I was off work earlier this week, and took the chance to read Tom Standage’s book The Victorian Internet, about the invention, rapid development, and eventual decline of the telegraph in the 19th century. The book is a decade old now, but the data are still staggering: within 30 years of the first electronic telegraph messages, there were 650,000 miles of wire globally, 30,000 miles of submarine cable, and 20,000 towns and cities were connected. A message could be sent from London to Bombay (as it was then known), and a reply received, within four minutes. More resonant, though, was Standage’s litany towards the end of the utopian effects attributed to to the telegraph and most subsequent technologies.
It’s notable that in the past week or so the murmurs about Facebook’s slack approach to privacy have gone from a whisper to a scream. And at least some of the noise has been coming from very select members of the digerati; Wired, Gizmodo, danah boyd, Jeff Jarvis, and David Weinberger have all joined in. They seem to be playing to an enthusiastic crowd. But why now, when Facebook’s slackness on privacy has been known for years (it’s one of the reasons I’m not a member)? I think it comes down to two things: firstly, speed of change, and secondly, scale.
I published a post on the UK election at The Futures Company blog yesterday. Here’s an extract:
“Voting problems in some constituencies seemed symbolic of an electoral system which is no longer fit for purpose. Before the election, research by nef calculated that voters in the most marginal seats have one hundred times more influence on the outcome than those in the safest seats. Prior to the election, one of the striking features was the number of competing campaigns promoting electoral fairness. [Update: These seem to have coalesced into a single campaign, Take Back Parliament, as a result of the election.] Taking a long view, these are each a symptom of the decline of two-party politics since the 1970s. During the campaign, Election 10 published a compelling graph using twenty-five years of Guardian polling data showing the decline in overall support for the two main parties; it fluctuates, certainly, but trends only in one direction.