WEEKLY WEB WATCH: It’s the e-conomy, stupid: Net firms must educate politicians

Despite all their use of the Internet - and all their talk about it - politicians have yet to come to grips with the Internet. And that goes just as much for the two men battling to become president (notwithstanding Al Gore’s claim that he invented the darn thing.)

Despite all their use of the Internet - and all their talk about it - politicians have yet to come to grips with the Internet. And that goes just as much for the two men battling to become president (notwithstanding Al Gore’s claim that he invented the darn thing.)

Despite all their use of the Internet - and all their talk about it

- politicians have yet to come to grips with the Internet. And that goes

just as much for the two men battling to become president

(notwithstanding Al Gore’s claim that he invented the darn thing.)



That’s hardly startling news, but if we needed evidence, we now have it,

in the form of a study by Forrester Research. The report says that

presidential candidates must sharpen their e-business thinking, broaden

their base of advisers and develop more detailed policies. It also says

that the next president should start a National Internet Service -

establishing a youth service to counteract the shortage of technical

skills in schools.



The stakes are very high indeed.



The Internet is the key to the economic prosperity of the past few

years.



But it could very well be the key to its downfall. It is the root of the

biggest economic and social change to sweep the world since the early

19th century. It is confronting not just businesses but legislators, law

enforcement agencies and the courts with some of the biggest challenges

they have ever faced.



The next president’s views on the Internet could arguably affect our

lives more profoundly than his views on pretty much anything else. How

should the Net be allowed to develop - or be regulated? How should the

companies using it be regulated? Should our online purchases be

taxed?



How can we guarantee openness of access in the face of the super

conglomerates that will follow AOL/Time Warner? What freedom of choice

of content will we have? What rights of privacy will we have in the face

of companies with the power to know our every online move? Indeed, what

rights of online privacy will we have against the government itself?

These are all issues on which we are going to trust the judgement of the

next president.



But if politicians - and the presidential candidates in particular -

don’t ’get’ the Net, the people running hi-tech companies and dot-coms

have been politically naive. Many hold libertarian views, believing the

best government of the Net is one that governs it least, leaving the new

masters of the universe - the people running the tech companies and the

dot-coms - to get on with their job. Many believe that the social and

economic changes wrought by the Internet are unstoppable - too powerful

to be influenced by mere politicians. They’re right that it can’t be

stopped. But the shape of the changes can be influenced, and in the

wrong hands we could all be left less free, and socially and culturally

poorer.



The Internet industry and the businesses that depend on it must,

according to Forrester, get political. They must learn to lobby. They

must educate politicians. And they must start working to convince people

about the rightness of their actions rather than taking the profoundly

arrogant, ’we know best’ attitude that has characterized the industry’s

handling of things like the furor over online privacy.



Technology has no morality; people do. And it’s people who determine how

technologies will be used. We must determine what sort of lives we want

to lead in a world where we move through a cloud of ever-denser

electronic connections. It’s our right too, and we would be failing in

our duty to ourselves if we continued to usher politicians into office

who are untested on these issues



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