped and on whom they impact (Borup et al. 2006). Interesting for our discussion here is what is meant by the very expression ‘sociology of expectations’—it explores what is possible for the future and how expectations are structured, how they appear, disappear or resist and influence different stakeholders (van Lente 2012). But equally, this involves the constant interplay of structure and agency, making us think about the agentic audience, while also thinking of the intrusions made on the very agency of audiences. As noted before, also, while many potential routes were possible here, the network:

…found inspiration in Anthony Giddens’ theory of structuration (1984) and conceptualized audiences as agents in dynamic relationships with diverse societal structures, seeking to create spaces for engagement and expression but also at times contributing to reproduce – willingly or not – the structures within which they operate. (Das and Ytre-Arne 2017a)

The Technological Dimension

We borrow the concept of co-production (Jasanoff 2004), locating this within conversations in the fields of science and technology studies (Gillespie et al. 2014), and the social shaping of technology (see MacKenzie and Wajcman 1999; Woolgar 2002a), which have long argued that there is a simultaneous production of science, technology and society. This beckoned us to look at the mutually shaping intersections of future visions, technological development and policy-making (Skjølsvold 2014). Although they are often very heterogeneous and full of tensions (Sovacool and Ramana 2015), future visions or expectations are an important part of social and political life because they show collective visions of aspirations linked to a ‘good’ society (Jasanoff and Kim 2013), and they shape and impact technological change (Borup et al. 2006). At the same time, they impact the state, institutions, and, consequently, society (Jasanoff 2004). In the hybrid mediasphere we live in, with complex interactions between users and technology, real and virtual (Castells 2010), social and political instability and new notions of citizenship arising, there is a need to critically assess the role of emerging communicative technologies, about a decade after the first growth of interest in social media, ‘in shaping the experiences and actions of those who use them and to take the normative and ethical implications of these mediating processes more seriously’ (Curvelo et al. 2014, p. 4). The techno-scientific narrative of innovation, often present nowadays both in public and private domains, continues to indicate, still, that there is a technological fix for all our problems in contemporary lives and the so-called ‘grand challenges’ of our time (e.g., related to jobs, energy, health and so on; see Hamelink 2001).

There is no clear-cut definition of IoT. Drawn upon Jin, Gubbi and Marusic (2013) and Howard (2015), we consider IoT to be a next step in the evolution of internet, a pervasive and ubiquitous digital network of interconnected devices that communicate between themselves. The power of IoT is seen in the ability of physical objects and not only computers to communicate through the data that can be captured (Fletcher 2015; Stolpe 2016). According to the OECD (2016), the development of IoT depends on four elements: data analytics, cloud computing, data communication and sensors that further lead to the development of AI and robots. It is predicted that by 2020 everyone will be online and the IoT will keep us “immersed in a world of devices that are constantly connected to the Internet” (Wooley and Howard 2016, p. 4884). The number of connected IoT devices is in constant growth, in 2010 we already had 12.5 billion devices connected (Stolpe 2016). With the annual growth of 35%, there could be 2.2 trillion IoT devices by 2035 (Fletcher 2015, p. 20). The European Commission predicts that market value of IoT will be over one trillion euros in 2020 (European Commission 2015).

Within this context, the IoT is present in many debates globally. In Europe alone we see the European Research Cluster on IoT active since 2009, the European Commission’s Expert Group on IoT 2010–2013, and this is seen as one of the main drivers for the Innovation Union and an important part of the European Commission’s Digital Agenda, a flagship of the Europe 2020 strategy. It is estimated that the generated data from IoT devices could “increase the collective knowledge and wisdom of the human race” (Fletcher 2015, p. 20) and lead to “better understanding of ourselves and the world we live in, creating opportunities to improve our way of living, learning, working, and entertaining” (Stolpe 2015, p. 15).

However, this ‘global infrastructure for the information society’ (ITU 2012), as the IoT is often referred to, poses many challenges to norms and values, rights and society, because it leads to the convergence of physical, digital and virtual worlds ‘through the exploitation of data capture (sensing), communication and cloud computing capabilities’ (Boucher et al. 2014, p. 8). In other words, physical things are not separated from the digital and virtual world anymore, they are connected and can be controlled remotely (Stolpe 2016). We, as IoT users, relate to our environment through digital and virtual entities that invites identity, personality and intelligence to all converge into ‘being smart’. The trend of smart environments and smart technologies (e.g., smart home, smart energy, smart city, smart transport, smart health) is seen as ways to imagine technological processes while solving social problems (Strengers 2013). Guimãraes Pereira, Howard (2015) claims that democratic values are often challenged by new technologies that can increase social control and political manipulation but in parallel challenge the power (p. XXV). Benessia and Curvelo (2013) review key features arising out of the use of emerging technologies including the IoT, amongst which are ubiquity and pervasiveness, high-speed connectivity, mediation, machine-to-machine interaction, agency, big data and uncertainty. The focus seems to be on users’ agency, autonomy and social justice, through the exploration of values, rights and norms, and yet, one notes the emphasis on the invisibility of objects around us that users stop noticing, through the ever-present connectivity of a high number of devices (which is also not always perceived). It is thus believed, with scepticism, equally, that the IoT will impact on everyday life, create tensions between the public and private (Vesnić-Alujević et al. 2015), and offer no possibility for an opt-out or an alternative to being ‘connected’. This also leads to users’ data being generated, manipulated and co-opted by corporations (Lupton 2014). Lupton (2014) argues that this is changing power relations by influencing social relations and institutions, and thus creating new inequalities and new surveillance spaces. Similarly, Howard (2015) claims that the IoT could be “the most effective surveillance infrastructure we’ve ever built” (p. XVII).

