To be Brilliant at the Internet – Dot Everyone

Chris Farrance

Chris Farrance

16 April 2015

I describe myself as a ‘Digital Tribalist’ – I have to admit that for a silver surfer it’s been a Road to Damascus conversion. I used to think being digital was a bit like Marmite – you either like it or you hate it. But I’ve come to realise that hating it is not an option – it’s here to stay and quite frankly the quality of my personal and business life will be severely limited if I don’t engage with it.

If you didn’t hear about it, Martha Lane Fox – the founder of lastminute.com – delivered the Richard Dimbleby lecture ‘Dot Everyone’ just recently. There were three key themes:

1. How do we improve our understanding of the internet at all levels of our society?

Martha quotes Aaron Swartz

“It’s not ok not to understand the internet anymore.”

In tracing the history of the development of the Internet, the boss of Tim Berners Lees – who designed the first ever browser ‘WorldwideWeb’ classified it as ‘vague but exciting’ – a comment that could be applicable to most startup ideas!
Whilst all leaders are important in accelerating the momentum we need, in my experience in big business using advocates to light fires at the bottom and middle of a business helps too.

A couple of banks are investing in digital champions who will work both internally – and perhaps more importantly externally – to build internet proficiency. There’s a big difference, of course, between this useful pump priming and the harder digital skills we need to be globally competitive.

Martha exhibits the true characteristics of an entrepreneur – they wait for nobody – when she says:

‘We’re going too slow, being too incremental. We need to be bolder’

2. How do we get more women involved in technology?

I think this is as much to do with business in general as well as technology. Martha Lane Fox in her BBC Dimbleby lecture expresses concern that none of the biggest internet businesses we rely on were founded or are run by a woman. In the tech sector as a whole just 14% are women – compared with 24% in the House of Lords!
An interesting trailblazer in this space is the Chinese company Alibaba – 47% of his company’s employees are women and they hold 33% of the senior roles.

But a recent Guardian article sheds light on the sexist behaviour in the heart of the digital world – in Silicon Valley. The statistics are shaming. Only 11% of Silicon Valley executives and on average around 20% of software developers are women. On the Forbes list of 100 leading tech investors, only four are women. Silicon Valley firms also have fewer women at the top than large companies in other industries. Only 53% of big tech companies have a woman on their executive management team. What more is there to say?

We’ll give Martha the last word here!

‘The digital sector should be leading the way in our striving, as a society, to move beyond prejudice based on gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, class or disability. It should not be languishing in a comfortably monocultural world.’

3. How do we tackle the ethical and moral issues the internet has created?

The thrust here is the narrow level of debate around privacy and data policy where the rules appear to be set unchallenged by today’s monopolistic suppliers like Google and Facebook. In my experience, privacy is most likely to become an issue when you as an individual have your privacy invaded.
Issues include protecting children, sharing of personal data such as health for example, cybercrime and so on. Martha argues that the moral and ethical gaps need to be filled and we as a nation are well placed to take leadership here.

If these issues resonate with you then join Martha’s new movement DOTEVERYONE and sign her online petition.

Chris Farrance