Digital commons: Does new technology add up to a new public sphere? at the 2007 Battle of Ideas conference hosted by the Institute of Ideas.
New technology has become so closely associated with public engagement, both culturally and politically, that it has been heralded as a new democracy in and of itself. Undoubtedly we are in an era in which people have the freedom to access and create public information like never before, challenging traditional expertise and deference to authority: citizen journalists break stories, bands shoot to No 1 without A&R men from major labels, and presidential candidates connect with their electorate via YouTube.
But how revolutionary is new technology really? Often it is respected off-line institutions that seem to dominate the digital commons, even setting-up shop in Second Life. Add to that 10 Downing Street e-petitions, MPs' blogs and the mainstream media flocking online, and is the internet not just coming to reflect the existing power structures of real life? Are multinational corporations and political parties simply using new technology for their own traditional ends?
Or are we truly witnessing the birth of the coffee shop of the 21st century - a new space for trading ideas and participating in public life? New technology has certainly opened the door for the majority, rather than the minority, to create and have their say and engage in political activism. Witness the instant mobilisation generated by Live8's use of text-messaging, or Chinese activists' ability to communicate beneath the radar of the authorities. But do the masses-on-the-mouse match up to the hyperbole about a UGC-led transformation of politics and culture? Are cultural theorists and political e-warriors correct in arguing that the web is indeed bringing about a new renaissance - even revolution? Or is the parallel universe of the web just that: a space which - despite all the 'passionate users' creating and communicating - has little impact on democracy, creativity or participation?- IoI
Mike Carr is Chief Science Officer at BT, where he is responsible for the world-leading research and commercial exploitation unit, including the Patent Licensing and Corporate Venturing activities.
Mike has a first class honours degree in Communication Engineering. He joined BT as a Technician Apprentice in 1972, then moved to the Visual Communication Research Division at BT Labs in 1980. During his 15 years there his career focused on the research, development and practical design of real-time audio-visual and multimedia communications systems. He has several patents to his name in the field of video compression, and is the holder of two prestigious BT awards: the Martlesham Medal for R&D (1992) and the BT Gold medal (1994) for leading multimedia product developments.
From 1994 Mike was responsible for driving BT's company-wide technology acquisition strategy, and from 1999 he was based in Silicon Valley, California, where he established BT's US Technology office and Corporate Venturing activity. He returned to the UK in 2001 to take on his current post of leading BT's Research and Venturing activities.
Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the twice-monthly muckraking newsletter CounterPunch, whose Web site, www.counterpunch.org, now has a world audience in the millions.
Born and raised in Ireland, son of Claud and Patricia Cockburn, Alexander Cockburn was educated in Ireland, Scotland and England. He graduated from Oxford in 1963. He worked in London for a decade on the Times Literary Supplement, the New Statesman and New Left Review. He emigrated to the United States in 1973, worked on the Village Voice and began to contribute to a wide range of publications including the New York Review of Books, Harpers, and the Atlantic.
He has established a reputation as one of the foremost reporters and commentators of the left by writing newspaper and magazine columns for three decades. Cockburnâ€™s areas of interest include the American political scene, economics, the environment, labour issues and international policy, the perils of conspiracism.
The author of a bi-weekly column for The Nation called Beat the Devil, Cockburn also writes a syndicated newspaper column that is distributed nationally by Creators Syndicate and has appeared regularly in such papers as the Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Examiner, Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Detroit Free Press. In 1987, Cockburn authored a highly successful collection of essays, some autobiographical, entitled Corruptions of Empire, for which he was called 'the most gifted polemicist now writing in English' by the Times Literary Supplement. His diary of the late 1980s and early 1990s, The Golden Age Is In Us, drew enthusiastic reviews from many sources, such as the New York Times, which wrote of Cockburn, 'a warrior freethinker, armed with courage and gifted prose to cut down the hypocrisies of tyrants.'
Paul Evans is one of the co-founders of Poptel Technology Ltd. Many of their projects are designed to motivate sections of society that currently do not use the internet.
Local councillors are one such group, and the Councillor.info project has worked with over thirty local authorities, encouraging councillors to become active managers of personal websites.
Paul has also specialised in promoting web technologies to the labour movement. He has worked on website projects for almost all of the major unions and many of the smaller ones.
Previously, Paul worked as an assistant to an MEP, specialising in the regulation of Digital TV. In his spare time, he helped the New Statesman to establish the first New Statesman New Media Awards in 1998.
Patrick Hayes is the promotions manager for the Battle of Ideas and head of research and development for TSL Education, publishers of Times Educational Supplement and the Times Higher Education Supplement.
Formerly a writer and researcher for the Times Educational Supplement (TES), Hayes has written a chapter on 'What's Motivating Students?' in the newly published A Lecturer's Guide to Further Education: Inside the 'Cinderella Sector' (OUP). Hayes occasionally writes articles for spiked and reviews for Culture Wars.
Brendan O'Neill is the editor of spiked. He started his career in journalism at spiked's predecessor, Living Marxism, until it was forced to close in 2000 following a notorious libel action brought by ITN.
O'Neill writes widely for publications on both sides of the Atlantic. His journalism has been published in the New Statesman, the Spectator, the Guardian, The Sunday Times, the British Journalism Review, the Press Gazette and the Catholic Herald in Britain. He is also a feature-writer for the Christian Science Monitor in America and for the BBC in Britain.
He writes a weekly blog for the Guardian website, Comment Is Free.
He is a British correspondent for the Polish political weekly PrzeKroj, and has written for newspapers and magazines in Australia, South Africa, Canada, India, Germany, France, Italy and Denmark. His work covers everything from war and terrorism to free speech and junk food. He was a consultant for the book Human, published by Dorling Kindersley and winner of the British Medical Association Medical Book Award 2005.