Britannia To Rule The Net?

April 1, 2015 9:46 PM


by  gdsteam 

The BBC Dimbleby lecture is not the place you’d expect a digital revolution to kick off. But online entrepreneur Baroness Martha Lane-Fox chose the invitation to speak at the prestigious annual event to launch an initiative which might just be about to revolutionise the way Britain interacts with the web. She called it doteveryone.

Lane-Fox has made millions from the internet – she was co-founder of lastminutedotcom, and she is now an active member of the British House of Lords where she sits as a technology expert. But she firmly believes that the internet is not being managed as it should be. She is unhappy at the way so much of our digital lives are determined by American corporations that represent only a limited (white, male, affluent, English speaking) section of the net’s actual users. She wants to liberate the power of the web for everyone and not have it limited – as she puts it – to serving the needs of the few.

Lane-Fox’s vision is for a public body that – like the BBC and the NHS – marries the best of public and private energies in order to push Britain to the front of the digital world – ‘to be brilliant at the internet’. She insists that not knowing about the full potential of the internet is simply not an option. This is not an option for policy makers or government, just as it is not an option for modern businesses or their customers.

Three key concerns

Lane-Fox identified three priority areas (but not the sole concerns) guiding her call to galvanise the digital potential that Britain is yet to realise. She put these under the headings of education, the role of women, and ethics.

In terms of education, she was at pains to identify the ten million British citizens who are digitally illiterate and who have no active online presence. She was also at pains to stress that administrators of all political persuasions should follow the example of the Government’s Digital Service in order to speed up public services and free up essential resources. And she was adamant that the same revolutionary mind-set should be adopted by businesses as well.

Lane-Fox was scathing in her comments about the restricted role of women in technology companies. As she put it, ‘something that is for everyone should be built by everyone’.  She bemoaned the wasted talent that is the price of the present gender-gap in tech and called for steps to bring it to an end.

The third point of emphasis in the lecture was to do with governance – what she called ethics. Citing Britain’s historical role as the site of Magna Carta and Parliamentary democracy she demanded that Britain put itself at the forefront of moves to regulate the online sphere.

A democratic revolution

Doteveryone – in Lane-Fox’s vision – has the potential to bring about not so much a digital revolution, but a transformation in the way the internet is organised, managed and used in day-to-day life. She has set up a petition to garner political support for the initiative. If the response to her lecture on Twitter is any measure, it is an idea that has legs. We may not have heard the last of doteveryone, and if that is the case, digital Britain could be set for a truly revolutionary step change.