LibLink: Tim Farron: Why politicians need to get tech savvy – or get left behind

web snoopers charterWe know that Tim Farron is an early adopter of new technologies. Just look at him on Twitter.  He’s written for the Huffington Post about how important it is that policy makers keep up with technological changes. He also outed himself as doing something we’d not really expect of him:

So while catching up with the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty, my ears pricked up during a talk by Joanna Shields, Digital Advisor to the Prime Minister. We live in a world where a three year old can be more comfortable with an iPad than a fifty year old. Technology is improving in leaps and bounds but policy makers rarely keep up with it. Legislation is sluggish, policy passes its sell by date and governments can be slow to engage with new success stories.

Catching up with WHAT?

So while catching up with the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty, my ears pricked up.


But I digress. Why is this stuff important?

There is a very real risk that policymakers ignore the tech sector because they don’t understand it or because they are scared of not looking like an expert. I think this blind spot is also linked to overly managerial politic: politics that responds more to polls than to fresh opportunities, that listens to focus groups in order to invent new ways of saying the same thing, rather than engaging dynamically with the new innovations emerging.

According to Policy Exchange’s Technology Manifesto, the internet economy will account for more than 12% of UK GDP by 2016. Britain already has an online retail trade surplus of $1 billion – more than the USA and Germany combined. At the same time, we face an aging society, unprecedented population growth, a shifting and insecure geo-political landscape and the aftermath of the biggest financial shock since the Great Depression. If we are to defy Malthusian propositions of doom, we must take this sector seriously.

And what do we need to do about it?

We need to nurture the Tech Sector and build it for the future – embedding IT skills within the curriculum even more, helping people feel happier using the web by creating a Digital Bill of Rights, stabilising and protecting the internet as a force for good and for liberty and making sure no one gets left out of the digital leap. If we want a stronger economy and a fairer society, we must get tech savvy.

You can read the whole article here. 

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  • Tony Greaves 5th Jul '14 - 12:28pm

    Total global population is probably going to peak around 2070 and then start to slowly decline. Malthusian doom is a myth.

    Tony Greaves

  • daft ha'p'orth 5th Jul '14 - 2:26pm

    Okay. On the one hand I applaud Farron for taking an interest. On the other, we get wave upon wave upon crashing tsunami of technically illiterate people queuing up to prove their credentials as bona fide members of the new tech universe.

    We’re told that a person can be trained to teach computer programming in a day (according to Lottie Dexter of Year of Code fame, who quit a few months into that year to become a special advisor to Matthew Hancock but apparently never found the time to learn to ‘code’ herself). I have no objection to teaching kids basic HTML but that isn’t ‘learning to code’. We’re told that all kids need IT skills, that you can pick them up in an hour, that kids are naturally ‘digitally literate’ (see next point) and that somehow this sort of thing ‘nurtures the tech sector’. That’s a pretty clear indicator that the tech sector and basic PC skills are unhealthily conflated in the minds of politicians.

    We get people throwing the word ‘digital’ into every argument in the manner of a Tourette syndrome sufferer. Stop it. Do not say you ‘value digital’ or that your country has a ‘digital future’ or that businesses are ‘digital’. These are clear linguistic signs of bandwagon-jumping. These concepts are meaningless in themselves. The primary meaning these terms have acquired is ‘Dear Government, if you give me money then you too can be an honorary hipster’. The primary meaning these terms have when used by governments is ‘Yes, I will buy and resell your hype’.

    Britain at large does need what Google occasionally refer to as ‘digital literacy’, which is really a combination of ‘critical thought and evaluation’ (which one can and should learn in English class, incidentally), basic library skills, a certain level of understanding of how the web works and the same sort of natural caution that one should apply when receiving an unsolicited telephone call. Britain also needs basic computer problem-solving skills, although in practice that can and probably will remain something that comes down to ‘having a mate who knows how to fix the computer’ for many people. But these are basic literacies. They have essentially nothing to do with supporting the tech sector, unless you count the side-effect that as more people become comfortable with computers the internet economy will continue to grow.

    The tech sector has specific needs that are not represented by Farron’s article. Farron has also missed the point that dear old London and the overhyped, overheated South East, despite all the government money that has been spent, are not unique in having tech startups. The Silicon Roundabout is a slightly unhealthily political marketing exercise. I encourage Farron to spend more time on some of the less aggressively marketed technology clusters to develop, and share, a more balanced view. And perhaps spend less time on Twitter, which really isn’t ‘a key component’ in ‘our lives’ .

    @Tony Greaves
    The Malthusian digression in the article strikes me as a non-sequitur in an article full of nice-sounding non-sequiturs (Twitter! Three year olds with ipads! Tech City! Look at us supporting young entrepreneurs! Dynamic engagement! Innovation! Internet economy! Dooooooom! Transformation! Make new law! Legislate! Legislate! Mainstreaming as a verb! IT in school! Digital leap forward! Fair society! Strong economy!). Reading politicians discussing technology reliably causes my eyes to bleed. There is a discussion to be had about ensuring that an aging employee population are kept up to date on skills for the (actual) tech sector, though, but nobody wants to be seen hanging out with unemployed 50-year-old victims of age discrimination hoping to retrain into Oracle database administration….

  • I agree with much of what daft h’a’porth has written, politicians make poor legislators for technology. Whilst I’m sure he’s well-meaning, Farron is a prime example of the technologically myopic MP wandering blindly into potentially dangerous legislation.

    He supported EDM 869, seemingly written by the big tech giants earlier in the year – a version of the Digital Bill Of Rights concept that ONLY APPLIED TO GOVERNMENTS! Thanks Tim, lets make it so that Google & Apple has all the rights we’re stripping from our government! Also, one of the most ridiculous EDMs I’ve ever seen!

    In 2007 Farron signed EDM 1240, and later EDM 908 in 2010, in support of the provision of homeopathic services funded by the NHS. After it was pointed out to him that he was supporting scientific fraud he mysteriously withdrew his support for 908, without explanation.

    In 2012 Farron signed a letter from his parliamentary Christian group, complaining that they were “no longer able to claim, in their advertising, that God can heal people from medical conditions.” He squirmed and retracted here too – his interactions on these subjects have been embarrassingly wide of the mark over and over again.

    I find it disturbing how many Lib Dems seem to think Farron has good ideas regarding science & technology and that we should support them! Look at the evidence.

  • daft ha’p’orth – you dissected Tim Farron so effortlessly that I almost feel sorry for him !

    @ Tony Greaves – yes, and surprising how few people are aware of that. See e.g. graph at p.23 of latest UN report:

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