The Virtual Revolution: Realistically Brilliant
THE VIRTUAL REVOLUTION:THE GREAT LEVELLING?: Saturday 30th January, BBC2, 8.30pm ALERT ME
The World Wide Web is something we all take for granted. I mean, right now you’re reading this on the Web, you probably did some shopping online this week and you’re trying to hide that open Facebook tab from your boss.
It’s twenty years since its invention by Sir Tim Berners Lee and The Virtual Revolution is a great new series which examines where it came from and where it’s going.
But it’s more than just an overview of its creation, it’s a probing insight into the very ideals that led to its inception and which still continue to make up the very fabric of the cyberspace.
It’s full of interviews with those at the forefront of the online revolution: Tim Berners Lee himself, Bill Gates, Al Gore, Steve Wozniak, Mark Zuckerberg and Chad Hurley are just some of the talking heads.
Something that the internet has done is make information and ideas flow faster and become more accessible than at any point in our history. Stephen Fry rightly observes that it’s done for our modern age, what the Gutenberg Bible did for the spread of ideas in the 15th century.
Of course, whenever someone has a good idea, there’ll be someone out there trying to make money off of it. In this case it was Microsoft and with the release of Internet Explorer in 1995 they formed an effective monopoly over the internet.
This would establish a trend of revolution and counter revolution; the battle between the freedom of information and the desire to profit which still rages today.
Wikipedia arrived in 2001, which idealistically had a democratic approach to the spread of information. (If you don’t know what Wikipedia is then feel free to look it up on Wikipedia).
The big problem with that is that he who shouts the loudest often wins even if they’re not right – something familiar to anyone that’s read any comments on Youtube.
As a result, accuracy often suffers (trust me, Wikipedia once told me that Kiefer Sutherland was the Chairman of HSBC) and that necessitates having people in charge. Try as we might, the old hierarchies are establishing themselves again – people just can’t be trusted and Wikipedia is now more regulated than it ever was.
And if you look, these electronic oligarchies are everywhere on the Web – there’s only one major social networking site: Facebook, only one major bookstore: Amazon, and only one major distributor of music: iTunes.
Is the idea of a level playing field now a long-dead dream? Whatever the future holds, this much is true, the internet is always changing and it will have an undeniable influence on all our lives for better or worse.