The internet is magic, radical, exciting

(this post first appeared on the Nelson Touch site)

I have always been a fan of the internet. It is one of the things that makes me optimistic. It is one of the reasons the present is better than the past. It is an exciting, fastmoving, radical technology. It is carrying out all sorts of transformations in society, business and government.

In the early 1980s I was an early enthusiast for computerising all the business data and records where I worked. I was an early adopter of the mobile phone, lugging round one of the brick sized objects with limited battery life that were the forerunners of today’s little gems. In 1992 I wrote “The Global marketplace” which forecast the digital information revolution without knowing that the detail of the technical work was well advanced on the worldwide web which would speed the transformation. When the internet at last arrived for all of us, I was early to the shops.

I wrote in 1992: “The new generation (of global capitalism) is based upon open systems, networking, and new communications technology. It all points in the direction of work being increasingly divorced from the workplace, fashions,fads and messages passing round the world rapidly, and successful business being able to customise for the mass consumer. The politics for such a world are very different from the politics pioneered to meet the challenge of mass factory organisation of the mid twentieth century.”

It is still too early to say just how many radical changes to working practises and service the web will enable. Recently we were discussing the role of the internet in learning. The web allows students access to the best teachers and lecturers in the world, and to a vast amount of data and material well beyond the capacity of many univeristy libraries, let alone school libraries of old. As one correspondent hinted, the next decade could see a big change in thinking over how students study, how teachers help them, where they do it and how they are examined.

The web tore through the old models for selling cars and houses, substituting a web marketplace for local newspaper ads and specialist magazines. It is busily destroying the local newspaper,and transforming Fleet Street from paper and ink to electronic display. The mobile phone and ipad have changed photography, supplanted many old hard wired landline phones, and aided people’s lives with sat nav and music services. The old recording industry has had to accept major change in how people listen to music. Just as the motor car made so many trades based on horses redundant or quaint relics of a former era, so the internet has uprooted business of many kinds and forced a radical rethink in what they are doing. Today it is making inroads in shopping, saying you do not have to have a shop to be a successful retailer.

It has fuelled multinational company communications, but it has also allowed lone individuals to go viral with a view or a criticism that can act as a strong antidote to government or corporate power. It has given governments new ways to spy and store data, new ways to tax and check up on us. It has also given taxpayers new ways to hit back, new ways to expose folly or corruption by government, new ways to fight back legally against the overweening power of the state. It seems to me to help the outsiders more than the insiders. This is confirmed by the way a country like China seeks to limit internet use, seeing unlimited internet as potentially disruptive.

Mr Obama was a great campaigner in 2008, showing how the web could be the base for a wide campaign that reached out to millions and kept them informed for a small outlay. One of the reasons many more people today are setting up their own business is the web gives them a cheap and rapid way of getting to market. You can set up a site announcing who you are and what you do. If it’s attractive and well written it can stand alongside giant company’s sites from day one. It gives the small guy a chance. It can be a very democratic technology. I am interested in your thoughts on how the web is transforming us, for good or ill.

The internet can play a leading role in the debate about public policy. It is helping refashion politics. The internet brings politics into your living room in a way you can manage. It gives you the right to hit back and to express your view. Sensible modern politicians take the internet seriously.


  1. Sidney Falco
    October 24, 2012

    Great article Mr redwood.

    The main area where I believe politicians need to be aware is that of net-neutrality.

    Government (following lobbying) and corporations are the one who will bring pressure to prioritise their content over others. (Similar to them getting a place on the high street leaving the independent to set-up on little visited side streets.)

    This is a technical form of protectionism from the entrenched suppliers.

    Guaranteeing equal bandwidth for all providers is one major way of fighting against large companies denying start-ups equal access to market.

    1. lifelogic
      October 24, 2012

      Indeed there are large risk of distortion it already is cornered by commercial interests to a large degree and delivers different messages, search results and adverts to different users. It seems to help the outsiders more than the insiders as you say, so far, but watch this space going forwards. It could become just another element of police and state control through thought crime. Freedom of speech is already in many criminalised areas.

      It cannot be long before saying wind turbines are stupid, or that woman do not usually like to study physics or even thinking these things will be a criminal offence.

      1. lifelogic
        October 24, 2012

        One problem with computers is they they are in effect a battle ground to sell you things rather than a tool to help you. Software companies constantly upgrade and change things to make “upgrade” or render software incompatible with other software or data. They are open to viral attacks and this suits the providers very well as they can sell you yet more products.

        They should be a tool to help you not as often waste your time and money. Still the Gates foundation is making up for the annoying time wasting nature of some software with good works, I suppose.

        1. Bazman
          October 25, 2012

          Bill Gates apologist no less.

      2. Little White Sqibba
        October 25, 2012

        …watch this space going forwards.

  2. Brian Taylor
    October 24, 2012

    Aged 66, having only been aware of politics in the 70s when the 3 day week intruded on our working lives, then taking advantage of Mrs Ts selling shares in TSB, BT, etc,which mean’t we had to fill and post forms,wait ages to sell the shares,till today when we can with the speed of light buy and sell shares.
    This morning on my IPad I can give my opinion to this blog,Email my MP, forward Tweets to my MP and others,there is now no reason to be misled by the BBC or other Media.
    My one concern is MPs and others curbing freedoms,parents and guardians have always had to point out the dangers of all new things.
    The challenge to government is to use like those that sell via the web,which is to reach as maney as possible and reduce costs!!

