Monday, 16 November 2009

Digital Riches (part one)

I am a geek.

No, not just a politics geek. I am also a computer geek.

I grew up with computers, playing Prince of Persia on an old 286 when I was about 7 years old, and making dialogue boxes that said "hello world" on Windows Visual Basic. I was convinced I was going to invent the new Windows. I was going to call it "Open Doors".

When I was about 10 years old the internet was just creeping into the mainstream, and I thought it was fantastic. By 11 or 12 I had my own geocities website, using html I had learned by looking at source codes of other websites. I proudly told all the kids in school about it, and being suitably unimpressed they called me a geek and made fun of me. If only I had known that a few years previously a similar kind of thing had happened to Atari-Democrat-in-Chief Al Gore.

I made cutesy framed websites using only notepad and ftp, and then tried to convince my parents to buy the domain (which didn't yet exist) so that Kodak would have to pay us millions in order to be able to set up their own site. My parents realise only now that if they had listened to their pre-cyber-squatting pre-teen daughter, then they could have been very rich indeed...or ended up in jail. I think either Kodak or my parents missed a bullet there.

It's amazing now, after the internet's recent birthday celebrations, to realise how far it has permeated into our lives. The internet is now so mainstream that football games have been shown over the net instead of on television, and certain political campaigns have been attributed to the likes of Facebook and Twitter respectively. I even know an MP who updates Twitter during PMQs. Web 2.0 allows users to interact with each other in ways completely unfathomable just a few decades ago, using technology that far surpasses my lowly and outdated html skills. The internet overtook me, but I'm still geekcore about what it can do.

In true geek fashion, I recently spent a coveted day off work trying to figure out how to use Twitter and Google Wave. As a latecomer to Twitter, unconvinced of its usefulness, and confounded by Google Wave, I sent a "tweet" that said "now i have google wave but i'm not sure what it is or does. at least i'm on trend, right?"

To my surprise a complete stranger replied with some useful links to get me started. Now I'm an expert; well, now I am able to get my Twitter updates through Google Wave. And if that doesn't convince of you of the usefulness of either, what else will?

Google Wave is not perfect, but I think it is the start of something very exciting; something that involves using social media for good. In the UK we have NESTA and the Social Innovation Camp, coming up with user-generated technology-based answers to modern day questions:
How can I support my grandparents from afar?
How to get people to give up their seats on public transport?
How to make health care more accessible?

In the US, a groundbreaking, profit-making enterprise is using technology for social change. Virgance has pioneered programmes that encourage energy efficiency or use consumer power to promote corporate social responsibility.

Other start-ups use technology to provide services to the public that sometimes have eco-friendly by-products, such as,, or, to name but a few.

The latest of these I have discovered is The University of the People.
Its aim is to provide free online education to those who want it, depending on voluntary contributions from professors, academics and experts. So far, like Google Wave, the 'University' is in its very early stages, and so far without accreditation, but its potential is very exciting. The U of P seems to take some of the core foundations of the Open University and adds a Web 2.0 twist, keeping it online, and keeping it free (well, almost). I would like to see it succeed and progress.

None of these websites has all the answers to our generation's problems or questions by itself, but each of them demonstrate something unique that can be achieved through the web. I am truly very excited to learn more about how these tools can work together for the public good. I'm even tempted to sign up to the U of P's Computing Science programme so I can join in.

Never before have we been so digitally rich. I hope we are smart enough to be able to handle this wealth.

1 comment:

  1. I like this post! I tried to find my old Geocities site before it shut down, but sadly couldn't find it.

    I remember it had a ray-gun background. Good times for web design!