Utopian and dystopian accounts of technological development have accompanied every new wave of socio-technological change. Scholars have consistently sought to locate both challenges and opportunities (cf. Livingstone and Haddon 2009), brightness and darkness (Tsatsou 2016), celebration and scepticism, in thinking through the potentials of any new technology. With regard to the IoT, too, and the datafication of society, these discourses are evident, and relate to changing relationships between users and artefacts (devices and systems), and the shaping of audience agency and autonomy, in at least two ways (Benessia and Guimãraes Pereira 2015). IoT may extend user agency, but may also lead to unwanted shifts and delegation of agency from users to things. Also, individuals are often seen only as ‘pieces of data’ (Vesnić-Alujević et al. 2016), and their agency is threatened and impaired (see Chapter  3, this book). These issues around agency were also mentioned in an address by Gerard Santucci (2014), Head of the Knowledge Sharing Unit at the European Commission Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, thus:

…the renegotiation of agency between humans and non-humans in an hyper-connected world; the autonomy of humans in a world where smart connected objects will outnumber humans by a ratio of at least 1 to 10; human dignity and justice; the “right to be forgotten” in a scenario of billions of things exchanging one’s data; trust in the things that will decide on behalf of the humans or for them.

It is also important to note that the IoT might reinforce two types of divide (Guimãraes Pereira et al. 2013). The main challenge might be lack of equal access, crucial for issues such as health or education. Another type of divide is the knowledge divide between users and non-users, but also created through unauthorized automations, ubiquity and pervasiveness, which leads to ‘deskilling’ and ‘disempowerment’ (Curvelo et al. 2014), attendant to which is the data-rich and data-poor divide (boyd and Crawford 2012). Nevertheless, the IoT also provides sites for resistance and empowerment through Do-It-Yourself and maker trends. Through direct involvement in the IoT, many say that citizens can advance autonomy, control and diversity (Boucher et al. 2014). One of the main paradigms of these collaborative communities of citizen scientists, tinkerers, manufacturers, hackers and developers is sharing and openness and a direct intervention in technological innovation, seen as a response to their own needs.

When it comes to regulatory frameworks and policy initiatives in Europe, the European Commission formed an expert group on IoT that met ten times between 2010 and 2012 and focused on six challenges, namely identification, privacy and security, ethics, IoT architectures, standards and IoT governance architecture (Commission Decision of 10 August 2010 setting up the Expert Group on the Internet of Things. OJC 217, 11.8.2010, pp. 10–11). The Commission also launched a public consultation on IoT in 2013. In 2015, the Commission created Alliance for IoT Innovation, or the IoT stakeholder forum, to support the European IoT environment, dialogue among stakeholders and the foundation of a competitive European IoT market (AIOTI 2017). After its foundation, with the support of the Commission, AIOTI organized several workshops on IoT (e.g. workshop on standardization and architecture on 4 November 2015, workshop on security and privacy in IoT on 13 January 2017); and published 12 reports connected to IoT work program of Horizon 2020 for 2016–2017 (European Commission 2016a). The development of IoT was further strengthened via the adoption of Digital Single Market strategy in 2015. As a part of the Strategy, the staff working document “Advancing the Internet of Things in Europe” was published in 2016 (European Commission 2016b). The document defines the EU IoT vision, based on a successful IoT ecosystem, user-centred approach to IoT and single market. The support to the European single market for IoT was further developed through the Communication on Building European data economy from January 2017 (European Commission 2017b). It deals with free flow of data inside of the EU and liability issues that seem to be particularly important. The IoT has an important place in the context of cybersecurity on the EU level, as well, because the interconnected devices can lead to major vulnerabilities. In parallel to policy initiatives, the EU is financing five IoT large-scale pilots and two coordinating projects under Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme. They started in 2017 received funding of 100 million euros. These pilots contribute to advancing IoT technology through testing new IoT technologies (The 2016–2017 Work program of Horizon 2020).

The Public Life Dimension

The second dimension of our framework develops on theorizations of public spheres built on three premises: (1) citizens’ participation in civil society, (2) public debates and concerns in relation to science (cf. Ezrahi 1990; Habermas 1991 [1962]), and (3) changing relationships between audiences and public/private institutions based on the state’s contribution to public interest (Calhoun 2011). We note that, in contrast to the first dimension above, where we develop our understanding of the IoT using relatively new literature, we return, for the second dimension, to longstanding understandings of public sphere theory, in line with a range of media and communications researchers frequently find useful, from making sense of audience involvement with talk shows (cf. Livingstone and Lunt 1994), to understanding participation in social media environments (cf. Papacharissi 2002; Tufekci and Wilson 2012). While for Habermas (1991 [1962]) public life is assumed to be reason-based and homogenous, for others, such as Fraser (1992), the public sphere consists of parallel and counter-discursive areas, or contested participatory sites (Bakhtin 1986; Mouffe 1999), and so participation in public life is also a struggle for dominance. Social class, ethnicity, migration, religion, gender and sexual orientation and mental and physical disability are amongst the often-assumed exclusion mechanisms in participation in political fields as well as public life (Calhoun 2010; Landes 1998). In the last decade, there has been a tendency to theorize the public sphere and political field by showing concern in inclusive theorizations of multi-cultural citizenship (Kiwan 2010; van der Heijden 2014) as a result of an increase in cross-border movements. Accordingly, the multi-cultural public sphere and participation in public life have been conceptualized by an emphasis on a plural society where individuals are intersubjectively tied to one another through dialogic engagement rather than simply enduring or ignoring each other (Duarte 2002). According to Dahlberg (2007), an all-inclusive approach to participation in public life has been discussed in relation to the nature of the internet, when deliberative democrats argue that the internet contributes to the fragmentation of the public sphere (Sunstein 2001) and homogenous communities of interest (Wilhelm 1999). Dahlberg (2007) argues that in this all-inclusive approach the contestation between discourses fails to be considered.

