2020 Visionaries Part II: Cory Ondrejka, Andrew Keen, Roy Speckhardt, and Ayyā Gotamī

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In the second installment of our 2020 Visionaries series, we look at media and spirituality in the next decade and beyond.

Media refers not only to books, movies, music, and journalism that we consume; it also speaks to the way we enjoy and create culture. Today, publishing houses, record companies, and movie studios face a future where every book, album, and movie is nothing more than a collection of ones and zeroes, downloadable anywhere, with no expensive packaging or backroom dealing technically necessary.

This means diminished profits and returns for media companies that rely on enormous and expensive distribution systems. In 2008, the sale of music on the Web rose significantly: More than a billion songs were downloaded, up from just 19 million in 2003. But the number of albums sold has dropped considerably, reflecting a change not only in the way music is sold, but also in the way it’s created and arranged. Similar trends are affecting newspapers, publishing houses, and movie studios.

Cory Ondrejka, co-founder of the online game Second Life and former vice president for digital marketing for EMI Music, and Andrew Keen, Internet entrepreneur and outspoken critic of Web 2.0, paint contrasting pictures of how the Internet will redefine culture in the next 10 years.

The Web is also changing the way we perceive the universe and our place in it. Scientific breakthroughs that challenge core religious beliefs — fossil data adding credence to evolution or new telescopic imagery showing the vast emptiness of space — are broadcast immediately, globally, and with increasing frequency. A cross-continental community is developing around the rejection of traditional religion, as evinced by the growing popularity of prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

The twenty-first century, more than any other, will be governed by science. No wonder the number of Americans who self-identified as not being part of any organized religion roughly doubled from 8% of the population in 1990 to 15% in 2008. The percentage of the U.S. population who self-identified as Christian decreased from 86% of the population to 76% during the same time.

But the Internet is also allowing religious people to connect on an international scale and discuss the intersection of science and spirituality. The relationship need not be a hostile one, as a number of religious leaders are beginning to recognize. In his 2005 book The Universe in a Single Atom, the Dalai Lama remarked, “Today, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, science and spirituality have the potential to be closer than ever, and to embark upon a collaborative endeavor that has far-reaching potential to help humanity meet the challenges before us.”

We asked Roy Speckhardt of the American Humanist Association and Buddhist abbess Ayyā Gotamī (the reverend Prem Suksawat) for their views on how spirituality, science, and the Internet may influence one another in the decades ahead. — Patrick Tucker, senior editor, THE FUTURIST.