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more highlights from Web at 20

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 12:05 UK time, Monday, 13 July 2009

A flurry of editing yields our promised second video from the Web at 20 launch event with Sir Tim Berners-Lee and special guests.

During the event, one statement that impressed enough people to spawn a flurry of tweets was Sir Tim's comparison regarding web censorship and buying a piece of writing paper - that he wouldn't expect to buy paper that came with the constraint that he could only write truth upon it, nor would anyone expect to buy drawing paper that prevented you from drawing a nude figure on it; the web in the same vein should be a blank canvas for expression, not repression. "Any attempts to constrain [the internet] would be very, very short-sighted, as we don't know what people will want to do the future."

Then there's the wonderful moment of 'civilised altercation' between Baroness Susan Greenfield and Bill Thompson: Thompson declares privacy an outdated and useless for people in the 21st Century; Greenfield's reaction could politely be described as incredulous.

Finally, again in response to a question posed via the web, Sir Tim and the panel debated the web as 'a basic human right, like clean water.' This was questioned by both Greenfield and Thompson, but Sir Tim's reply was clear: that where there is internet and no clean water, clean water can eventually be achieved via the opportunities the web provides.

Despite this clarification, at least one tweet released around this time questioned the strength of Sir Tim's assertion and no consensus arrived from the panellists. So where do you stand on this? Can the internet really be placed at the base of Maslow's heirachy of needs along with clean water, food and shelter?


  • Comment number 1.

    The right to clean water isn't in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but there is now a campaign to have it included.
    Over a billion people across the planet lack access to clean and potable water and millions die each year as a result.

    So a challenge for Tim BL; use the power of the Web to provide clean, safe water to everyone on the planet.

    I am interested in how he sees this being achieved? Simply campaigning for it to be in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights isn't enough; food is already included yet many children die of malnourishment.

    Is Web access 'essential'?

    or an affordable luxury as TVs were in the early 1960s and mobile phones became in the 1990s?

    Can the Web be compared to clean water, food and shelter?
    Clearly no it can't. It can be an immensely useful tool (and a great time waster and entertainment medium) but that doesn't make it essential for life.
    Many people still choose to do without it. Others find it too complex to use effectively. Those that get the most from the web (and with other things in life) tend to be the top 10% that are most well educated.

    If I had to I could live without it. I'd miss it, but obviously I'd survive. There are still phones, postal services, pens and paper etc; magazines and libraries flourish. (Given the time I spend on the Web it could be argued my life might be improved, I would do more of other activities.) And if I want in depth information I still turn to books.

  • Comment number 2.

    But how do you provide a fully stocked library & stationers shop in every village in first world countries let alone those in the third world?

    The provision of Web access via the internet allows the gaining of knowledge to help those without political or financial clout to make their aspirations happen.

    I disagree that if one doesn't have the basics of clean water, sufficient food, permanent good habitation & medical care then entertainment is a luxury. Feeding the mind as well as the body is part of creating a happy healthy person.

  • Comment number 3.

    @shefftim 'So a challenge for Tim BL; use the power of the Web to provide clean, safe water to everyone on the planet.'

    Interesting. That actually sounds like the sort of challenge inventors and geeks love to take up; akin to the one laptop-per-child project https://laptop.org/en/

    But I take your point; if I were being given essentials in order, I would likely prioritise food and water over web access. But I also agree with Englishfolkfan that there are nourishments from accessing the knowledge, data and, perhaps most importantly, connections across the globe, that internet access would provide an individual or community.

    Sir Tim gave an interesting example of the web being used to educate individuals, who could then trade their learned skills for money to pay for clean water. This seems to fit into the old idea: give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach that man to fish (via an instructional website) and he'll eat for life.

    I'd like to find more stories / linked articles that reinforce / refute this. Does anyone know of any they can share with us?

    Many thanks,

  • Comment number 4.

    It is not true that where there is access to the net there is the capability to obtain clean water. A person most likely also needs money but noone is suggesting cash is a basic human right. The web is a communications technology - it allows humans to communicate over great distances, thats all. Getting an email from some staving third world denizen does not guarantee I will respond immediatley and generously. That requires compassion, something which I suggest is taught and learned in much more intimate and personal settings than those provided by the web.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi Dan, (#3)

    Many people don't have anyone to buy clean water from:

    "The statistics are mind-boggling: of the more than six billion people in the world today, over one billion have no access to improved drinking water - a basic necessity for human life - and about 2.6 billion people do not have access to improved sanitation. And according to the U.N. children's agency UNICEF, polluted water and lack of basic sanitation claim the lives of over 1.5 million children every year, mostly from water-borne diseases." (2006)

    I'd argues that the lack of clean, safe, affordable drinking water in many parts of the world is clearly more of a pressing need than: "nourishments from accessing the knowledge, data and, perhaps most importantly, connections across the globe. . ."

    #3: "Interesting. That actually sounds like the sort of challenge inventors and geeks love to take up;" (And the BBC too?)

    Can the Web really transform the world? Could it help provide those one billion people with safe, clean drinking water and save the lives of millions of children?
    (And by the power of the Web we're talking of all those interconnected people sitting in front of their computers; their ideas, funds, lobbying ability and so on. It can also bring all those organisations working with shared aims together; and - yes - it may also help spread ideas in remote regions.)

    But for those one billion people, if it's a choice between their children's lives and going on the Web, guess which they'll choose.

    (Of course, the choice isn't realistically there for them at all, but that's a larger debate.)

  • Comment number 6.

    Re": 5. At 5:48pm on 16 Jul 2009, SheffTim wrote: 'SO, A CHALLENGE THEN:
    Can the Web really transform the world? Could it help provide those one billion people with safe, clean drinking water and save the lives of millions of children?'

    That would be more than fantastic. And there are doubtless people far smarter than I scratching their heads and drinking coffee at midnight with solving world crises like these on their minds.

    How can the web help? Well, while not about providing clean water, the application of distributed computing, as seen in the BBC's climate change experiment, might provide some hope / inspiration. As I say, this doesn't actively put food in the mouths of hungry children (nor was it its remit), but it is example of a mass sharing of resources that would be impossible without the web. Where that opportunity for distributed computing will next be applied to a greater good I don't know...

    But I'm fairly optimistic about the web's potential for changing the world for the better, for sharing, reaching out, connecting and building. If GoldCorp could crowdsource geological data analysis and literally strike gold from online collaboration, then could similar means be applied to life-saving resources?

    Or, on a smaller scale, make a better documentary about the web...?



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