Bishop of Hereford's Article - Hereford Times 01/11/18
Tim Berners-Lee: there can be few people who have had such an impact on human history but who have been so relatively little known.
Sir Tim invented the World Wide Web in 1989. I was interested, but not surprised, to find that very few of a large number of secondary school children I was with recently had heard of him. But what a difference he has made to our lives.
Last month, though, Sir Tim made a remarkable admission. He admitted that his brainchild has “evolved into an engine of inequity and division, swayed by powerful forces who use it for their own agendas”.
This contrasts with what one newspaper article described as Sir Tim’s “egalitarian principles and intention that the sharing of information would benefit humanity”.
Recent misuse of data and abuse of the internet have led Sir Tim to intend “to guide the web on to a better path…………… to help protect the integrity and quality of the web”.
There are two aspects of this story which I find both challenging and encouraging. First, there is the fact that an extremely distinguished, brilliant man has been prepared to acknowledge and respond to the down side of his own achievements. He hasn’t just blamed everybody else and told them off; he is disillusioned with how his creation is being used, and is doing something about it. That’s impressive.
Secondly, there is the reminder that there is a negative, dark side to many inventions which are in principle to be welcomed and valued. I am certainly not advocating an approach like that of the Luddites, the textile workers in the 19th century who destroyed weaving machinery because they saw its introduction as threatening their jobs. I value new technology as much as anyone, however bemused I am by much of it. But there are dangers in just accepting all developments uncritically.
The rise of social media has meant that we are more connected than people have ever been. But there is considerable evidence that alongside its many benefits, social media can have a detrimental effect on our mental health, particularly that of young people. Low self-esteem leading to depression, bullying, feeling low when other people’s images and lifestyles are highlighted: all these and more can come about through excessive use of social media.
What’s the antidote? Rejoicing in what’s good, awareness of the dangers and moderation in all things.
Bishop of Hereford.