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Rushes Sequences - Stephen Fry interview - London (Video)

Stephen Fry is a writer, comedian, actor and technology enthusiast - and a man very much online. Aleks Krotoski and the Digital Revolution team met and interviewed Stephen to discuss the web, the changes it has brought to the world, its benefits and its possible dangers.

These rushes sequences are part of our promise to release content from most of our interviews and some general footage, all under a permissive licence for you to embed, or download a non-branded version and re-edit.

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So, Stephen seems greatly optimistic of the web's power to connect people, and of its standing as yet another great invention in human history that both enables, overthrows and terrifies in equal measure. Would you agree with his belief that the reward / risk ratio of the web mirrors that of the car, or the mobile? And (to extrapolate slightly) that perhaps our concerns for privacy are, as Bill Thompson would agree, based on outdated ideas - as Fry says that Trollope's were, with respect to the post box's liberation of women.

Let us know in the comments below.



There are now people in their mid to getting onto err advanced teens erm, who have never know obvious err a world without the web.  That maybe 20, 20 year, 20 year olds who have never known anything about that. Have they developed strange thumbs?  Do they have peculiar ways of talking and listening, do their eyes glaze over when they have to concentrate for more than 30 second, no I don't believe any of that. I'm not particularly negative or pessimistic, about the, the social qualities, the linguistic qualities the concentration qualities of generation web as they're called.  Erm, I honestly believe that if you go back into 1920's and take an ordinary semi educated 15 year old and place him next an ordinary se, semi educated 15 year old how he would find the one knows more, understands more is more socially confident he's more aware of the rest of the world it's more able, and more adept to research erm. may not be able to say the 9 times table as fluently or repeat amos, amass, amat, amonst, aramtis amant. They may not be able to do that is that such a great  loss to an old fashioned person like me. I'd love to think people can do both, but let, let's get real about this. Connection is what humans crave, it's what we are all about and something that separates us from animals it's even pre, it, it comes before the fact that we, we have language, because the language is an example of a, if you like  a mural technology that we have, we have created to answer this need for connection. We are the social animal par excellence. Or, or by devil err if you like. Err if not necessarily excellence. Erm we are, constantly in need of, of connecting with people for, friendship, love, sex, knowledge, growth, enmity, territoriality all the, all the imperatives that drive us as human beings. Erm we've created villages and towns to help us do that and roads and now we've created something else that allows us to do it, us to do it even more. 

Where people make their fundamental error and criticise all this I think it's a danger and it's reducing our capacity to act as proper human beings is they think it's all this. Either sit in front of a screen of some kind tapping away all your life, going lol and, and, and being childish and not writing in proper English sentences or, you sit in an old fashioned study with books and you read properly and you engage property and you go for walks. Well I do both! And most people do both, it is not one or the other.  Now you may say I've have the advantage of a classical education I've grown up in the tradition which I've understood books and I've understood history and I've been interested in these things, and I like Latin and Greek and I you know and I like the smell of a proper book and so on. that's true but I make quite a lot of on line friends I, I don't even know gender seem of them are err they're people I chat with I, d you know I've the personal direct messaging in forums and err, and Twitter and so on. some of whom I think are very young, and you can sort of tell they are, and who astonish me in case with their knowledge, knowledge of, literature. In fact I was having a conversation just the other day with one, who was talking to me about Evelyn War and I think she's 12 and she seems to have ever book that ........... and have a very intelligent view of this great novelist.  And at I almost wanted to say but how would someone who is 12 like you ever have read these books and I think what am I saying of course, of course they might have done and spend a lot of their time on, on a forum as well. It's not the two are not mutually exclusive.  

Alex As social animals which you conjecture we are erm, we now err historically are interactions our relationships are, tribal capacities would have been walled, they would have been within the, the physical proximity and now there's there the opportunity to out reach via face book via Bebo via whatever social networking means that are available. How do you think this is going to affect the younger generation of growing up if they're able to have relationships that are purely on line based upon erm, communities practice, or ideals.

