April 28, 2015
In this blog post, we take a look at what Doteveryone is and what it could mean for the people of the UK, the World and the next generation of internet-based technology.
At the end of last month the Richard Dimbleby Lecture 2015 was held at London’s Science Museum. The British businesswomen and co-founder of Lastminute.com, Baroness Martha Lane-Fox delivered the 39th annual Lecture. Her 45-minute talk presented a proposition for Britain to get passionate about all things tech.
She made a call for digital understanding to be taken seriously, actively encouraged and suggested that there are still areas that need to be addressed to get us there. She covered three main issues facing an internet connected world…
…and put forward a solution: Doteveryone.
It’s not okay not to understand the internet anymore. - Aaron Swartz, the late internet activist
Doteveryone is a drive to lobby the government to create an institution that champions and strives for British digital excellence. Martha believes the UK has the capacity and capability to become the world’s centre of digital expertise. For this to happen, she determines the need for a dedicated government institution to lead a charge to catapult Britain into heading up the world’s digital revolution.
How will this institution achieve this feat? The campaign’s strapline sums it up: ‘To make everyone brilliant at the internet.’
That doesn’t necessarily mean, making everyone into a techie but instead, ensuring that everyone in the country understands it, knows its importance and benefits from its use.
When Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the first ever web browser, WorldWideWeb, he decided not to patent or protect his invention. His intentions were clear: the internet was invented for everyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity and social standing. An information solution with no structure or corporate power.
The balance of power and influence is now in the hands of big commercial technology platforms, should we accept this? Martha thinks not. In a follow-up piece in the Guardian last week, she quoted that the 2015 UK Business Digital Index revealed that 1.2m small and medium sized businesses are lacking basic digital skills. Yet 1.4m people in the UK are employed in digital businesses, 20 times what it was 5 years ago.
In addition, 76% of Britons use the internet every day, with 15% of total UK retail sales coming from e-Commerce. Yet 10m adults in the UK do not understand how to manage the basic benefits of being online, such as carrying out a safe transaction or staying safe generally. And it’s not just this, the lack of understanding on technical language and what terms mean is also an area that needs to be addressed.
So if a vast number of SMEs and individuals aren’t using the power of the internet, this makes a very good case for why they should be upskilling. Encouraging our businesses to get internet savvy, to take advantage of the benefits and grow, is definitely something we can get behind.
Empowering them to do this is a different case entirely. Martha suggests that initiatives around coding in schools and, funding and support for digital start-ups are a good start. However, as a collective, the Government, and its related bodies, needs to radically redesign how technology is used to make it work better for us all. This will involve making more research and development funding available to help scale up creative projects, so that they turn into tools we can all use to better our lives.
Alongside this, it’s about open access. Educating everyone about the internet, personal data and staying safe online is crucial. But we need to show, not tell.
Tell me, I forget… show me, I remember… involve me, I understand… - Chinese Proverb
We’ve talked a lot on the subject of the role of women and increasing diversity over the past year. It’s such an important topic to address, not least to correct the imbalance but also to encourage further growth and innovation in the sector.
Martha has reiterated the issue with the gender gap in tech. As a whole, fewer than 10% of people employed in the technology sector in the UK are women. For those that are in high-paying technical roles, the numbers are closer to single digits.
But this wasn’t always the case. Martha recalls the female codebreakers who worked at Bletchley Park during WW2. The first credited computer scientist, Ava Lovelace, was also a women. And there are many more women trying to break the mould and carve out a career in this fairly one sided industry. Baroness Lane-Fox is one herself, Baroness Joanna Shields (AOL, Google, Facebook) is also up there. The CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, and of course Megan Smith, CTO of USA, to name a few. However, more can be done to open doors to women, and other minorities, to diversify the tech sector.
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.
Something that is “for everyone”, needs to reflect that. And that means being built by everyone”.
Doteveryone’s solution to this is by setting a goal – make the UK the best place to be a female technologist in the world. This is not to take away jobs from men by any means – the UK is facing a talent shortage of 1m roles in the technology sector by 2020, so there is a huge amount of space available. The idea behind this goal would seek to redress the balance of male and female coders and creators who are willing and ready to take on these roles.
Doteveryone would introduce a national challenge to find the best ideas to tackle the problem, a way of involving everyone. Together with offering every unemployed woman free digital education and training. Putting women at the heart of the UK’s digital future could produce an innovative edge over other GDP nations.
The third point of Martha’s talk was about values. She argues that open debate on the big questions around the implications of cybercrime, wearable tech, artificial intelligence and smart cities should not only be encouraged but also actioned.
Right now, many of the people responsible for renewing that legislation don’t have all the technical knowledge required to do the best job possible. Surely this has to change.
If the decision on our digital futures is made by a single point of authority, it surely compromises the original intention of the internet – to be open, transparent, free and universal. Ideas and solutions need to be crowdsourced with debate opened up and voted on.
If the UK can deliver on the first two points and successfully, it will clear a path for others to follow. The open debates on values can then be addressed with a worldwide mind-set. For Britain to establish themselves as a global force and digital pioneer, leading by example can only be a good thing for the country and in turn, the rest of the world.
We can lead by example and success, but we all have to get behind it. - Martha Lane Fox, as quoted in The Pool
The internet, twinned with related technological advancements, has already changed the majority of people’s daily lives, how can we all work together to take it to the next level? Could this model be more widely adopted across the world?
What do you think? If you’d like to help support these changes, and are a UK resident, you can sign the change.org petition asking that the new government elected next month starts to build Doteveryone.
Even if it’s not revolutionary, it’s a start and what Martha Lane Fox has done is to open up the discussion and bring it to people’s attention. Every cause needs to start with a champion. Baroness Lane-Fox is the one for Britain’s digital future.
Note: Any direct quotes and statistics in this piece have been extracted from Martha’s talk transcript, unless otherwise stated. More information can be found on the Doteveryone website.