  3. Peter van Leeuwen
    October 24, 2012

    The internet makes English a more dominant language and at the same time helps multilingual access through better translation facilities. It brings cultures closer, also making them collide in the process. It enables both the very large (google, apple) and the very small (garage enterprise). In politics it will enable forms of direct democracy interwoven with representative democracy. Ultimately, far beyond Europe, it may bring the world together. Whereas Europe was ahead with gsm it lacked behind with internet. It must make sure that it catches up with its “digital agenda”.
    The combination internet and ICT is also interesting. A sector with ever growing cost, healthcare, will benefit. I trust that there will be a very polite robot taking care of me by the time I’ll need it and I won’t be deported to a care home. Yesterday, Philips reported that it had successfully transferred its shaver factory from China to Drachten (the Netherlands) where it is operated mainly by robots. Interesting times ahead.

    1. David Price
      October 24, 2012

      I think you are right about robotics. Digital manufacturing will be the next growth area spawned by computing and the internet – CAD/CAM and robotics have been around for 20 years, 3D Printing and fabrication is now a key growth area. Personal and dsitributed manufacturing will start bringing many of the globalised industries back to the developed world.

    2. forthurst
      October 24, 2012

      “Yesterday, Philips reported that it had successfully transferred its shaver factory from China to Drachten”

      There is no need to be unduly alarmed. Brussels’ catastrophic global warming agenda, forcing regions of the EUSSR to close down their power stations and purport to replace them with windmills, will ensure that there is neither the power nor the cost benefit to do other than continue to relocate the European manufacturing industry to the Orient. That, after all, is its purpose.

      1. Peter van Leeuwen
        October 24, 2012

        @forthurst: Some upside-down thinking shouldn’t surprise me from someone with the “EUSSR delusion”, but, maybe in vain, let me make clear that I’m quite happy for a Chinese factory to be relocated back to the Netherlands. As for the required electricity, there are plans to generate electricity from the difference between salty and fresh water, The very suitable dyke (Afsluitdijk) is only 50 km away from Drachten, so if “Brussels” were to get difficult, we have our alternatives. Even the plans for heating Dutch cycle paths during winter would be on the base of renewable, geothermal energy. Long live innovation.

        1. forthurst
          October 24, 2012

          Ah, so you believe that we are engaged in an obstacle race in which Brussels creates the obstacles and its up to the ingenuity of the people to overcome these obstacles and yet still compete successfully with the Orient? I myself am not so convinced of our inate superiority that we can afford to take such a complacent view.

          1. Peter van Leeuwen
            October 25, 2012

            @forthurst: contrary to some overly-patriotic Brits (not you of course, I wouldn’t dare) we continentals don’t consider ourselves superior, and neither inferior. Maybe I’m slightly more optimistic than you are? E.g. we’ll be able to mould “Brussels” to help our continent become more competitive while not turning to social dumping. Much of this could happen through innovation. Whining doesn’t provide the energy to get there though.

          2. lifelogic
            October 26, 2012

            @Peter there are countless ways of making electricity, from wind, PV, wave, tidal, hydro, geothermal, radiation, even from wood, potatoes, grain and lemons.

            Only a few make any economic sense, that is the problem.

            Paying subsidies to do daft things just means people do lots more daft and uneconomic things.

        2. APL
          October 25, 2012

          Peter van Leeuwen: “there are plans to generate electricity from the difference between salty and fresh water,”

          Thanks Peter, that has put my mind at rest, those plans are gonna keep my lights on when the wind ain’t blowing.

          1. Peter van Leeuwen
            October 25, 2012

            Geothermal energy is already an operational application over here.

    3. Max Dunbar
      October 24, 2012

      The internet makes American the dominant language and not English.

      1. James Sutherland
        October 25, 2012

        “The internet makes American the dominant language and not English.”

        Splitting hairs there really – and it’s something that makes the French in particular very insecure. They don’t care about which particular dialect is dominant, nor do I. I have no problem reading and discussing on English-language sites, whether British, American or Australian – though yes, I do tend to lapse into American spelling where appropriate.

        The EU’s fans are still locked in a parochial mindset where physical borders and proximity are what matters; this century, my mobile phone was made in Asia (with English processor designs and American software), my email lives in New York and my news comes from a cross-section of English-language sources, from Australia to the US. I have more Australian friends than French, because the distance is no barrier at all – unlike the language barrier.

        Whatever the dialect, it’s a major factor these days, with physical location eroded in importance.

        1. Max Dunbar
          October 25, 2012

          Just an observation.
          The Americans appear to adapt to other people’s ways and languages even more inflexibly than the British. I have never heard an American tourist make the effort to speak the foreign language of the country that he is visiting. No awareness. Just a relaxed assumption that the natives will accommodate him and speak “English”.
          The Americans control most of the internet and therefore their inferior version of English dominates.

  4. colliemum
    October 24, 2012

    John –
    you gave a few nods to the change the internet has made to Fleet Street, to having ‘outsider’ opinions heard, and to enabling ordinary people to get back at government, campaign, participate.
    I think we have only seen the beginning of this change, which is going to have a huge influence on politics in the not-so-far future.
    In fact, this change is already obvious in the present presidential election campaign in the USA. It has been accelerated by the incredible bias in the old media, which led to the start of News Aggregators and sites where TV video clips are made available practically instantly. Because of Free Speech, these sites allow comments, and now there are people talking to each other from Australia and New Zealand, right across the whole of North America, and here in the UK in real time. This means that the filter of ‘opinion makers’ has been removed, that bias in reporting is being exposed as it happens, that politicians cannot get away with words and deeds – because the web never forgets.
    I think we are only at the beginning of this remarkable process, and I think this is a sea change in how politics, and the reporting of it, will be done. These are definitely very interesting times!

