Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Online, offline, onwards and upwards.

This first appeared in the Bath Chronicle of March 24 On a recent Tuesday at about 2.30pm something dramatic happened in our office. Grown men exhibited panic. Frustration levels grew. The air was tense - the mood unpredictable. Why? Because, oh reader, the internet had been switched off. For reasons which (as usual) were unfathomable, none of us could get on to our own site (thisisbath), Google was as impossible to access as the mind of Colonel Gaddafi and, to misquote Frankie Howerd, it was a case of "Twitter Ye Not". That sense of minor shock and awe bought on by the loss of our online contact may sound a bit OTT but as the minutes passed into the hours on Tuesday and people got decidedly twitchy it brought home again just how much cyberspace has affected all our lives. As journalists the "interweb" is an essential tool for what we do but it goes much deeper for people like us than a mere resource. So much of our lives both personally and professionally have become entwined in the nether regions of the world wide web that it is only when it is taken away - as it was on Tuesday - that you see how hamstrung and rather bereft people can feel without it. You get the impression some people think life and communication didn't begin until a bright spark thought it would be an idea to link his computer to someone else's just a few short years ago. But it is worth remembering just how few years ago that was. YouTube may, for example, seem to have been around forever and with an estimated two billion videos being shown every day on the site you could believe it took decades to build up that clientele. But YouTube has only been an entity since February 2005 and it (quietly) hit the world at the same time as, for instance, Charles and Camilla announced they were to marry. And that doesn't seem that long ago at all does it? As for Facebook with its 600 million users, that only became available to us as members of the public in 2006 - the same year as Twitter began building up to its now 190 million users. In industry terms these are baby companies and yet they are the biggest, noisiest and most impact-full babies in history. The phenomenal speed in which these sites and the internet has taken over all our daily lives in such a short period of time is, truly, a source of amazement. Life will never be the same again now we have this astonishing technology and the only remaining question is just how much more of our lives will the all-embracing internet envelop. And yet . . . . Anyone watching Comic Relief on Friday night will have seen that for a world that can get so smug about its massive information technology advancements we are remarkably bad at simple things like keeping children from dying of starvation. So, while the world wide web may be developing at a pace the offline world, sadly, seems as slow to really change as it ever did . . .

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