Believe it or not, the world wide web turned 30 on March 11th.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee first submitted his proposal for an information management system in 1989 that was designed to manage and disseminate the growing sprawl of digital data being amassed by universities and researchers around the world. Four years later, CERN released the software behind the “World Wide Web” (the source of the “www” prefix) into the public domain and the first sparks of the modern internet caught the world on fire.
To note the 30th anniversary of his invention, Sir Berners-Lee penned an open letter to the world, but instead of heaping typical birthday platitudes on his brain child, he has reiterated a message of caution and guidance that was formalized last year at the Web Summit technology conference through a campaign called “Contract for the Web“. Because I know your time is precious, I’ll boil down his message for you into a TLDR:
- People are using the web with deliberate malicious intent. Governments, businesses and people must hold the perpetrators accountable.
- Profit and power motives are undermining and perverting the most beneficial power of the internet – the quick and democratic spread of information.
- This same beneficial power enables and empowers hatred and divisive discourse with equal force and we are still struggling with how to temper this unintended consequence.
What this means for you
Sir Berners-Lee’s Contract for the Web has the same lofty ambitions as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in that like the aforementioned accords, the Contract for the Web is not legally binding, but meant to act as a guideline for the betterment of the world, leaving cooperation, enactment and enforcement to individual countries and organizations. But as we can see in today’s political climate, things that are “good for everyone” aren’t always aligned with profit and power which means they don’t get equal time in companies (and governments) ruled by bottom lines and shareholder opinion. Anyone who has spent anytime on the internet, or read even a handful of my blogs on the repeated abuses of our privacy and security knows that we are approaching a tipping point where the negatives of the internet start to outweigh the positives (something we can already see with email), and when this happens, we all lose. For those of us who choose to behave ethically and compassionately, we lose a powerful tool to further our works.
Where does an average person start? Every vote still counts (hopefully) in this country. It’s important to make sure your elected representatives actually represent your values and deserve your vote. Be informed: seek balanced and objective information supported by reputable sources, form opinions and base decisions on facts, not just feelings, and always, always keep an open mind.