Book review by David O'Toole
At the heart of the Institute of Ideas new book series seems to be the recognition that
although there is a great deal of public interest in many topics of the day the debates are
frequently sidelined. Some are marked out by political correctness as too hot to handle, others
such as those around green issues, have become a matter of political orthodoxy. In addition, we
seem increasingly to have a culture which shies away from intellectual confrontation and the
clash of ideas.
The cleverly punning Debating Matters series covers twelve debates from Abortion and
Ethical Tourism to Reality TV. All of the series draw on informed and diverse opinion from
many quarters. The books and their chosen topics do not baldly present pro or anti choices,
but do offer robust intellectual arguments drawing on diverse and informed opinion.
In The Internet: Brave New World? Dolan Cummings from the
Institute of Ideas,
Ruth Dixon a consultant specialising in online safety and policy, Dr. Chris Evans of
Helene Guldberg and Sandy Starr, Managing Editor and Press and PR
Officer respectively at online publication
spiked and Peter Watts sociologist at
Canterbury Christ Church University College contribute closely argued opinions on
aspects of the debates surrounding the way the Internet is perceived by society.
The debates that rage around the topic of the Internet are many and diverse; from the
digital divide to intellectual property rights. Chris Evans offers excellent insight into
the arguments that are offered up as indisputable common sense surrounding the use,
for example, of file sharing programs and their threat to intellectual property rights.
It is not the rights of the artist that are under threat but the established profitability
of the industry which is at stake he explains.
Ruth Dixon is upbeat about the benefits of the Internet and although she urges that care
must be taken to ensure that the Internet is a safe environment for both adults and children
she is concerned that we do not lose the benefits in pursuing that those concerns. To do so,
she says, would be tantamount to "shooting the messenger".
From censorship and hate speech to privacy and online democracy this slim booklet is ambitious
in scope yet surprisingly, it does not disappoint. If you are interested in the debates
surrounding the new Internet related technologies I can recommend this booklet.
If your interests are broader take a look at the Debating Matters series.
(Ruth Dixon and Dr. Chris Evans spoke at The Great Debate:
Technophobia and Technophilia in November 2002 and Helene Guldberg spoke at
Determined to Survive? The Great Debate - Freedom, Determinism and the Gene
in June 2000, see Previous Events)