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The Internet: Brave New World?

From the Debating Matters Series by the Institute of Ideas in collaboration with Hodder and Stoughton.

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 Internet Freedom, 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)

Order books from the Debating Matters series from Amazon
The Internet: Brave New World? Science: Can You Trust the Experts? Designer Babies: Where Should We Draw the Line? Nature's Revenge?: Hurricanes, Floods and Climate Change Art: What Is It Good For?

Useful Links
Institute of Ideas spiked-online

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© C J M Hewett, 2003