The widespread use of Web 2.0 in democratic societies has led to the opening up of more opportunities for engagement in political life (Koc-Michalska et al. 2016) and possibilities for the existence of online public sphere(s) (Dahlgren 2001; Papacharissi 2002), as well as supranational citizenship (Dahlgren 2009, 2013). However, despite the fact that the majority of citizens in European states have access to the internet, many distance themselves from participation in conventional politics (Bachen et al. 2008). Scholars consider this disconnection a form of personalization of politics and a result of social fragmentation and a decline in group loyalties (Bennett 2012; Bennett and Segerberg 2011, 2012). Different from collective identity movements, individuals are mobilized around personal lifestyle values (Bennett 2012), which also shows a decline in the centrality of political parties (Rahat and Shaefer 2007) and collective identity politics and movements that arose after the 1960s. The concept of political citizenship that developed in the 1960s and 1970s placed an emphasis on ‘the social and political role of individual citizens vis-à-vis civil society and the state’ (van der Heijden 2014, p. 2). Thus the emphasis was on the relation between civil society, nation-state and citizens. From the late 1970s onward, social movements increasingly opposed neoliberalism, proposing global or cosmopolitan citizenship. Social movements were organized as transnational networks and organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. This is partly due to the development of neoliberal policies in democratic states (e.g., Thatcher’s policies in the 1980s), and the increase of globalization that gave stronger roles to independent organizations working transnationally. European small states have increasingly undergone ‘liberalization of capital movements across borders in keeping with more international trends headed by neoliberal governments in the UK and the USA’ (Baldersheim and Keating 2015, p. 186). This has resulted in deregulation and privatization in a number of public administration apparatuses through which welfare states came under pressure (Steen 2015), with public discourse against welfare state mechanisms arguing, essentially, for a smaller role of the state in the public sphere, in terms of a reduction in its roles, interventions and support mechanisms for people.

Although there is no consensus on how to define the concept of ‘small state’ (Sutton 2011), the relational conceptualization of ‘small state’ refers to any state that is the weaker partner in asymmetrical power relations (Steinmetz and Wivel 2010). However, small state doesn’t refer to ‘weak state’ (Sutton 2011). The concept often characterizes countries that are small in size and have limited resources to influence international political economies—in contrast to large states. Therefore small states are dependent on access to developed world markets. Because of the implications the size of a state has in diverse contexts, ‘small state’ is often differentiated from large states. However, we emphasize here the state’s degree of involvement in facilitating citizens’ participation in public life. In this regard, small and receding states characterizes states where neoliberal policies are in a larger degree incorporated in various sectors that facilitate citizens’ activities in public life, in contrast to the social democratic vision of a state where the state is to a larger degree engaged in facilitating citizens’ participation in public life. Although social democratic states have also been challenged by globalization and neoliberal policies, these states have primary responsibility for correcting or avoiding market failures and economic redistribution (Baldersheim and Keating 2015; Giddens 2000). States intervene in the social and political integration of the citizens by guaranteeing the material conditions of life, for citizens, and defining the rules and contents of political life (Braun and Giraud 2004).

Having presented the two-pronged framework above, we move on now, to the key drivers we identify, at the intersection of these dimensions, which, we argue, will drive changes in audiences in the face of socio-technological transformations. These drivers emerged, as we said above, through a process of making sense of the trends arising in current research on audiences, and through consulting with stakeholders. We sat with the outcomes of our trends analysis work, and stakeholder consultations work, to arrive at key issues, which later, of course, were finessed into drivers, but the very process of arriving at key issues also led to the establishment and indeed, appearance, of our two-dimensioned framework. As the dimensions appeared, so did the drivers. Below, we first present the drivers. Then we move on to presenting our four scenarios as the boundaries—not the sole possible contents—of the future of audiences and audience analysis in 2030.

The 16 Drivers

We conceptualized drivers as factors causing change, or shaping the future, clustered around the two dimensions discussed. Rather than a cause–effect relationship, we envisaged a shaping relationship, where we thought through drivers working both similarly and differently in the different scenarios presented later in this chapter. We located them in the findings coming out of the trend analysis and stakeholder consultation exercises on the here and the now, and we see them driving change for the future. In that sense, our conceptualization of drivers sees them as ‘both presently accessible and future relevant’ (Saritas and Smith 2011, p. 295). We found van Notten’s STEEP classification (2006) of drivers (socio-cultural, technological, economic, ecological, political) particularly useful to categorize our own drivers. We revised this classification for the case of audience research, better reflecting the drivers we found arising from our trends and stakeholders work. We arrived at 16 drivers that could be grouped around economic, political, societal and technological developments (Fig. 11.1).
Fig. 11.1

The drivers

Economic Drivers

Commercial/private interests: Commercial interests are one of the important drivers of the digital media industry. From a political economy perspective, in the 1980s, Smythe argued that the media industry looked at the audiences as a commodity to be sold to advertisers (Smythe 1981). Many agree today (see, for example, Dolber 2016; Fuchs 2012), that the concept of audience commodity is useful when looking at new forms of audience exploitation in connection to digital technologies. Next to the co-option of user-generated content, Andrejevic (2009) argues that users’ data are also co-opted and seen as a commodity to be sold. Business models of digital companies are built on users’ data (Chapter  5).

Youmans and York (2012) suggest that power, ownership and control influence the development and governance of social media. This leads to the imbalance of power relations and increase of domination, through the concentration of power, of five big digital companies (Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook) that benefited from the IoT and governments they work with (Mosco 2017; Morozov 2017; Sterling 2014). Digital companies co-opt users’ data through the use of automated processes and algorithms to personalize content and individually target users (see Zhao and Nagurney 2008; Chapter  5). The most important data that are used are the demographics and patterns of behaviour of individuals, by tracking their online activities (see Chapter  5). Personalized advertising appears as a good business strategy, and datafication represents a new tool for “marketing-driven audience research” (Chapter  6, Van Dijck 2014). However, it can also lead to the creation of echo-chambers (through cherry-picking the content we agree with), and in the field of politics, this can contribute to misinformation and fake news (see Chen et al. 2015) as well as political bots, automated scripts, that are dangerous for democracy, if used to manipulate citizens and public opinion. The European Union tried to regulate the co-option of data via the next General Data Protection Regulation that comes into force in May 2018.

Co-option of audience work/disinvestment of audiences: Digital companies promote, shape and co-opt the production, and data, of audiences. Audiences’ productive work, that is, participation of audiences in the creation of the content, is encouraged by businesses as part of their business strategy, and thus becomes one of the main drivers of the digital economy. Business models are developed around audience creativity on digital platforms. Based on Andrejevic’s approach (2009), Stehling, Vesnić-Alujević, Jorge, Marôpo and Vicente (see Chapter  5, this book) mention two types of such a relationship between businesses and audiences: (1) exploitation of audience work through the creation of profit from user-generated content (co-option of labour), and (2) audiences as a source of information and objects of surveillance (co-option of data). Already, it seems, Facebook users have been named ‘the largest unpaid workforce in history’ (Goodman 2015).