  5. lifelogic
    October 24, 2012

    Indeed, I agree with all that. The brick size of mobile phone (£1300 mine cost) was a huge boon to me at the time, enabling me not to have to sit by the land line all day when a big deal was on. The internet has changed things massively and will continue to do so in almost all industries. Care need to be taken to ensure the search engines and the lawyers, governments and powerful do not stitch the internet up. As they are indeed doing to a degree already.

    In education it is absurd that degrees in many subjects are so expensive when all is needed it some internet lectures a few books and the odd tutor. Education on the interned should be a huge opportunity and should be a huge boon to the third world in health, engineering, science, agriculture indeed everywhere.

    Hopefully the internet will kill the power of the BBC to push the EU, green tosh and their offensive, ever bigger government, politics. But that will need action from politicians too. The state subsidy to the BBC should just be available to anyone who is producing good educational programs with no adverts. Hopefully the current BBC problems with enable some action. But then Cameron appointed Lord Patten, so no chance of progress on the political line it at the BBC is there.

    1. Alan Wheatley
      October 24, 2012

      With the push for more to go to university and the attendant rise in the costs I do not understand why the Open University never gets a mention.

      1. a-tracy
        October 24, 2012

        Because it’s so expensive.

      2. lifelogic
        October 24, 2012

        The problem is one of status. Rather like perfumes, fine wines and dating agencies (which Universities often are) no one wants ASDA on the label they all want Harrods at least, even if they all smell or provide very similar services.

      3. lifelogic
        October 24, 2012

        The Open University also has a bit of an arty left wing, feminist, slant like the BBC, mind you all the Universities have alas. The money largely comes from the state sector so it is not so surprising that green wash, big state, pro EU think prevails. I would put the money in the hands of the buyers of the education where possible.

        1. Alan Wheatley
          October 24, 2012

          Some of the programmes on television I like are on the BBC made in conjunction with the Open University, so it can’t be all bad!

          1. lifelogic
            October 24, 2012

            Indeed it is not all bad at all.

        2. Bazman
          October 25, 2012

          And you are going to redress the balance by putting forward a middle aged, middle class old gits with money right wing attitudes and points of view. That marginalised and under represented area of society that is getting constantly repressed? Your lack of replies tell us of your religious beliefs in this area. Indefensible and stupid.

          1. Richard
            October 25, 2012

            Bazman, you’ve given me an idea for a new TV channel.
            A dedicated TV channel for all us middle aged, right wing, rich, free marketeers.
            Just trying to think of a nice name…

          2. Bazman
            October 26, 2012

            The War Against Total Stupidity Channel?

      4. Bernie G.
        October 25, 2012

        Because the recent increase in fees has all but excluded what was a significant part of their traditional customer base.

  6. David Jarman
    October 24, 2012

    We thank you for taking the internet seriously John. It is a pity more politicians dont do the same, but then we know why. They are not interested in connecting with the people they are supposed to be representing.

    1. lifelogic
      October 24, 2012

      They want to indoctrinate and enslave, certainly not connect, that is why the BBC is like it is – and we have Lord Patten in place to keep it just so.

  7. David Price
    October 24, 2012

    The web is not the internet, it is just one of many services and applications that run on it alongside email, telephony, mobile commiunications, multiplayer gaming and media broadcast.

    However, the Web has become the pre-eminent means for news, knowledge and opinion to be shared and broadcast. At one time civil servants, publishers and press barons controlled the access to knowledge and news, now there are too many credible sources readily accessible to everyone that those people cannot control. Now people who wish to can form and share opinion based on facts rather than just spin.

    There is a price to pay for this freedom as Alex Salmond found to his cost this week, If a manufacturer or banker or politician or civil servant tries to lie or mislead people they will be found out and the news will cover the planet faster than they can figure out an excuse. Invent or fudge information about climate change and you will be challenged by experts across the globe. Now personal credibility and knowledge counts far more than which school you went to or which newspaper or broadcaster you work for.

    Which is why I like this blog – credible information, opinion and stimulating debate.

    Thank you.

  8. Acorn
    October 24, 2012

    Cameron was right – too many tweets make a twat. The more forms of broadcast / narrow-cast media you have, the more argument you get. Unfortunately, in any generation, there is only so much intelligent argument to go around.

    Hence nowadays, “media hyped victim hysteria” and “single issue protest groups” all get three minutes on the BBC Today programme demanding an “independent public enquiry” into something. Particularly if it is knocking copy of a right of centre government. This, regardless of which piece of woodwork the never heard of outfit jumped out of and onto a bandwagon, that hopefully will increase the organisations profile and finances.

    One thing is for sure, the tail is definitely wagging the dog at the moment – and the headless chickens. It appears it is now time for the non-financial faction of the 1% elite, to get it in the neck and give the banksters faction a breather. Also, did you spot from his speech, that our BoE Governor is a little unclear on how a fiat money system actually works.

    And, to cap a wonderful day, watching the BBC squirm and start eating its young; there is (…) Brian May, on TV, with the studio lighting guys (not flattering him-ed); we p****d ourselves laughing.

