(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.