Transnational investment in communication technologies and services: In the European context, communication technologies and services have largely been governed by states before the rise of globalization and global political economy. Transnational flows of the ICT labour force and capital can be understood as national development trajectories in which governments aim to build ‘communications and educational infrastructures, develop domestic high‐tech knowledge bases, and provide subsidies to business enterprises, both foreign and domestically owned, to make use of these infrastructures and knowledge bases to generate products that could ultimately be competitive at home and abroad’ (Lazonick 2009, p. 152). The flow of high-tech labour force and capital between the US and East Asia is a good example of this development. Many countries in East Asia transformed their educational systems and invested in IT technologies to become leading sources of a supply of engineers and programmers for the global ICT labour force (Lazonick 2009). According to Nederveen Pieterse (2010), ICT is a highly capital-intensive sector in which transnational corporations have greatly invested in the infrastructure of ICT. ‘The deepening of the market by pressing for liberalization, opening up spaces for competition and investment’ (Nederveen Pieterse 2010, p. 173), on the one hand, and market expansion, on the other, where unused capacity is converted to business assets ‘on the premise that new technology is the gateway to hope’ (Nederveen Pieterse 2010, p. 173), might create greater vulnerability to capital mobility. This historical development of capital accumulation has led to global digital divides by which some nations are more dependent on other nations and transnational corporations’ capital and outsourcing for ICT development and services.

Political Drivers

Strength of democratic institutions: As Syvertsen et al. (2014) note, in recent years scholars have increasingly focused on ‘the return of the state’ (ICA 2013), while in the 1980s and 1990s, many had debated how marketization and globalization might pose threats to the traditional state control and regulation of information flow. While recognizing that democratic participation in public life comes in diverse forms, and that there are many theoretical and operational models of democracy (Andersen 2012; Held 1995), we refer here to welfare states—an institution developed in representative democracies—as a framework for understanding how the strength of democratic institutions in European states can be conceptualized as a driver. One of the main aspects of representative democracy is the right to have access to sources of information and freedom of expression (Held 1995). Access to, regulation of and participation in the public sphere through media are amongst the ways in which democratic institutions can facilitate and ensure the rights of citizens. ‘If the citizenry is to play a role in a democracy then it needs access to an institutionally guaranteed forum in which to express their opinions and to question established power’ (Lunt and Livingstone 2013, p. 88). Syvertsen et al. (2014) note the role of media and communication institutions in welfare states in Europe that differ with regard to the level of ambition and broad or narrow range of risks and services, and aim at alleviating poverty or providing equality (Andersen 2012). Focusing on Nordic countries in which public broadcast services are funded by the state, Syvertsen et al. (2014) argue that digital transformations occur on a micro level in these democracies and traditional institutions remain strong, rather than there being radical change in the media system.

Reach and level of governance/active state involvement: The traditional conception of state refers to a fundamental unit of order and presupposes a ‘relative homogeneity of the state and other key types of actor, that is, that they are entities with singular purposes’ (Young 1972, cited in Held 1995, p. 90). This perception of state is challenged by a highly interconnected global order. As Kaiser (1972) argues, globalization and the expansion of transnational forces (such as the European Union [EU]) have created ‘a framework in and through which the rights and obligations, powers and capacities of states have been redefined’ (pp. 358–360, cited in Held 1995, p. 92) through which the state has become a fragmented policy-making arena. As it follows, states might experience restrictions in influencing exercise over the activities of their citizens. Although in the 1990s the discussion on globalization overemphasized the end of the sovereignty of nation-states, it is still argued that ‘the freedom of action of nation-states has been circumscribed by economic forces over which they have ever less control’ (Keating 2015, p. 6). Since citizenship in many Western democracies has increasingly become ‘more concerned with civic values and practices…and less on a sense of cultural unity’ (Ross 2016, p. 216), education and the rise of informed citizenship has become a central element in discussions on the state’s role in society. Education and media literacy are some of possible the ways through which one can trace the state’s active involvement in the construction of mediated citizenship, while the expansion of transnational forces and commitments might challenge the state’s ‘homogeneity’.

Political participation through political parties: Political participation in electoral processes and through political parties in democratic states is understood to be driven from the right to assemble, associate and the freedom of speech. It is expected in democracies that citizens should both be able to take part in the electoral process—to campaign, register as candidates and vote—and in discussions on political parties and policies. Through the rise of the internet and specifically platforms that enable user-generated content, political parties and electoral candidates can use social media as a means of broadcasting and consumption, and citizens can use social media as a means of involvement and information gathering. This interactive multi-directional mode of communication has influenced electoral behaviour. The terms ‘personalization’ and ‘privatization’ of politics highlight how candidates and their personal life and behaviour draw more attention rather than political parties and their policies in campaigning through social media (Enli and Skogerbø 2013). In recent years, the circulation of information and news under campaigns has captured critical attention since social media does not have significant third party filtering, fact-checking or editorial judgement (cf. Nielsen and Graves 2017).

Social (counter) movements: As Micheletti (2002) argues, citizens’ relationship with politics has changed, and so political participation has considerably altered from what has traditionally been considered political participation. Citizens are moving away from participation in conventional politics (Wollebæk et al. 2001). While the nation-state is no longer the only and dominant framework for political participation, citizens are also becoming more individualized, which influences the ways in which citizens act politically, and especially through collective actions (Feigenbaum et al. 2013). Social movements rely heavily on social media as a means of networking and communication. They often see the need to collaborate across borders and with transnational organizations (Appadurai 2001). Bennett and Segerberg argue, ‘people may still join actions in large numbers, but the identity reference is more derived through inclusive and diverse large-scale personal expression rather than through common group or ideological identification’ (2012, p. 744). Digital media has been considered to shape the formation of individual collective actions, and digitally enabled individualized collective actions relies on the intersection between “personal action frames” and “social media networks” (Bennett and Segerberg 2012, p. 744) through which personal and individual actions are connected (cf. Askanius and Uldam 2011).