  9. Alan Wheatley
    October 24, 2012

    One of the advantages of having been involved with digital technology (computing and communication) since the sixties is that you can readily appreciate all that is good with today’s technology and devices without been seduced by that that which appears wonderful but has inherent failings.

    The Internet is indeed a boon, and one to be exploited to the full. But we should not be looking to send down the cable (even fibre optic ones) all that is currently transmitted over the airwaves: the difference between multicasting and broadcasting.

    If we do not want to create a new divide in society we (through government) should ensure the timely provision of high speed broadband (say 50Mbps) to everywhere on the phone system.

    Mobile communications are a great asset, but are inherently bandwidth limited and cannot circumvent the need for land lines.

    Modern politicians do take the internet seriously, some more sensibly than others. Government are better at telling us about the benefits than they are are using it themselves and ensuring the population they are requiring to use it actually have the facilities so to do.

  10. oldtimer
    October 24, 2012

    A very good article – I agree with every word. I have tried to be an early adopter myself personally and when I was active in business. The latest generation of mobile phones and tablets, with the extraordinary array of software on offer, is transformational on every front. My problem is keeping up with it all. Fortunately my eldest son is ultra-computer literate – he runs his life and his business off his mobile phone, synced and linked to pc servers, and tablets.

    I am impressed by the way he can remotely check that his very young daughter is safe in bed, look up traffic conditions on the road ahead (including access to traffic cams) and how he uses Latitude a programme that extends the use of Google Maps. This enables you to check out alternative ways to get from where you are to where you want to go, be it by car, cycle, walking or public transport (choice of bus or train), tells the distance, how long it should take (depending on method) and the times of the next buses or trains, where to change stations or buses if appropriate. He uses it to get around London. On a bus it helpfully alerts you just before you arrive at your destination. It is a great example of software integration of data from multiple sources.

    The other thing I like about the internet is the opportunity it offers to access original sources – thus by-passing media intermediation. It provides the opportunity to make up your own mind – not just be fed someone elses line on what the original said.

  11. a-tracy
    October 24, 2012

    Oh yes, new technology is fabulous, but at the same time a frightening thing.

    The days when you could only contact mobile workers by pager, who then had to find a phone box to call you back for new instructions seem so long ago now. When white and black boards on the wall had to be updated by hand to monitor workload and availability of the workforce to take on the next job makes me wonder now how we used to get the work done. The cost of our first two computers in the business were £8000 (around 1985), the IBM’s we replaced them with were £10,000 each, now you can buy each pc for around £1200 with dual screen and phenomenal extra capability (the IBM only had 5mb hard-drives if I remember correctly).

    We were early adopters of fleet satellite tracking, the kit was expensive and a big deal to install, now trackers are in every phone! Which is frightening all the same.

    The NHS spine, where all your personal health records and private chats with your GP are stored so that the hospitals can access in emergency situations is a breakthrough, BUT protections are required. You should be able to access your own personal records with password protection. You should be able to see who has looked at your records and anyone that has access to look should have to footprint their pc, name, date and time that they looked at your information. I wouldn’t want any old NHS worker having access to everyone’s private information.

    Political blogging improves your understanding of what is going on and forces you to improve your writing, research etc, I first got involved in 2006, however, tracking of all your comments by intense debate, storing and filtering in your personal account seems a bit Big Brother and just who is this organisation providing this for free and why would they?

    1. Sidney Falco
      October 24, 2012

      I have access to the NHS spine as part of my job and I assure you that nobody in their right mind would look at any data unless they have a valid reason for doing so. All access is logged and recorded.

      Our internal clinical system logs all read access so, if you are stupid enough to look at any person’s data without a valid reason for doing so, you would be escorted out of the building. (Quite rightly.)

      1. a-tracy
        October 25, 2012

        I know someone that got formally disciplined for looking at a record they shouldn’t have.

        I think the patient has the right to know who has accessed their record be it legitimate or not as a precaution and check up.

  12. RDM
    October 24, 2012

    “It seems to me to help the outsiders more than the insiders.”

    This is only true if the insiders try to block change, when the change results in more Liberty, Knowledge, and increased Productivity, etc…

    There’s a broader question; There is a balance to be had, between the benefits for all (a globally open internet), and the access it gives to the enemies of those Liberal Freedoms. Will we end up having to win the argument every time? With those that require stronger controls, from the inside out. And, with those that wish to destroy the threat to their ideology that Freedom presents? There is an ongoing balance to be had!

    Please be aware of the threat that Net Neutrality poses! Both to Liberty, Freedom, and Knowledge, and to Economic concentration of large companies!

    Most of the rest (Risks) are opportunists, and as such, should be dealt with by the Rule of Law! What’s interesting here is the ability of national legislatures to deal with the global nature of it. May be it’s time we engaged the USA, and consider the construction of a global court, with or without Russia or China, until they see the need to engage? The USA is key starting point (because they are the main driver of the relevant components), and not the EU or Dutch ICC. The UK and USA need to develop a balanced legal system, the integration of which results in an effective legal domain governed by the Rule of Law. How it then includes the EC legal system will determine how well it will grow to include the rest.

    Do not blur these two debates!

    As for politics, it is a chance to engage. A chance for the Conservative party to broaden its base! As you, and your blog, have become well known for. Well done!



  13. Martyn
    October 24, 2012

    A very interestion post, John. It is just so good to be able to look at what is going on across the world via the internet, very often finding that the BBC version of a particular news item is very different from that being presented by other news agencies.