Stephen The human social history is being filled with inventions and developments and techniques, that have threatened the way we arranged ourselves. A very good example that seems so peculiar is that Anthony Trollope the English novelist best know for writing books on politics and the church, was also a civil servant of err, some importance and he invented the post box the pillar box, and he was distraught that his invention might undermine the Victorian family. Now at first this seems quite a why would it do that well until the time the pillar box arrived,  the post box the little red thing we put a letter in a woman had never been able to write a letter and get it delivered without giving it either to a post man or to her father to be sent.  A middle class woman had no ability to connect with the man except through the graces of her,  parents particularly her father and Trollope who was a... although he was, a fine novelist and a and an innovative thinker, was a very traditionalist and he hated the idea that there were women commutating with men without their father knowing about it cause they could just slip a letter into a post-box. And similarly if you go back a little further to the time of Jane Austin, people found the idea of the novel simply horrific, people could not bear the idea of children sitting around and reading. They should be if they were going to read it would be sermons and history, certainly not novels and they should be going about the place, sitting up straight and err at dinner parties and err, and you know walking and being healthy and then of course along came radio and people couldn't bear the idea of people sitting around the radio and then television and then games and then computers and then and all these things seemed to those who were not brought up in them somehow to diminish because we're all so proud of our youth. We think our youth and our childhood are somehow if not perfect it was even if was imperfect it made us suffer how dare these children now not suffer the way I did. They should be having the kind I did made to read, made to do this, they should not have this freedom this access, or if they do, while I can approve of it, I ought to suggest that it's dangerous that it's going to while I can approve it, I ought to suggest that it's dangerous it's going to go wrong. 

Well yeah I mean some genies when they're let out of the bottle can you know can cause problems and they certainly can't ever go back in the bottle. When cars first arose people were horrified at the deaths on the road, horrified they couldn't believe it, I mean there were, there were hundreds of people being, being squelched every day. It was grotesque and any you know if you just braked in a car at 30 miles a hour you'd kill yourself on the steering wheel you'd break your neck. People were dying all the time. Did they say oh that's it then?  We can't have cars sorry. In the same way as if someone says actually mobile phones do give out microwaves and they will give you brain cancer are we going to say oh well that's, that's the end of that technology the?  Not on your Nelly there's a risk reward ratio here and for us the reward is so great, that whatever the risk is we try and contain it and understand it at best but what we don't do is say the risk is too great.

The great question is whether or not the web is being a force for democratisation and whether it is made us all equal erm, there are those who will say the moment it became monetised as, this terrible word the way at the moment it became really commercialised, erm, the moment the large corporations that controlled the pipeline started to buy each other up, and started to get this huge erm, err mergers, that some how err the pioneering spirit  went out of it in the freedom died.  People would say erm, I'm not quite a cynical or quite as pessimistic as that I do genuine ally believe there is a, a dispensation in, in politics in the west that the focus the, the wait of authority has shifted that it used to be, the ballot box was the way people expressed themselves. 

Now there is no focused way people express themselves on the internet, but I think that is the next challenge for democracy is to use  the fact that this surely is the way that we can harness .............. the will of the people it, it seems to me that I'd a real threat to the established estates as they used to be called, the they're one of the four estates in .............. spiritual or the temporal the, the comments and the forth estate as it was always known. Err, the press the press has been deeply upset and worried of course by the, the how err particularly Google and aggregators of, of content that they have spent a lot of money assembling, have been able to distribute it freely in such that people now regard it as almost their right to have free news err if the, even if they're outside Britain it's not through the BBC and the, and their licence fee. So there's that side of it where the press feel somehow and they're authority is  under threat and through things like twitter err, and, and face book individuals and celebrities and politicians are finding  other mouthpieces other ways of connecting the new ............ cause it used to be that if you were, if you were a politician or a celebrity wanted to set the record straight or you wanted to sell a book or something you had to count out to the newspaper.  Now you don't you simply ignore them, I mean if you, you know if you're a big American star you've got over a million followers. And there's no newspapers there provide you with the kind of coverage you can provide yourself and you can control it. err newspapers hate that, ............ speak to the contempt for the, for the stupidity and vanity of stars anyway. What we all share, and yeah about myself and that included naturally. Erm, erm, but being in it just takes away their power. So that's, that's the press's way.  And that's why they're always trying to keep that is very uneasy relationship. On the one hand they mock it, so Twitter which is a good example when that arrived, the press said oh no, not ridiculous factious people telling you what they had for breakfast oh I did this, look at this Twitter stream by the moronic celebrity how boring is that? Two weeks later join our twitter stream at Daily whatever. You know and such is desperate, desperate to jump on it, absolutely and politicians the,, there are dozens of politicians who ............. dam why did I speak I had to go to Twitter just two months ago I said is was ............ and now it means I can't have my own Twitter stream and everyone else has an I'm ohh I'm loosing out. And how, how do I back kettle here you know because through no fault of their own I don't quite see how it was going to develop.  This is the, I'm getting ......... because of what's happened with the internet and so that's the press. Then government, government is, is at much trickier one it's a much huger issue.