Societal Drivers

Fragmentation: The media landscape is characterized by a high degree of fragmentation of audience attention. Many audience practices are hence cross-mediated (Stehling et al. 2016), requiring, to a higher degree, the careful attentive, selective and interpretative capacities of the audience (Livingstone 2003). Forms of participation are also fragmenting in line with increasing differentiated practices (Goodier 2012). Valuable scholarship has accumulated in recent years, including Schrøder’s work on conceptualizing cross-media use (2011) and Hasebrink and Domeyer’s work (2012) on media repertoires (see Lomborg and Mortensen’s 2017 special issue of the journal Convergence for an excellent overview of the field).

Personalization: The concept of personalization highlights the blurred distinction between private and public, and refers to the increase in the stream of personal and affective expressions into public spaces and debates, especially by the use of social media. Although the personalization of issues such as climate change or labour standards has been a general societal tendency (Bennett and Segerberg 2012), social media in which personal engagement is enabled play an important role in its escalation (Morrison 2014). This tendency has raised the question as to how personal and affective expressions might influence social and political institutions (Enli and Skogerbø 2013), not least because of the utilization of personal attributes of individual consumers in the customization of media and adaption strategies of companies (Moraru 2016).

Identities (mainstream vs. multiple): Media and identities are interlinked, as much research in media and cultural studies has shown. This research has adopted diverse points of entry, for instance, media, identity and citizenship in the European context (Collins 2002); diasporic communities and the media (cf. Georgiou 2006); and vast amounts of research on sub-cultural identities and the media (cf. Hodkinson 2002). These relationships are often articulated along dichotomies that express power relations in society. Relevant to our discussion here is that the interest of the majority is aligned to that of mainstream media, and in opposition, minority interests stimulate the creation of alternative media and the circulation of alternative discourses.

Produsage: The concepts of produsage (Bruns 2008) and prosumerism are not new (Toffler 1980). However, digital technologies helped and accelerated the existence and development of user-generated content and produsers. Today, the term is used to mark both a form of users’ experience and an interpretative act (Pavlíčková and Kleut 2016). Besides creating content, produsage also means being engaged in other practices, such as liking, sharing, recommending etc. While the ubiquity of produsage has been correctly queried (cf. Bird 2011), it is an important societal and economic driver of new media use. Produsage can be a strong factor in identity construction as well as different forms of therapeutic self-help of audiences, through self-organized online communities.

Transnational flows: Globalization as a form of a global ‘space of flows’ has been mainly debated by either emphasizing its liberating and empowering aspects (Thussu 1998) or its socially and economically detrimental features (Garnham 1990). Castells (2010, p. 259) has argued that ‘globalization/localization of media and electronic communication is tantamount to the denationalization and destatization of information, the two trends being inseparable for the time being.’ Transnational media flows, on the one hand, and the increase in cross-border mobilization, on the other, have escalated the debate on deterritorial aspects of media production, circulation, consumption and its implications. Research on fan cultures across the world has highlighted how numerous ‘public spheres’ are formed around the consumption of popular culture worldwide, and how such engagement takes place within a unified global media system (Athique 2016). Building on fan studies, Jenkins (2008) has argued that transnational media platforms have empowered ordinary consumers across borders. Equally, some have paid attention to what transnationalism entails in specific geographical locations and flows of geopolitical discourses (Burkhart and Christensen 2013), and the reproduction of colonial, postcolonial and racial inequalities in the flows (Ponzanesi and Leurs 2014). Multi-culturalism and digitally mediated diasporic identities and communities (Gajjala 2011) have also been identified as critical aspects of transnational flows as both media and migration cross borders.

Technological Drivers

Privacy concerns: As personal data are stored and privacy eroded (Acquisti et al. 2015), there seems to be a shift in the conceptualization and regulation of privacy. Fuchs (2012) suggests that different definitions of informational privacy often include moral questions of data handling and protection. User agency and control of information flows, that is, management of the self, are important for the protection of users’ privacy and control of information disclosure. While users are often not aware of data that is collected about them, they are becoming the objects of corporate surveillance and used for profit-making (see Gleibs 2016). Therefore it might be useful that, instead of thinking of it as an individual concept, privacy should be looked on as a collective right that will protect exploited groups from corporate domination (Fuchs 2012). Regulation, one might hope, may help to restore privacy. For instance, new EU privacy regulation influences digital companies by increasing fines for those that do not comply with the regulation. Another possibility for the protection of privacy might be through the concept of privacy by design, which means including privacy in the design of information technologies and having an essentially user-centric approach (Cavoukian and Weiss 2012).

Technological risks: It is estimated that we should anticipate the development and connection of billions of devices into IoT and machine-to-machine communication (OECD 2012). This requires a change in regulatory frameworks and telecommunication policies (OECD 2012), as it is observed that policy lags behind technological development. The expansion of IoT technologies in everyday life could endanger many ethical and societal foundational values (Dutton 2014). Several challenges have recently been discussed by policy-makers and stakeholders, namely, security, liability, privacy, data protection and trust (European Commission 2017a, b). There is also a need for a functioning digital single market and standardization so that the connected devices that are part of the IoT can work beyond national borders (European Commission 2016a, b). At the same time, citizens must hold freedom of choice and must have their freedoms guaranteed, as stated in the European Convention on Human Rights. Their privacy and security and other possible risks that go beyond these two should be protected in the digital world as well. This conversation has recently found particular emphasis in the work being developed on children’s rights in the digital age (cf. Livingstone and Third 2017).

Technological capital: For Bourdieu (2005), technological capital is ‘the portfolio of scientific resources (research potential) or technical resources (procedures, aptitudes, routines and coherent know-how, capable of reducing expenditure in labour or capital or increasing its yield) that can be deployed in the design and manufacture of products’ (Bourdieu 2005, p. 194). Drawing on Bourdieu’s previous work, Emmison and Frow (1998) think of information technology as cultural capital, because having the technologies, as well as knowledge and skills of how to appropriate them, can bring an advantage to those who have them, and therefore it can be seen as a form of a capital. As society is heavily organized by technology, do the benefits actually, in reality, convert into enhanced capital for the citizen, often framed and approached solely as a consumer? Agentic possibilities provided by technology are not a given, but must be promoted in synergy with developments favouring such outcomes.