    Not completely off topic, I see in ‘The Local’ (Germany news in English) via the internet that in Germany the spend on internet advertising has for the first time overtaken that spent on TV advertising and on-line sales are continuing to climb. The other side of that coin is that the German economy is starting to really feel the effects of the Euro crisis and lots of businesses getting rather gloomy about it, because if it continues things will become worse in the power-house economy of Europe.

    Here in the UK we see many government (national and local) ‘consultations’ to make us feel as though we might contribute to decision making. A good idea but too many ‘consultations’ are carried out simply because in Law they have to be a part of whatever is being planned. Too often it seems to me we are ignored, perhaps on the basis that we the proles are incapable of understanding whatever it is they are ‘consulting’ us about. Oh well, perhaps persistence will eventually pay off and we might be influential in the decision making arena….

  14. Electro-Kevin
    October 24, 2012

    The internet is a wonderful example of human ingenuity. Truly it is an empowering and liberating addition to ours lives.

    Such a pity, then, that so much of the ‘cloud’ is taken up with people showing each other their genitalia.

  15. Alte Fritz
    October 24, 2012

    And what’s more all this has happened without government doing a thing. Moral to be drawn?

    1. Sidney Falco
      October 24, 2012

      Are you serious?

      Did you not know that the internet started as a USA military networking technology (ARPANET), designed to withstand a Soviet nuclear attack? That is why it is not centralised as it had to be able to cope with severe network disruption.

      1. James Sutherland
        October 25, 2012

        Urban legend I’m afraid – yes, ARPAnet was the precursor of the Internet, but it wasn’t designed to withstand a nuclear attack; apart from anything else, it’s NIPRnet and SIPRnet which handle the important military/government traffic, although they are closely related to the Internet in most respects.

        Really, it was designed to connect multiple independent entities together without needing a single central entity – almost exactly the model I like for government, in fact, with control of everything devolved to as local a level as possible, usually to the individual endpoints themselves.

  16. Liz
    October 24, 2012

    The internet is important as the invention of printing

  17. Lindsay McDougall
    October 24, 2012

    Let me issue you with a real challenge, to get the internet into court rooms and modify the archaic rules of evidence that so add to time spent and costs. They say that justice delayed is justice denied. It is also true that many of our courts have a massive backlog and a long waiting time. To add insult to injury, judges, barristers and lawyers are very expensive and appear to have no sense of time.

    So let’s pension off all the old judges, retaining a few to assist in organising a case law database. Let judges be people who have the strength and stamina to work a full day. Get technology into the courtroom. And force the legal profession at all levels to work weekends until they have caught up their backlog.

    1. uanime5
      October 24, 2012

      How will the new technology help reduce the backlog? Surely you could solve this problem by hiring more judges to work in the evenings and at weekends.

      1. Lindsay McDougall
        October 25, 2012

        I’ll give you an example: on line access to the accident data bases maintained for the police by County Councils. These are police records in accordance with statutory obligations but the data is very useful to counties in their road safety planning. It could also be very useful to defendents of traffic prosecutions (FoI applies, I think).

        Several years ago I was successfully prosecuted by Surrey police and DPP for a moving traffic offence – failure to move out of lane 1 of M25 in response to notices on overhead gantry signs (it wouldn’t have been easy given the wall of juggernauts in lane 2). These signs were originally in operation because there was an accident some way downstream. By contacting the accident department of Surrey County Council, I was able to ascertain (a) that the accident concerned was located downstream of the junction at which I was going to exit and (b) that the accident had been cleared up a full hour before my alleged offence. I managed to persuade Surrey County Council to post me a prinout confirming these facts.

        At Guildford magistrates court, the chairwoman was obviously extremely irate (a) that I was defending a traffic charge and (b) that I was defending myself. The informative printout was ruled to be inadmissable evidence. Furthermore, when I suggested that the police had deliberately left the gantry signs on in order to create traffic offences and raise fines to help finance the ultra high expenditure of the Labour government, she nearly bit my head off. “Don’t even go there.” she thundered.

        So let’s have a procedure with on line access from a court room to databases that are within the remit of the FoI Act. Let it be standard procedure and let it be well organised without hinderence from the DPP.

        Reply: A sorry story.

        1. a-tracy
          October 25, 2012

          Overhead gantry signs are often left on for well over an hour after the original problem has cleared, it is a real bug bear for the transport industry.

  18. Rebecca Hanson
    October 24, 2012

    Lovely article.

    When I worked in Jordan to support the introduction of computers into education (2000-2002) there we were deeply challenged to justify the benefits of computers to students’ learning. We realised then that we were at a tipping point between stand-alone technolgy and the internet and that the benefits of the latter would be very different and far greater than those of the former.

    In 2003 I wrote an article conceptualising the benefits of technology to education over the next 20 years. As a head of maths in a secondary school I then implemented many of them myself to great effect.

    But now we are stuck by ignorant leadership and policy in education which prevents us having the coherent policy framework we need to take advantage of the biggest benefits which are now possible. Shutting down becta was madness at a time when we need national expertise and resource in this area.

    So instead I’m working with the US on their Dept. Ed. sponsored schemes where are entirely appropriate and are building for the future. I wish we could do the same kinds of things here.

    1. Alan Wheatley
      October 24, 2012

      Reading about becta on Wikipedia I get the impression we are better off without it.

