Just what is the Information Society? A trip to the DTI to see the celebration of a year of the Information Society Initiative gives you the impression that someone in the corridors of power knows. The Minister for Science and Technology, Ian Taylor, had gathered the great and the good for a bit of mutual backslapping, as you'd expect him to in the run up to a general election. He waxed lyrical about #2 million being pumped into multi- media and Internet projects and talked of #35 million more after the election. A warning to floating voters if ever there was one.
The truth is, the Information Society is nothing more than the new catch phrase for wannabe politicians. Ever since Harold Wilson's famous "White Heat of Technology" speech we've seen technology and IT in particular used as a political talisman by those in power; by those seeking power. You don't need a Ph.D. in sociology to know we already live in the information society. The speed of takeup and innovative use of so-called hi-tech is what's really at stake.
Let's get back to basics. One of the functions of government is to stimulate the economy and help create jobs. Another is to ensure that new technology is used to benefit all. Thus, we see the DTI trying to raise awareness about the use of computers and the Internet, and at the same time introduce its use into bureaucratic activities to save money and deliver better services.
This is all well and good, but the problem lies in how government exercises these responsibilities. For a government that reminds us of its success in creating an "enterprise culture" it's interesting to note that when it comes to awarding funds it doesn't apply the principles of the market or even monitor its success closely. If it is really in the business of wealth and job creation, surely the best way to foster success is through the people in the know - the venture capitalists. This is how the market functions after all. But instead of hard-nosed market-driven funding, what we see are mysterious quangos, which aren't open to external inspection, allocating a few thousand here and there. It's slow, it's arbitrary and somewhat lacking in incentive mechanisms to encourage success.
What we need is a more aggressive campaign of funding with far larger figures involved. It would be appropriate for venture capital firms to bid for the right to distribute the cash and for at least three to be chosen. At the end of each year, the least successful one could be dropped in favour of a new winning bidder. OK, some worthy causes would get the cold shoulder, but in the long term more jobs would be created.
For such a system to be ignored begs the question: is there some other agenda at stake here? Is the current government buying votes with such funding schemes? In which case, where does that leave the rhetoric about raising awareness and creating jobs?
The Internet has enormous potential for job creation; the more enlightened politicians are aware of this. But until we grasp the nettle - and this is increasingly a European issue - we're in danger of seeing thousands, possibly millions of Net-related jobs go abroad. It's already happening. Net users are being lured to US-based content and online sales because there's so much of it and because the US is the driving force behind Web activity. Thousands are also being tempted to the US to work on Net software projects.
There is no easy solution - it's rather like trying to keep the UK film industry alive in wake of the onslaught of multimillion dollar Hollywood productions. But there's still a chance. A chance that depends on an enlightened view of technology and an openness to where it can take us. All that's needed is the commitment to making the UK a fertile ground for experimentation and innovation. The political needs to go beyond the old model of buying votes to a new model of gaining votes through inspirational ideas, a sense of adventure, and a desire to change.
Once politicians realise that the Internet is an infrastructure on which our future economy is being built and break away from the old world of cross-party point scoring, there's a chance that radical change can occur. If politicians don't work this out, we either need a new breed of politician or voters must seize their modems and make their voices heard. The Conservative Party refuses to take emails on its Web site - you've been warned.
Cotton seedling freezes to death as Chang'e-4 shuts down for the Moon's 14-day lunar night
Fortnite easily out-earns PUBG, Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2 in 2018
Meteor showers as a service will be visible for about 100 kilometres in all directions
Saturn's rings only formed in the past 100 million years, suggests analysis of Cassini space probe data
New findings contradict conventional belief that Saturn's rings were formed along with the planet about 4.5 billion years ago