12 March 2019

Berners-Lee UKFast House - 30 years of the internet as we know it

One of the UKFast Houses is named after Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web.

In 1989, Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister, the House of Commons was televised for the very first time, and Band Aid asked, do they know it’s Christmas?

It was also the year that Sir Tim Berners-Lee created what is now the internet as we know it, when he wrote a document called “Information Management: A Proposal”.

The World Wide Web grew from there.

It’s astonishing to think that just a decade later, UKFast was born. Businesses were being built because of the internet. Now, retail ecommerce sales are set to top $3.5 trillion worldwide. There are more than 4 billion internet users globally.

That’s an astonishingly connected world. I do wonder if Berners-Lee could ever have envisaged the impact that his innovation would have on the world.

To connect all these people

At a recent event hosted by The Washington Post, he said: “Imagine you have a big problem like climate change or curing cancer, but the pieces are in different people’s brains, that’s what the goal of the web was: to connect all these people.”

This level of connectivity enables knowledge-sharing like never before. It has undoubtedly accelerated the pace of change in our modern world – changes in communication, commerce, culture and beyond.

Yet, of course, it isn’t all positive. The 30-year anniversary of the web calls some of the darker aspects of that connectivity into question. There have always been ‘bad’ people in the world, but they were perhaps more isolated. Now they have a platform, specifically with social media. Is it me, or does it seem like social media is becoming dominated by trolls rather than its original purpose? Equally, there are questions around control, censorship and safety online. Of course, there’s also the challenge on democracy suggested by the fake news phenomenon of the Brexit and the US presidential election.

When you pause for a moment to look at just how the web has transformed our lives, there’s no question that there are real positives. Our lives are so much easier as consumers and we have so many more opportunities as businesspeople. But when you look at our personal lives, there is also no question that something needs to change.

So what’s the answer?

It’s fascinating that 20 years ago when we started UKFast, our mission was to help educate people about why they should be online. Now, we’re working to help people to make the most of their online presence and keep people safe online – both personally and professionally. It’s our responsibility to do so.

It’s now time for the big global tech players to shift their focus. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon and co, are obliged to protect the users of their sites but it does seem to be out of control. You only need to scroll through a popular post on any given social network to see the raft of negative, nasty and often abusive comments left by ‘trolls’.

It’s a toxic environment, and one that I can’t imagine growing up in. It’s a challenging world to navigate for our young people and there’s no real precedent for them to follow.

Is the answer setting up rules and standards for users to follow to ensure a more civilised discussion platform? Is it solely the responsibility of the platforms to monitor the content on their sites? In reality, we can all do our bit by reporting offensive comments and accounts. Encourage better practice online and by teaching the next generation how to behave in an online environment. Berners-Lee himself is working on various initiatives to ‘fix the web’ and create a better future for our online world.
What do you think the answer is?

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