      1. Rebecca Hanson
        October 24, 2012

        Having attended consultations since the lack of expertise has been very evident and worrying and the consequences of our national lack of that expertise are becoming more and more obvious.

        Previously there would have been a representitive from becta there who would have brought their evolving knowledge base to each discussion about policy development in the different areas of education. Now not only is that person/knowledge obviously and painfully missing but our knowledge base is declining while other countries are pushing ahead.

        I’m talking about reality as I know it Alan. I don’t have any vested interest in doing anything else.

    2. Max Dunbar
      October 24, 2012

      You should fit in well in the US. Why use one word when you can use at least three.

      1. Rebecca Hanson
        October 25, 2012

        If there’s something you don’t understand please just ask Max. I’m happy to simplify and summarise.

        1. Max Dunbar
          October 25, 2012

          Simplify and summarise before you post. Its tiresome to read garbled and long winded articles.

  19. zorro
    October 24, 2012

    Indeed, I am currently on holiday thousands of miles away (hence my limited posting) but I might as well be down the road for how quickly communication can be established. The internet fosters learning, helps you fix things, keeps politicians in check (including John)……The only annoying thing is the battery life and predictive text!

    But seriously, it does enable the free flow of views, enabling elected reps to be kept informed of constituent views. Our wide ranging discussions would previously not have been possible. Imagine a world without uanime5 or Bazman….. 🙂


  20. Jon Carter
    October 24, 2012

    Brilliant article.

    The best example I can add to the piece comes not via politics or business, but by learning how to play the guitar.

    I first started at the age of 14, but quickly gave up. One on one tuition was expensive, as were books (and the guitars themselves!). With the advent of the internet, and particularly youtube you can access free tuition in any style of play at any time of the day. I’ve picked up again after a break of ~15 years, buying my guitars via Ebay (of course) and I enjoy it so much more, and it’s all thanks to the internet.


  21. Kenneth R Moore
    October 24, 2012

    I see little evidence of this ‘refashioning’ of politics. For all the talk about the digital revolution, the trend is for our ruling elite to grow more out of touch and remote from the electorate. Instead of opening themselves up to the possibilities of the internet they are digging in. This is why the Conservative party is a walking corpse that JR is most unwise to shackle himself to.

    Politicians and councill leaders used to have proper jobs and experience of the wider world – now they just want power for powers sake then to hold onto it at all costs. If the internet looks like it might threaten the elite it will be abolished or more closely controlled.
    I agree with JR that the internet is truly revolutionary but we still need to be able to make things and proivide servcices of real value and substance to prosper. Factories and proper jobs arew still badly needed.

    1. Mark W
      October 25, 2012

      It’s still early days. The Tory and labour parties may not exist, many situations are unforeseen twenty odd years before.

      Interesting post and comments.

  22. Bert Young
    October 24, 2012

    The internet has indeed changed our lives and I concur with all the positive views that have been made . My only complaint is the abysmal download speed available via BT in my neighbourhood ( max. 1.50mps ) . The BT engineer who came to me a few weeks back said there could be no increase in the download speed unless the Government changed its priority programme that favoured urban areas . My community boasts approx. 80 residences and is hardly going to attract much attention . Please do what you can to ensure that all parts of the country are treated the same . Perhaps I will , one day , receive your blog before 1 pm.

    1. wab
      October 24, 2012

      “Please do what you can to ensure that all parts of the country are treated the same .”

      You are lucky to get any broadband. Guess what, it is far more expensive to provide broadband in rural areas than in urban and suburban areas. Thus the only way you will get broadband equivalent to what is available elsewhere is if the rest of the country subsidises it, like it subsidises much else in rural life (e.g. the postal service). So in fact you don’t want to be “treated the same”, you want special subsidies to support your lifestyle choice. People who live in rural areas should not expect the same level of service as people who live in towns and cities.

      1. James Sutherland
        October 25, 2012

        Moreover, if the previous poster wants the same broadband service, does he also want the same levels of congestion, house prices, parking charges etc? There’s a tradeoff: rural areas can be much more peaceful, bigger homes and much bigger gardens for the same money – but worse broadband, food and grocery delivery.

        It’s one reason I’d be very reluctant to return to living anywhere other than an urban area – but I know it’s just as unreasonable and impractical to demand the same quality of telecomms two miles from the exchange that I get here 800m from it, as it is to expect to get the same quality and price of takeaway food delivery.

        If you really want broadband, though, you can have it – for a price – just as you can have a nice big house and garden even in the middle of London if you pay a fortune.

    2. Barry
      October 25, 2012

      “Please do what you can to ensure that all parts of the country are treated the same.”

      Fine. 10,000 people from my urban neighbourhood will be arriving within the next six months to even things out.


  23. forthurst
    October 24, 2012

    There is an inevitability to progress in science and technology. We continue to stand on the shoulders of giants as we reach higher and higher. However, there is no such inevitability in politics or the arts. The reason for this is that progress in science can be objectively assessed, whereas in politics or the arts, including both the creative and those academic subjects which fail the test of a true science, progress is measured subjectively; the disciples are informed by the prophets and gatekeepers that a new way of doing or thinking is an advance, the better way. They don’t get away with it all the time: all history is subject to revisionist appraisal, even if that is highly inconvenient to some who prefer the ‘official’ version.

    The Global Warming scam is a good example of how a pseudo-scientific piece of alarmist nonsense designed to harm the many whilst benefiting the few has been picked apart by
    individuals like Steve McIntyre and Anthony Watts, who through their websites, augment their own insights with those of others with information which is scientifically based.