Big data: Big data are defined as large data sets that some time ago required ‘supercomputers’, while now they can be analysed with ordinary computers and standard software (Manovich 2011). They came to the fore with the expansion of the internet, as they are generated on digital platforms. There are concerns that these may augment invasive personalized marketing strategies and lead at the same time to privacy intrusions. Digital platforms are, amongst other ‘smart’ technologies, devices and sensors, used as a source of information about individuals. In the eyes of many, this might generate certain benefits as well as costs, but also raise significant ethical questions (boyd and Crawford 2012). Although various data can be obtained, the focus is most often on the demographics and behaviour of individuals, personal opinions and attitudes, patterns of behaviour and the changing dynamics of certain phenomena. Amidst this quest for large-scale pattern finding, doubts still remain about the ethics of the gathering of data (Gleibs 2016), and big data as an apt methodology to capture the complexity of the subjects of social science research (cf. boyd and Crawford 2012; Schroeder 2014).

Four Scenarios: The Boundaries of an Analytical Space

Following the two key dimensions discussed first, and tracing these through the network of drivers presented above, we present four possible future scenarios. But a few critical points need noting before we present this account of prospection. The scenarios we present are the boundaries of an analytical space, we suggest, rather than a suggestion of four specific possibilities. Reality is likely to unfold somewhere between and around these spaces, and thus, scholarly attention is likely wasted in figuring out which scenario is likely, if at all, and used more fruitfully on the totality of the space these scenarios indicate. We reproduce a summary below of the scenarios as an analytical space from a recent account by CEDAR’s directors (Das and Ytre-Arne 2017b):
In the graphic below, we see the bold broken arrow going horizontally, representing levels of public uptake and investment in the gamut of technological developments that unfold within, related to and outside of the IoT, including increasingly intrusive interfaces as developed by Mollen et al. (2016). We see the bold black arrow going vertically representing people’s participation in the public sphere, including the relationships of audiences as individual actors with institutions, both private and public. While we snapshot our scenarios at two ends of this – (1) the social-democratic vision envisages a state involved with a variety of sectors participating in healthy public life, and (2) the more neo-liberal vision sees a small and receding state, corporatized public life and many commercial players dominating most aspects of public life. (Das and Ytre-Arne 2017b, p. 11) (Fig. 11.2)
Fig. 11.2

The scenarios

Scenario 1: High Uptake of Technological Developments, Well-Functioning, Participatory Public Life, Engaged State Liaising with a Variety of Sectors 2

In this scenario, we envisage that in 2030, post the prime of the IoT, there has been a rapid and widespread uptake of connected gadgets, connected apps and other technical facets of the IoT. In 2030, most individuals, households and organizations we envisage are using connected gadgets that have complexified the IoT from a nascent stage today. From the projected 50 billion connected devices by 2020, there is a manifold increase in 2030. Households in European democracies and individuals are increasingly linked to smart objects—monitors, fridges, traffic lights, toys. Resultant conversations on security and privacy have ensured a higher level of public awareness about IoT-related issues of security. Automation has become far less cumbersome, and far more intrusive and subtly present in people’s lives. Lively debates with high public engagement occur about data ownership, privacy, legalities of data, accessing of risky and harmful content by vulnerable audiences, surveillance and so forth. Gaps in terms of people’s access to this technological capital have closed, as the IoT has ended up in more ubiquitous, affordable and accessible technology. There is a high level of digital skills, and technical understanding of media literacy has expanded to encompass these. There is a healthily functioning democracy with an engaged state involved with a wide variety of other sectors to promote education, health and emotional wellbeing. Technological transformations have had central roles to play in these sectors coming together to advance formal and informal literacies concerning media and technology. Social movements have become crucial avenues of participation in public life, and are contributing in parallel to the healthily functioning democracy.

Scenario 2: Resistance to and Lower Uptake of Technological Developments, Well-Functioning, Participatory Public Life, Engaged State Liaising with a Variety of Sectors

This scenario follows the other end of the technological dimension of our framework. Here, we suggest, towards 2030, post-fake news, post-social media, surveillance scepticism and critique about intrusive technologies and interfaces have continued to rise, unevenly across the population, but steadily, nonetheless. Key concerns that were voiced entering the 2020s have increased in complexity, and these have to do with the legalities of data ownership and protection post-IoT, the boundaries between public and private, surveillance post-IoT, and the Big Brother society that the high point of IoT has enabled. As the IoT has burgeoned over the 2020s, significant pockets of resistance have developed where people have refused to take up the technological developments as keenly—movements of a similar nature that started at the birth of the IoT have gained critical momentum. As a consequence, the population is increasingly fragmented between those who have chosen to resist and reject investing themselves into the post-IoT technical environment and those who have not. There are some widening gaps in technological capital. However, there is a healthily functioning democracy with an engaged state involved with a wide variety of other sectors, facilitating various forms of mediated and non-mediated public connection. The technological transformations have had some roles to play in these sectors coming together in formal and informal education, media and technical literacies and education, healthcare and wellbeing. Social movements have become crucial avenues of participation in public life, especially to the pockets of resistance to and rejection of intrusive and automated technologies. These are contributing in parallel to the healthily functioning democracy.

Scenario 3: High Uptake of Technological Developments and Increasingly Small State, Corporatized, Public Life

In 2030, media production post-IoT is super-fragmented. The audience is visible as a post-produsage individual participating less in small acts of self-directed productive engagement with the media and more in labour that is cleverly co-opted into commercial agendas—which are highly personalized, individualized and customized. Connected devices have ceased being the occasional technological exception or the odd instance of wearable technology in the general population, and have fully entered the core working of businesses, everyday life, social networking, healthcare and public affairs. Cloud-based applications are processing and leveraging data for use in public services and private lives. Travel, transport, healthcare, education, toys and learning technologies are dependent on cloud-based applications and devices that have a system of data sharing between each other and audiences. Media environments are characterized by high levels of miniaturization, customization, affordable objects such as sensors and the higher levels of ubiquity of networks and Wi-Fi. These aspects of this scenario are shared with scenario 1. However, there is an increasingly neoliberal public life with a small and receding state with diminishing involvement in public life, diminishing regulatory responsibilities and a receding level of involvement with anything other than corporate and commercial sectors. Technological transformations have had central roles to play in private sectors coming together in formal and informal education, media and technical literacies and education, healthcare and wellbeing. There is a large-scale co-option of audience labour in the market, corporate surveillance of data at a scale much more manifold than with social media pre-2020s, and data exploitation by companies that have found new avenues to explore post-IoT. High levels of technical skills and newer literacies enable small- and medium-scale social movements to become crucial avenues of resistance in public life in the context of these outcomes of intrusive and automated technologies.

