Sunday, 25 August 2019

Caversham Heights Society

THERE was only one evening talk for the society during January.

This was a very topical talk on “The Digital Society: danger, disruption and opportunity” given by Nick Jones, former head of digital communications at No 10 Downing Street during David Cameron’s premiership.

He is now working for the HS2 project and is also an adviser to business and
government.

Nick began his talk by explaining how he became involved with the internet and digital communications while he was working with Craig Oliver on the student magazine at St Andrew’s University.

He then went into journalism and became fascinated by new and digital forms of communicating the news.

He said that his whole life had ben affected by digital technology because the internet was launched in 1969, the year of his birth.

Today, more than 90 per cent of the UK population is connected through computers, smart phones, iPads or tablets and numerous other gadgets developed either by Apple or Microsoft.

Nick said that he became even more involved when, as a civil servant, he was asked to help set up a digital communications network at No 10. Until then the Government was way behind the times technologically.

Now it is used daily for distributing masses of information through the Central Office of Communication to, or through, numerous government departments, such as the Ministry of Defence as well as the NHS and the Environment Agency.

Some of the information is precisely that, information, and some is propaganda such as used by Russia Today. Nick stressed that technology as such is neutral. How it is used might not be. It now provides global interconnectedness in a matter of seconds, providing instant news, although how this is presented is often biased.

Nick also stressed three aspects of the digital revolution — create, connect and share:

• Creative ideas can now be easily shared with like- minded friends and
colleagues.

• The whole world is now connected.

• Photographs, “selfies” and personal news can quickly be shared.

These are the positives. The negatives, however, include fake news, false information, incitement to terrorism, hatred or violence, pornographic images, encouragement to self-harm, the “dark web”, easily accessed by sexual predators across the world, and cyber attacks, either perpetrated by criminals or by enemy countries such as Russia or China.

Unfortunately, our security and police forces, let alone the Government, are several steps behind and the laws to curb, control or block such activities are often even further behind.

While much good has arisen from the digital age there are still many moral and ethical issues that need to be addressed urgently.

This was an interesting and thought-provoking talk. Unfortunately, it was delivered too quickly and with a broad Glaswegian accent so it was not always easy to catch everything that was said.

What came across very clearly, however, was the great gulf in the knowledge, use and awareness of digital matters between the older generation such as many members of the society and the “tech savvy” younger generation to whom this is part of daily life.

Meetings of the society are held at the Caversham Heights Methodist Church hall in Highmoor Road every other Wednesday, beginning with coffee and chat at 7.15pm. New members are welcome.

For more information, email cavershamheights.org or visit www.caversham
heights.org

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