    The question to be addressed by politicians is how much longer should they continue to purport to believe false versions of reality, disseminated by the MSM, which have been created to benefit the few whilst harming the many, including their own constituents, when the real agenda behind these false versions have been fully exposed on the web. Do you really need to save the planet by destroying our industrial base? Do you really need to go to war when the perpetrators of terrorist outrages are also the ‘good guys’? Do you really need to enforce ‘equality’ when no such equality is either real or beneficial? Do we really need to continue to invite in foreigners in order to survive as a country when we are already more than overcrowded and when the indigenous population has a natural range of ability which is highly compatible, if properly trained, to the full range of skills demanded by the modern world?

    1. uanime5
      October 25, 2012

      Actually it is the climate change deniers who have been repeatedly shown to be making false claims thanks to the Internet. The fact that the likes of Steve McIntyre and Anthony Watts have been unable to stand up to the scrutiny of real scientists is clear evidence just how nonsensical their claims are.

      1. oldtimer
        October 25, 2012

        That is an assertion made without evidence to support it.

        McIntyre has clearly demonstrated time and time again the weaknesses in the CAGW case – well described by AW Montford in his book The Hockey Stick Illusion. Even Lord Oxburgh, when questioned by the HoC Science and Technology Ctte, agreed that the scientists at the CRU, East Anglia, were no good at statistics.

  24. Tedgo
    October 24, 2012

    I am all for the Internet and use it may hours a day. There is however the danger that people will know a lot more about everything but end up with less and less understanding. Its the danger of App’s and the locking up of intellectual property.

    I was reading a real book the other day, “Practical Ship Hydrodynamics”, like one does when one has an hour or two to spare. The book discuses many aspect of ship hydrodynamics like hull shape, propeller design and the like. There are various graphs and formula but the chapters no longer go anywhere. It always ends up that one uses this or that proprietary computer application to get to the final result.

    Its fine if it works and the consequences are not too serious, like getting the weather forecast wrong or ending up in the wrong place, if it does not.

    Use the wrong software, or not understand its limitations because it is proprietary, on say evaluating rail contracts can lead to problems, or in the case of Germany constructing two full size ferries which are seriously overweight.

  25. Ashley
    October 24, 2012

    I currently earn 100% of my earnings through the internet and the costs of business are relatively low compared to many other types of business, however progress is damaged by EU regulation such as the crazy new cookies directives. Living in the country I find the grindingly slow internet connections are a major hindrance and not fit for purpose in the 21st century.

    Piracy of intellectual property such as eBooks is on such a vast scale that it massively undermines the scope for earnings and any incentive to produce new works but I am certain it could be drastically curbed if government was serious about tackling this illegal behaviour rather than just fawning over Google. It would also bring in substantially more tax revenues, so I am absolutely baffled by why so little is done both nationally and internationally.

    The biggest mistake people make with the internet is thinking that if you build a site customers will just magically arrive and purchase your goods. It takes real work, creativity and skill to make things happen. You also need to become rather technically minded and skilled in a number of areas or costs will rise considerably.

    Douglas Carswell makes a good point that people selling through the internet can be based anywhere, so being hit by a 40% tax rate and having to charge VAT the moment you start to earn reasonable figures is no incentive to stay in the UK when you are selling to a global audience.

    1. uanime5
      October 25, 2012

      The solution to the piracy of ebooks may be elibraries where people can read these books for a small fee. At present Google Books does allow you to read part or all of some books.

      It’s impossible for the Government to outlaw Internet piracy simply because it’s so easy to do. Even closing down the file hosting website Megaupload didn’t have any effect. I wouldn’t say piracy undermines the incentive to make new works as some people who produce some comics and flash games/animations that are frequently pirated continue to produce more works (though they do request that these comics/vides/games aren’t uploaded until a few weeks after they’ve been released to encourage people to buy them).

    2. Bazman
      October 25, 2012

      Don’t get it do you? Rock &Roll. High powered motorbikes.
      I’ll make a good point too. I’ll base my piracy site anywhere in the world especially jurisdictions that are sympathetic to this and you can ram your taxes, royalties and anything else you feel I should pay for your ‘creativity’. I have no incentive to pay you as you say. I pay other expenses like computers and bribes. You could stop the advertisers on my site. You know the big ones. Burger, cars and sports, but Hey. we know that just ain’t going happen anytime soon.
      This bleating copyright shows that since the talk of taxes on cassette tapes and blocking signals on the radio the media industries have not moved forward one iota. They have no or the same strategy telling us that this will be the end of music and film. Really no more music? No singing or instruments? The kids need safe clean and cheap sites to download music? No they do not. It’s rock and roll and the money saved is for spending on cider and talking to girls. Not given to some fat executive to be put offshore in a tax haven piracy shelter. You come up with a way of stopping piracy and the kids will come up with a way around it.
      Cigarette smoking? After all we have talked about…

  26. uanime5
    October 25, 2012

    You don’t even need to set up a website to go into business, you can just set up an online store on eBay or Amazon. You can also create an account on deviantart, youtube, or any of the flash game websites to demonstrate your skills and offer a price for commissions. It’s interesting to think that the next generation of game designers, cartoon makers, and entertainers may start their careers by creating mods for games, flash games, flash animations, and podcasts.