Scenario 4: Resistance to and Lower Uptake of Technological Developments and Increasingly Small State, Corporatized, Public Life

This scenario places itself at the lower end of the technological uptake dimension, and the small state end of the participation dimension. Towards 2030, scepticism and critique about intrusive technologies and interfaces have continued to rise, unevenly across the population, but steadily, nonetheless. Key concerns, which were voiced entering the 2020s, have increased in complexity. These have to do with the legalities of data ownership and protection post-IoT, the boundaries between public and private, and surveillance post-IoT (cf. van Djick 2014, on dataveillance). As the IoT has burgeoned over the 2020s, significant pockets of resistance have developed that have refused to uptake the technological advancements as keenly—movements of a similar nature that started at the birth of the IoT, such as DIY movements, have gained critical momentum. As a consequence the population is increasingly fragmented between those who have chosen to resist and reject investing themselves into the post-IoT technical environment and those who have not. There are some widening gaps in technological capital. There is an increasingly neoliberal public life with a small and receding state with diminishing involvement, diminishing regulatory responsibilities and a receding level of involvement with anything other than corporate and commercial sectors. Technological transformations have had central roles to play in private sectors coming together in formal and informal education, media and technical literacies and education, healthcare and wellbeing. We notice a consequent large-scale co-option of audience labour in the market, corporate surveillance of data at a scale much more manifold than with social media pre-2020s, and data exploitation by companies that have found new avenues to explore post-IoT. But significant sections of the population may have escaped the direct consequences of these actions by opting out of technical engagement—although indirect outcomes are felt by everyone. Furthermore, in opting out they have also missed opportunities for participation and communication, and these gaps are affecting the development of literacies and social movements. More uneven and fragmented levels of technical skills and newer literacies, alongside the highly privatized playing field civically and socially, have resulted in uneven conditions for small- and medium-scale social movements to become crucial avenues of resistance in public life in the context of these outcomes of intrusive and automated technologies.

In Table 11.1, we think through how the 16 drivers above may act differently in these scenarios.
Table 11.1

Drivers across different scenarios


Scenario 1

Scenario 2

Scenario 3

Scenario 4


There are no gaps in terms of people’s access to technology, but fragmentation is still considerable

There is big fragmentation between those who resist automated technologies and those who use them abundantly

Media production is very fragmented. Audience participation is highly co-opted into personalized and individualized ads

There is big fragmentation in technical skills and knowledge as well as between people who resist the IoT and those who do not


Personalization is even more incorporated into political, social and economic aspects of connectivities, but also used actively by users, as a form of public engagement

Audiences take a distance from personalized ads, although personalized ads are still visible

Personalization is even more incorporated into political, social and economic aspects of connectivities. There is little reflection amongst users on the role personalization plays in connectivities

Personalized ads are visible, and there is little reflection amongst users on the role personalization plays in their interconnectivity


There are many alternative discourses that are created by taking positions against or toward high incorporation of technologies. Alternative voices need a high level of technological literacies

Alternative discourses are, in a limited degree, reliant on technological literacies

There are limited possibilities for alternative voices and identities to enter public spaces through technologies

There is little investment in technologies and technological literacies that can enable disclosure of alternative voices


There is a high level of digital strategies for audiences’ produsage and a high degree of digital data literacies

Produsage is one of many ways audiences take part in public life since alternative voices do not rely on technologies

Audiences are participating in digital labour that is co-opted by digital companies

Users do not invest (show interest) in produsage

Transnational flows

There is a high degree of transnational flows of information and connectivities (both in the form of technology and participation in public life)

There is a high degree of transnational flows of information, but public participation depends little on technologies

There is a high degree of transnational flows of information of audiences/users, and little transnational engagement for public participation

There is little transnational engagement for public participation and little investment in transnational flows of information

Privacy concerns

Privacy concerns are high, but there are lively debates around them in the public sphere. There is high corporate surveillance of data

There are high public concerns around privacy, but as the uptake of technology is low, the surveillance is not very strong

There is corporate surveillance of data, and audiences in a large degree accept this development

Neither the state nor the public show much interest in discussing privacy concerns, although there might be some resistance against the way in which private issues are co-opted in the technology

Technological risks

Risks are dealt with in collaboration between policy-makers and citizens. Technological risks are highly debated and the debate is perceived as a form of participation in public life

Audiences debate risk or reject using technology, but since the uptake of technology is low, the risk is not felt as a prime problem

Data exploitation and corporate surveillance are the main risks. Audiences show little interest in debating the technological risks

The audience is not interested in technological risks and since the uptake of technology is low, the risks are not important for society

Technological capital

Technological capital is high, because technologies are accessible and affordable for everyone. There is a high level of media and digital data literacy

There are many gaps in technological capital. The gap in technological capital is limited because the uptake of technology is low and the state invests in technology and digital data education of citizens

High technological capital is needed, but the state does not invest in citizens’ media and data literacies

There are many gaps in the capital. States do not show interest in educating media and data literacies

Big data

There is an increase of big data and citizens’ data available through digital platforms, but they are carefully dealt with and the state tries to protect them

The state tries to protect the data of citizens through regulation and inclusion of citizens in decision-making processes. Audiences reflect and debate the importance of big data

There is an increase in citizens’ data, and they are used for surveillance and exploitation. Audiences in a large degree accept this situation and show little interest in debating it

The state uses citizens’ data for surveillance purposes. Big data is not a public concern

Commercial interests

Interests of audiences are protected

Interests of audiences tend to be protected

Interests of audiences are less important than commercial ones and are not protected

