Power to the People
October, 2008
Citizen Smith
I suspect this may come as a surprise to you, but I am not any sort of computer geek. Yes, I’m interested in computers, but when I talk to friends at the Mac User Group, I realise I know virtually nothing about subnet masks or C+++. And cocoa puts me to sleep if it’s made with all milk. But what does absolutely excite me is the intellectual liberation tantalizingly offered by computers, and, more specifically, by the internet. The BBC recently ran a news story suggesting that intelligent surfing of the web is actually more stimulating to the brain than reading a book. You know as well as I do that whatever you are interested in, it’s on the web. There is no subject you can’t research on the internet, and we must now have the most widely available knowledge base of any generation in history. But, whilst reading an intelligent blog, or researching online, may well be more stimulating than a trashy novel, both are still relatively passive occupations. However, the internet offers a personal empowerment that, until now, has never been achievable by a private individual. What the internet can offer is not only the stimulus to think creatively yourself, but, crucially different from a book, the ability to respond actively, to spread your ideas and, potentially, to change the way others think, too. That has previously been the prerogative of only the privileged few. Now, anyone with a computer and an internet connection, can write blogs, publish websites, even create and publish a responsible article in Wikipedia. It’s a little different with a Windows PC (well, a lot different, actually) but every Apple Mac comes with built-in tools to create a website, write and publish a blog, record and publish a podcast, both audio and video (and have it listed in iTunes), edit home movies and burn them to DVD, and to accompany their creations with self-written and recorded music. So, whatever your passion, you can spread your ideas to the world. And, of course, even if we disagree with you, we have to defend your right to say it. [Diversion: the Frankfurt Book Fair recently closed, amid numerous complaints about the deluge of anti-Semitic tracts on the exhibition stands of many Muslim publishers, including those from Turkey, the Fair’s this year’s ‘honoured guest’. Discuss.] Whether you love or loathe the internet, like the ‘News of the World’ newspaper, all human life is there. Whether it’s Barak Obama and Stephen Fry announcing to the world their daily lives on Twitter, Joe Public blogging about iniquitous taxes, or forum discussions on a website, never before have all of us in the developed world had such opportunities to interact with so many others and hear, see, and express so many diverse opinions. The internet has the power to allow us into the lives of people whom we have never dreamed of meeting, to be exposed to new ideas, new philosophies, new horizons. Robert Lindsay’s TV character Citizen Smith said all those years ago, ‘Power to the People!’ He may well have been alluding to the student violence of 1968, or the strikers’ violence later, but, finally people power is peacefully within the grasp of anyone who wants it. On the internet. And it should be available to everyone on the planet.