    For those who are wondering Flash is a programme by Abode that lets people make animations and games. It’s popular due to its ability to make high quality products on a low budget and because almost all web browsers can display it. An example of a Flash game would be Angry Birds, while an example of Flash animation would be My Little Pony Friendship is Magic.

    In other news it seems that according to some people it’s not enough to require the unemployed to work for their benefits and pensioners should also be required to do community service.

    1. Bazman
      October 27, 2012

      Exactly. This company was set up by a shipyard worker and the guy gives talks on how set up a small business in the local area.

  27. David Langley
    October 25, 2012

    Much sensible comment here to a very thoughtful article. I have a few thoughts myself:

    My Grandchildren are obsessed with the internet and social sites. From first thing in the morning to very late at night they can be found browsing away and communicating electronically sometimes with friends and people they have never even met. Trouble with that is they seem to be withdrawn from family and the active world about them to a degree which I feel uncomfortable about.

    I have grown up with the internet and computer development and have used it in business and in my own business which would have not been so profitable without it.

    I think that the exposure to realtime information particularly in politics, has been the biggest game changer for me. I am now becoming aware of the massive fraud being perpetrated on us by our leading politicians. I now am using a combination of internet and active personal participation to expose these frauds and internet search will lead to the truth coming out and informing more and more of the electorate hopefully. Politicians hiding behind weasel words and false promises plus using the perpetual prevarication and wasting time, this exposure is the biggest boon to me.

    In summary I value my time and now I can do so much more to give support to those democratic and loyal institutions and people, by using my magic iMac. I just hope we will never be censored or abused by those who have the power to do so.

  28. sm
    October 25, 2012

    Lets hope?

    Lets take education, why is it still so expensive?

    You would think economies of scale would apply to all kinds of teaching via online lectures, particularly where the learning is of a theoretical nature. Has this opportunity been seized by the (tax funded) public sector to bring efficiency in delivery and reduce costs and increase delivery to a wide and diverse market?

    Any claimed skill-shortage area should immediately lead to funded courses placed online where the theoretical training once passed should lead to placement in the organization claiming shortages. The organization and the government should be required to fund the online course equally.

    No work visa’s should be made available to overseas applicants until the first candidates have rolled through the program they have paid for or co-sponsored.

  29. peter davies
    October 25, 2012

    Great article JR.

    From my perspective the internet via encrypted secure channels has enabled me to work from my ‘work base’ for a number of years – without the internet I would never have been able to do this so you could say it is a great social mobility tool.

    Anyone sitting at home who can’t get a job rather than do nothing and moan about the economy should look to the internet to see if they can do something that might be useful to someone else.

    There are tonnes of outsourcing sites out there, if you are willing to learn of have a specific skill that people want, be it graphics, writing, social media management, you have already alluded to retail so I’ll point out ebay, if for example you fancy yourself as a writer theres no need to write a book and print 1000s of copies hoping they will sell – use the Amazon Kindle platform.

    There are 1000s of people that make a very good living doing this type of work – the key is being able to produce something that can be scaled up without the associated expense you would have in real estate for a new shop or factory.

    There are even musicians (an example was shown on the BBC this morning) that are using the internet as a means to reach their audience. I believe it was via You Tube that Justin Bieber captured a young female following.

    From a practical technology perspective, you can turn your house lights, turn on the TV all with a relatively simple switch to replace the manual one (around (£30 each) from an app on your PC or Iphone.

    Politically if you have the time it has become easy to keep in touch with whats going on in the world without having to listen to some of the propaganda drivel the likes of the BBC often spout when reporting news.

    The one drawback of the internet in my view however is that I think porn has become too easily accessible now and there is far too much of it – it takes up a huge slice of the internet. I don’t have a problem with it being there for adults but children can access the internet too easily and it would fill me with horror if I was to discover my kids viewing such content

    – I’m not one for curbing free speech but I do think there should be a dedicated domain space for this sort of stuff with an internationally agreed way of opting in – the major search engines would be more than capable of de indexing this type of stuff from the main search space and putting it in a dedicated place if this could be sorted out internationally.

  30. Bazman
    October 25, 2012

    Most contributors on this site seem to have the laughable belief that the development of the of the internet and methods of using have somehow been driven forward for the advancement of mankind, when really porn and that dog that can do card tricks is the real engine of growth.

  31. Brett
    January 13, 2013

    I myself have been given many opportunities because of the Internet that I probably wouldn’t have been given otherwise. I grew up in the midwest and never would have ever believed I would work out of State, let alone Internationally. I have clients in Australia, NZ, and Europe. It also allows us to offer better service to our clients because we’re “always on” when they need us.

  32. Chris
    April 9, 2013

    I was fortunate enough to be right on the cusp of many of these developments. I got to see firsthand how computers and desktop publishing changed the printing industry. ( allegation about IP in IT left out-ed)

  33. Ken
    June 24, 2013

    The internet is a wonderful example of human ingenuity. Truly it is an empowering and liberating addition to ours lives.

  34. Chris
    October 12, 2013

    Digital manufacturing is the future…absolutely no doubt.

    We need A LOT more coding graduates to sustain the new technology though.

    Great article by the way.

  35. shevar
    October 26, 2013

    internet is the future, and the best way to go

  36. Marcelo
    November 5, 2013

    I remember my first email and first dial up access to the Internet. My lige changed.

    I´ve just returned from a trip overseas with emails from 20 new friends.

    And I was able to communicate with all of them.

  37. Gary
    December 20, 2013

    The internet has certainly made the playing field more available to small retail investors.

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