Private interests of individuals are not likely to be protected. The state is influenced by strong commercial players

Co-option of audiences

Audience labour is highly co-opted (even if the state regulates private interests), but there is also a public reflection on co-option

Co-option in some degrees takes place but it cannot be the issue by which citizens engage in public life

Audience labour is highly co-opted in the market through personalized ads. There is little reflection on co-option, as it is not one of citizens’ concerns

There is a large-scale of co-option

Transnational investment

Transnational investment is growing, but the state mostly regulates the investments

The state regulates the investments, but the investment is rather limited

There is a large degree of transnational investments and the state’s limited ability to regulate them

There is little transnational investment

Strength of institutions

Strength of institutions is high and they are protecting citizens through media and digital data literacy and regulation

The state is strong and institutions are well functioning. Media are well regulated by the state and citizens are protected from technological risks by the promotion of media and digital data literacy

There is a diminished involvement of the state. Because of transnational economic treaties the state is obliged to commit to the economic agreements

The state is increasingly small and there is low involvement of the state in regulation or promotion of literacies

Active state involvement

The state is involved and promotes media literacy

The state is actively involved in public life and facilitates public connections

The state is not involved

The state is not involved

Political participation

Civil society is flourishing

Despite fragmentation in the population’s adoption of technologies, there is a well-functioning democracy and the engaged state facilitates different forms of public engagement

Traditional political participation is low, but non-traditional forms of participation, especially digital ones resisting corporatized public life, are numerous

Civil society is fragmented. There is a small political participation

Social movements

Social movements are numerous and contribute to democracy

Social movements contribute to a healthy public sphere. They are especially important for participation in public life for those who try to resist automated technologies

Social movements are rare and occur only sporadically, mostly via automated technologies and not in real life

Social movements are rare and not developed, because of fragmented technical skills and literacy


Chapter  2 in this book has elucidated, at length, what the scenarios are meant to be (the opening up of an analytical space), and what they are not meant to be (predictions). Thinking closely about where the analytical space opened up by the scenarios leave audience analysts’ longstanding interests at the intersections of communication technologies and democracy and participation, this prospective account demands that we think, once again, about the two interrelated dimensions of this engagement—that is, audiences’ use of communication technology, for a range of purposes, including the purpose of influencing democratic governance and democratization processes, and states’ media policies and their international relations—including economic commitments—that influence citizens’ use of media for participation in public life. Internet-based communication technology enables individuals’ production of content. As the term ‘produsage’ (Bruns 2008) emphasizes, media users are often empowered and productive agents that have the possibility to take part in public conversations and thereby lead to the expansion of public sphere. However, asymmetric power structures have emerged between media users and transnational media companies that facilitate users’ produsage (Bechmann 2010; Bechmann and Lomborg 2012). New business models of digital companies, media and platforms, which include harvesting and co-opting users’ data via algorithms, have increased the imbalance between audiences and media. These data are often seen as a commodity (given for free), and are used to predict users’ behaviour and to filter information they get, thus, restricting the choice and impacting independence and agency of users. Often, and usually so, the audience is given no insight about the technology that shapes their mediated experience, in spite of a dominant discourse within the industry that promotes sharing and less privacy (van Dijck 2014). While they have little control over the development of business models, their influence could shape the media’s offering, as media remain sensitive to audiences’ behaviours and preferences, in part due to the commercial incentive (although this should not be confused with a will to empower the audience).

But the audience has always been agentic, critical, and even resistant. And in this task, over the course of the unfolding futures ahead of us, media literacies, as this book has argued often, including critical data literacies (as Chapter  14 outlines, in formulating an agenda for audience studies), has a critical, empowering and agentic role to play here, in order to establish and maintain conditions that favour, not work against, audience agency. This responsibility, however, as Chapters  6 and  13 elucidate, does not rest solely on the shoulders of audiences, as one might assume easily, and mistakenly. The agentic and literature audience, we presume, will continue to generate concerns about the legalities of data ownership and protection of citizens, as well as boundaries between the public and private. With the arrival of cloud computing and privately owned ‘clouds’, where data between people and things is shared, and on which many public services start to rely, literate audiences, particularly in the case of healthcare or education, for instance, might, we suggest, learn to anticipate issues of privacy and security violation. Essentially, in the futures we envision, media and data literacies are bound to play a central role in audience agency, but the responsibilities associated with this must not be placed on the shoulders of audiences (alone).


  1. 1.

    We note here, in particular, The future of government 2030+, EU Policy Lab in collaboration with DG CNECT, at and We also note the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System 2016 Conference, ‘Global trends to 2030: Society and governance’, at and the same Conference 2017, ‘Global trends to 2030: The making of a new geopolitical order?’, at This White paper on the future of Europe 2025,, is also relevant. More widely, we note a series of other policy conversations, most notably, the debate on democracy in the age of algorithms on 7/11/2017 at the European Parliament, the Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Annual lecture 2017 on ‘Media in the age of artificial intelligence’ at the European Parliament, the OECD Conference, ‘Innovation in government: The new normal’, 20–21 November 2017, the multi-stakeholder conference on ‘Tackle fake news’, European Commission, 13–14 November 2017, the 8th European Public Communication Conference, ‘(Re) shaping European dialogues’, 9–10/11/2017, the Committee of Regions, NATO Strategic Communications Conference ‘Post-truth – post-expertise discussion’, June 2017, NATO Strategic Communications ‘Fake news hackathon’, May 2017, and NATO Strategic Communications and Centre for European Policy Analysis ‘Do’s, don’ts & dangers in the information age’, March 2017.

  2. 2.

    The scenarios that follow are an outcome of a horizon-scanning exercise, and the text of the scenarios themselves are commonly used by members of the CEDAR network in our various publications.



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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lucia Vesnić-Alujević
    • 1
  • Gilda Seddighi
    • 2
  • Ranjana Das
    • 3
  • David Mathieu
    • 4
  1. 1.Zagreb UniversityZagrebCroatia
  2. 2.Western Norway Research Institute (Vestlandsforsking)SogndalNorway
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUK
  4. 4.Department of Communication and ArtsRoskilde UniversityRoskildeDenmark

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