Apr 6, 2010 3
Grant Shapps had just finished talking at the Big Society launch when an earnest chap rushed up to him. Mr Shapps had been lyrical on the subject of the role that mobile technologies could play in citizen engagement and empowerment. “You can use FixMyStreet on the iPhone”, he proclaimed (carefully keeping his non-iPhone below the radar).
The Earnest Young Man was forthright: “you can’t talk about mobile phones as solutions so easily”, he said. “You know they’re looked upon by many as a symbol of luxurious indulgence, don’t you?” And we know who he was talking about. Newspaper columnists who still remember when a three grand briefcase phone was the ultimate status marker. When making calls in public, or in your car, was as good as admitting you bathed in champagne every night.
If you have a mobile, you can’t be poor. (Or you’ve stolen it.) Simple as that. It’s a sign of privilege and wealth. GIVE mobiles to the excluded to help them access services and stabilise their lives? GIVE? We might as well reupholster their sofas, hand out free cigarettes and scratch cards and install cold beer fridges as they fritter away their day watching TV… Never heard such rubbish. (Though we’ll still pack our pages full of adverts for ringtone downloads and so on. Just in case. Y’know.)
And it occurred to me that there may be shadows of this hanging over the: “Internet – human right, essential or luxury?” debate.
If you insist on living up a fell, you can’t expect me to run a slip-road of the M6 to your front door. You get a rough track instead, buy a Landrover, and put up with it. Enjoy the views, and button it. You made your choice, and you’ll pay for your Landrover, not me. (I made my choice, choosing an over-priced four-bedroom house in Highgate, a substance abuse problem, and a miserable job on a national newspaper.) [update: <---this is still parody voice, not Paul confession, m'kay? I've never worked on a national newspaper.]
And if we’re going to put some of the essential public services online (as it seems we might have to) we can make your version a digital equivalent of the rough track too. Won’t look so nice, but it’ll work. The basic exchange of information required to submit a form can be done over a telephone line. We were all doing it on our modems ten years ago, weren’t we? You don’t need those big graphics and PDFs. Indeed, weren’t all you long-haired hackers telling us all along that the PDF lay on the road to perdition?
So, stuff your fibre-to-the-cowshed chatter. Learn to love your thin copper wire. Proper bandwidth is absolutely a luxury – to be enjoyed by the young, urban and wealthy (preferably all three at the same time).
Because you’re not fooling me. What you’re really after is porn and games. Hard to get a dodgy DVD up your mountain, so of course you want it all piped in. Who wouldn’t? And games! You’ll be on World of Warcraft until the cows come home, literally. Why should the rest of the country subsidise your filthy habits and patch up your solitary existence?
Far-fetched? Perhaps. I stress this is a perspective which has been exaggerated for effect. But I wonder if – as with mobile phones – there’s a certain, influential generation that see the technology as being more than just a technology. And instead, a marker for a whole way of life they just haven’t accepted yet.