Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for June 2nd, 2007

The Long-term Impact of the Internet

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd June, 2007

broughton_landscape.jpgditchley-park.jpgI’ve been spending this weekend at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire, at a conference on the future impact of the Internet. Ditchley works under ‘Chatham House rules’ — i.e. you don’t say who said what, or where, but you can transmit the gist. Accordingly, I shan’t say who my fellow participants are, nor what they have said, but instead give a general impression of the place and the event. The house is one of those wonderful 18th century symmetrical edifices, that has had a chequered history, switching between British and American owners — which makes it all the more appropriate that it is a major centre for trans-atlantic encounters on foreign affairs (under the auspices of the independent Ditchley Foundation).

This weekend’s gathering was unusual, in that the theme was not mainstream foreign affairs as such, but rather the long-term aspect of the Internet: on how we relate as individuals to the world around us (and to the virtual world), the relevance for politics, the media and business. For someone who has at least one foot in journalism, having the editors of four of the world’s most celebrated newspapers present has been a big bonus, but I have learnt most from some of the techie and academic specialists. I confess I had never heard of Second Life until this weekend (and I certainly have never been tempted to create an avatar). But the Internet is changing the name of the game, and politicians ignore this at their peril.

As an antidote to all this futorology (albeit in exquisite surroundings), a small group of us took advantage of the long Saturday afternoon break to drive over to Broughton Castle, where Lord and Lady Saye and Sele showed us over their extraordinary moated residence and gardens. It’s amazing that such places still exist in private hands (no Communist revolution here, to obliterate history!), a vibrant repository of heritage — in this case, of the Glorious Revolution, though with the 17th century restoration of the monarchy, the republican owner was able to come to a splendidly British compromise and thus survive. These days, the family in residence keeps things ticking over with the occasional lucrative film location contract and allowing visitors in under certain conditions. I have to say that this is one thing that I love about England: the ability to maintain a sense of history, while marching confidently into the new age, Internet and all.

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