The paradox of the Internet is summed
up in the phrase "global village".
The speed at which the Internet has "happened" in the past year has seen a vast array of ideas paraded by those considering the possibilities: and the sight of notoriously insular Americans getting excited about something "global" that has concerns beyond the boundaries of the USA is quite intriguing. However, this awareness that the Internet extends "out of state" is largely confined to the (substantial) academic community who always did have a hunch that the world didnít quite end at Cape Cod: many of the individual and commercial exponents remain quite predictably confined to the USA and Canada (donít let any Canadians hear this, but most Americans seem to think that Canada is the 51st state anyway).
Whereas we Europeans (I nearly said Brits) are generally fascinated by the ease with which the Internet can transport its users across oceans in a few milliseconds, and spend our surfing sessions browsing through foreign archives and presentations.
This is all part of the process of getting aquatinted and familiar with new communications medium: and remarkably comparable with the experience of the early days of the amateur radio fraternity who, through the application of open minds and creative ideas, were responsible for a lot more innovation in broadcasting and communications than most people realise. The user groups activity of the Internet has been quite fairly compared with CB radio: all human life is there; but like kids getting excited by their first copy of Playboy, the excesses of the Internet quickly give way to more creative and rewarding pursuits than alt.sex.spanking.
However, one fundamental utility of the Internet from a commercial point of view is its ability to re-connect people within localities and communities, and thereby facilitate a return to the pre-industrial revolution when most people didnít live in overcrowded cities, travelling on overcrowded roads and breathing polluted air. This is not some whimsical yearning for a return to the values of a bygone age, it is a practical solution to urgent problems facing the entire developed world.
Just as technology (and attitudes) has enabled radio to devolve from being a device of national and international communication to becoming a community asset, with the ultimate manifestation of personal communication in the cellphone, so the technologies underpinning the idea of the Internet allow the combined and entire power of world computing to be used by an individual for his or her amusement and benefit. The arrival of "cable" is a further leap in the technology that connects and empowers the individual networker at home, and for those without cable in their street, regular ISDN services are already a viable alternative for "home networking".
Putting "networking" to effective use at community level is proving to be a fraught affair at present, as a number of community schemes have been commandeered by groups who perceive a political purpose in their endeavours. But local "net" efforts really need to work with established local businesses to achieve a commercial basis for their development. Translating the local paper into a web presentation is an obvious rallying point, and not just the WI meeting pages, but all the local advertisers and services that go to form the engine that drives a community through some form of economic purpose.
The Kington village experiment is a very valuable pointer to the way these things can be made work more thoroughly and quickly than anyone imagined possible.
Like Lemmings on the Platforms
The recent rail strike has reminded us all of the tedium of travelling to work, yet few people really seem to question the basic premise of wasting time and resource when it is no longer necessary. The assumption that you have to be physically present in the City of London to be serious about being in business is based on an increasingly dubious premise that you need to see and be seen by your City peers, so that you can be "in on" the various inside deals and company politics that drive the economy. Never underestimate "Captain Paranoia" -- that nagging feeling that if you are not there in person, then stuff will be done behind your back by those whose prime purpose is not to fulfil your ambitions.
Paranoia is a tough issue to address, and it is possibly the most challenging aspect of changing the working habits of the nation. But as more people are placed on part time and "consultant" status with companies, so there is a great opportunity to develop the upside of the idea of a level corporate playing field with no hidden agendas, and rejoice in the absence of petty corporate politics. But will this suit everyone? Will it require a sea change in attitudes, starting with education, where virtually no "educator" thinks in terms of any form of self employment when considering career matters for the students?
Using technology to distribute the functions of organisations has many benefits: but it has a serious drawback for the individual: their "presence" in the fabric of the commercial world in which they operate may now have become encapsulated in their email address. Their employer now controls a further aspect of their entire life. Switch off that email address and many who have come to rely on email as a primary means of contact might simply cease to be.
It may now be increasingly important that people make an effort to establish a transportable email persona to avoid this drawback of the current system. Much like a transferable pension plan, this aspect of the network age might yet become a specific negotiating point as part of a job package. No doubt employers will be concerned at the issues of security all this raises, but I feel the individual is entitled to more consideration at this stage of the "revolution", especially with so many employers reaping the technology dividend and turfing out staff wholesale.
So although the Internet is big, keep the scheme of things in careful perspective, and never lose sight of the importance of the individual -- just in case those who control the communication capabilities that define the individualís role in this new age of technology, become increasingly arbitrary.
But donít expect our beloved politicians and administrators to be facing up to this new challenge, because itís pretty much down to us to define and set the agenda. Scary, eh?