  • Comment number 1.

    The tantalising and worrying aspect of the net is that extrapolation is almost impossible. Just as we can't predict the future, nor can we predict how the net will evolve. I suspect it's development might be somewhat Darwinian if nation states and big businesses manage to corral what is currently an electronic Wild West. In the end, it may come down to a belief in the essential "goodness" of humanity, and that progress, however many setbacks it suffers in the form of warfare, natural disasters and plain old rank stupidity, will eventually lead us to sunlit electronic uplands - in 140 characters or less.

    By the way, could you ask La Fry to comment on the Creative Commons movement, please? It would be fascinating to hear his views on open and free access to knowledge and culture. Feel free to dismiss my piffling contribution to the latter.

    Thank you for posting these fascinating rushes. Thank you to Stephen Fry for wearing that funky shirt, which in earlier times would have been a weskit and wing collar. Now, that's progress. ;)

  • Comment number 2.

  • Comment number 3.


  • Comment number 4.

    ...kicks tumbleweed across the corral, looks at the saloon and wonders whether it's too early for a sarsparilla... :)

    @Catchingthewaves - thanks for your comments. Unfortunately our window with Stephen has closed, so we can't put that to him. I suspect, from hearing his recent speech at the iTunes festival re Intellectual Property and Copyright (a wonderful history lesson) that he'd be in favour of the CC movement - BUT, that is conjecture on my part..!

  • Comment number 5.

    Dan, thank you for kicking the tumbleweed. :)

    I'm surprised that these rushes haven't provoked a response. I agree that Stephen Fry might well be in favour of the CC movement. Perhaps I shall gird my loins and ask him via Twitter, although I try not to bother famous people. (Sometimes I feel sorry for the poor so-and-so - how does he cope with the deluge of messages?)

    I'll bookmark the Intellectual Property and Copyright speech. :)

  • Comment number 6.

    Just having a few hours of Fry talking would suffice for your series; he has such a mellifluous voice and is so entertaining I’m sure many could listen for hours.

    However apart from being all nice and liberal and bit non-specific (genies out of bottles…) he doesn’t really make any killer points apart from that about the risk/reward ratio making us believe the risks are worthwhile and that it’s natural to worry, but we can’t foresee what the future brings.

    The Trollope story is historically interesting; the (possible) 12 yr old that reads Waugh ditto (hardly typical of her age-group though); a semi-educated 15 yr old is likely to know more about the world today than a 15 yr old from the 1920s simply because of TV, even if they haven’t touched a PC. [Next to Fry I imagine a great many of us also feel semi-educated.)

    As Fry ended on the Internet and Govt, an open question. If the Web now provides such as powerful communications medium why is everyone, including the BNP, making such a fuss over Griffin being on Question Time?

    After all, if we believe the hype the ‘old media’ has become increasingly redundant as the Web arose, the Web’s open democracy means people can now visit any site or read any material to form their opinions and so. Yet TV is still seen as the more powerful medium. (And reassuringly so far, despite the open democracy the Web provides the BNP is still a fringe party.)

  • Comment number 7.

    Hype? It seems ridiculous to question the redundancy or at least the massive diminuition of old media. Anyone with kids between the ages 10 and 20 will testify to how little time they spend watching TV, reading books/magazines or paying for music. Sure, by kids, this presently means middle class PC owning kids today - but with ,impending ubiquitous web access, via netbooks and smartphones, kids and young people the world over will increasingly ditch traditional paid for media (or licence paid for media). I'll be interested to see to what extent the rushes provide coverage of this aspect of the 'digital revolution'.

  • Comment number 8.

    Considering Steven Fry is possibly one of a few people I would bother getting up and voting for to lead the UK, why was this interview obviously cut short just as he was about to speak about Government and the internet.

    For me, his opinion carry's more weight than all the politicians in Westminster combined.

    Maybe we should start a facebook campaign for Steven Fry to become PM and gauge the opinion of the vox populi - lol

  • Comment number 9.

    @Silent Reader 'Considering Steven Fry is possibly one of a few people I would bother getting up and voting for to lead the UK, why was this interview obviously cut short just as he was about to speak about Government and the internet.'

