Sunday, 5 April 2015

#DimblebyLecture: down with sash windows

Suppose that Nigel Farage said:
It is within our reach for Britain to leapfrog every nation in the world and become the most digital, most connected, most skilled, most informed on the planet ... Britain grabbed the industrial revolution by the throat – we became the powerhouse of the world – and we can do that again.
He would be accused of dog-whistling. Opprobrium would be heaped on his head from all bien-pensants quarters for appealing to that aggressive nationalism for which the British empire will forever be infamous and the only proper response to which is abjectly to acknowledge our guilt.

But then Mr Farage is the leader of UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, a youngish political party which campaigns against the UK's membership of the European Union and in favour of traditional Conservative values. He is not Martha Lane Fox, the person who actually uttered those words last Monday 30 March 2015 when she delivered the BBC's annual Dimbleby Lecture, only to be greeted by proud and benign smiles from all the great and the good in the audience.

Suppose you said the same thing. "It is within our reach ...", etc ... You wouldn't get to say it in the Dimbleby Lecture and the great and the good wouldn't be there to smile. You wouldn't even get the opprobrium – you don't matter that much.

On the other hand, you might get some useful criticism. Britain can't leapfrog every nation in the world. Britain is one of the nations in the world and it can't leapfrog itself.

And if you went on to say ...
A new institution could be the catalyst we need to shape the world we want to live in and Britain’s role in that world ... It would be an independent organisation that is given its power by government but has a strong mandate from the public.
... as Martha Lane Fox did, you might be asked if perhaps you weren't over-reaching yourself. What kind of institution can shape the world and Britain's rôle in it while at the same time being backed by the government but controlled by the public?
This is no normal public body [you can say that again] ... It’s time to balance the world of dot com, so I would call it DOT EVERYONE.
Always supposing that it was possible to create this world-dominating institution, DotEveryone, why would we want to? Apparently, if only we became more digitally adept ...
... it would not only be good for our economy, but it would be good for our culture, our people, our health and our happiness.
That, of course, could be the stated objective of any political ideology. Including UKIP's. And the BBC's. If the Archbishop of Canterbury claimed the same benefits for adherence to our new go-ahead Church of England a plague of contumely would rain down on Lambeth Palace for 40 days.

Not so Martha Lane Fox, even when she explained that the distinctive appeal of DotEveryone is that it would see the end of mahogany desks, sash windows, three-piece suits and men with grey hair:
It’s 1998. I am 25. I am sitting in a huge central London office, with long sash windows, and a grey haired man in a three piece suit is at the far end, behind a big mahogany desk.
1998 is 17 years ago. Now:
76% of Britons use the internet every day. Our nation of shopkeepers is now home to the most enthusiastic online shoppers on the planet. In 2014, e-commerce accounted for about 15% of total UK retail sales ... A report from Tech City in February this year found that there are now 1.4 million people in the UK employed in digital businesses and venture capital. The sector is 20 times what it was just five years ago ...That makes it bigger than health or education or construction.
It looks as though the internet is getting on famously without DotEveryone. But no, progress isn't fast enough for some fundamentalists ...
We just need to go much, much faster and we need to make sure all of us are included ... There are currently 10 million adults in the UK who cannot get the basic benefits of being online ...
...and it's all the fault of our ignorant politicians, public officials, business leaders and journalists. In fact, men in general:
DOT EVERYONE our new organisation, must figure out how to put women at the heart of the technology sector. That alone could make us the most digitally successful country on the planet and give us a real edge.
Why has women's lib been fighting for so long? So that women can code in Java. (The programming language. Not the place.) The fight is still not won. How will DotEveryone succeed? Give money to unemployed women, obviously:
Why not launch a national challenge to find the best ideas to tackle this problem? ... Why not offer every unemployed woman free education and training? ... Surely there must be a couple of new Ada Lovelaces lurking in this land?
If poor old Natalie Bennett, leader of the UK's Green Party, had suggested that, "poor woman, she can't be expected to understand", the commentators would have said, but Martha Lane Fox was still being listened to seriously.

DotEveryone has other tricky problems to solve before we climb the hill to "the inspiring, brave new world ahead". Martha Lane Fox mentions mass surveillance by the security forces services. The protection of minors on-line. The implications of wearable technology and the Internet of Things. The public good v. private profit. Cybercrime.

And her proposed solutions? She doesn't have any. All she can say is:

That, for me, would be DOT EVERYONE’s third big task – help us embed our national values in the digital world ... It will make sure the UK fills the moral and ethical gap that exists at the heart of discussions about the internet.
This Dimbleby Lecture contributes yet another gap to discussions about the internet.

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Updated 6.4.15

The following comment was submitted to the Martha Lane Fox blog and awaits moderation:
dmossesq says:
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
April 5, 2015 at 10:58 am
What have you got against sash windows?
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