    Your comment points to the only trouble with Stephen: when to make a cut - as the next sentence is likely to be as interesting and insightful as the last. But we had to cut somewhere, and that was a logical out-point in the interview.

    Apologies for leaving you hanging, but they do say you should always leave 'em wanting more ;)

    Many thanks,

  • Comment number 10.

    poor transcript - illiterate. 'Evelyn WAR'?????

  • Comment number 11.

    After watching tonight's repeat of the 1st episode, i was concerned by the way Stephen was quoted from this interview.
    I am referring specifically to the part where he describes how each generation has been threatened by technological trends, from the novel to the internet; instead of the decent linear argument he put forward, you deemed to only include the last part - without context - making Stephen sound as though he was ranting about internet use rather than defending it.
    Bad show, in more than one sense.

  • Comment number 12.

    Just watched episode 4 - and the uncut Stephen Fry interview.

    I really like Stephen Fry - and have respect for his views. I would quite like him to be PM too. :) But: remember: he is neurologically ... diverse (with his bipolar). He is not typical of the population in other ways because of a.) his intelligence and language skills (nb loquacious language skills are often associated with mental disorders/differences) and b.) his commensurate education. Being well-read and understanding of different ideology in an academic or intellectual sense - or even in a political sense, does not necessarily infer social understanding.

    For all his intelligence and insight ... I conjecture he cannot possibly perceive the world in a way that is shared by a majority. He might be incapable of understanding on a deep level the perception of someone quite different from himself.

    Personally - I have Asperger's Syndrome and have had mental health issues. I find it very difficult to understand "society" and often feel disconnected from it.

    nb: the internet has been a "blessing" for me!

    I have a passing interest in neuroscience - and in my mind's eye perform mash-ups of information sources - those pertaining to Asperger's and bipolar for example ... and also given my obsessive interest with technology, the human condition + society and so on. I think I possibly have interesting insights. Of course - maybe I don't. Having such an isolated and ego-centric psyche makes it hard to tell. The facts are that I am reasonably intelligent and do read a great deal of information - both book based and internet based, and have demonstrable skill with complex systems - and therefore I hope I have gained perception of associations but my own "condition" makes it hard for me to monitor or gain perspective over my own status.

    I am particularly interested in the test for associative thinking vs linear thinking and so on - and also how specific areas of our brains are exercised fundamentally differently regarding social communication performed over such contrasting media as face-to-face vs facebook.

    I think if we look at research into neuro-diverse conditions then maybe (not assuredly by any means) there might be insights and enlightenment to be had?

    Just a thought.

    In the available portion of Stephen's interview he does not seem to consider that while the human race frequently undergoes social and ideological revolutions ... changing the way people think so profoundly at the basic levels of brain-operation in a majority-population case as is being investigated by this programme is possibly unprecedented ... and that therefore comparison with previous change e.g. cars and post-boxes is possibly irrelevant? I'm not even sure that the printing press was comparable. Maybe in terms of social-change and the serious push for advancements in technology ... but not necessarily in terms of the essence of our thinking and its pivotal influence on our combined destiny. Previous, successive revolutions, provided the tools for fast pivoted change; tools that have become progressively more powerful and abstracted from cause/effect/linear-feedback since the development of spoken language and abstract concepts.

    I mean: politics. With spoken language and abstract conceptualisation, an individual could change and shape the views of a collective. Not using logic or science, but emotive stories. What is empathy? I have to think about that intellectually. In the programme - was it a facebook co-founder who suggested the web is increasing our shared empathy?

    I am interested (as a diagnosed "individual") as to how much, if at all, the "web" is actually enabling societies/cultures to become homogenised in the way they think by interactively rewarding our agreement with the common ideals through peer review - where all the peers browse the same information and are subject to the same peer review. As an individual, I am scared by this possibility and am reminded of "1984" and "New Speak". Although intended to give everyone equal voice, I'm afraid that the system we call "society" which encourages a shared view of the world - not just via law but via icons ... celebrity that now have us in their daily reach can discourage discord and dissent by actually shaping the way we think.

    Most enjoyable programme.

    Sorry for spelling errors - I normally rely on spell check: and yes - I'm an internet addict. And I get a bit confused sometimes.


  • Comment number 13.

    Stephen Fry truly just makes everything sound inspirational. Thanks for the rushes!

  • Comment number 14.

    Can someone at the BBC please proofread the unintelligible transcript. Really, it should only take about 20 mins.


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