Bishop of Derby celebrates 25th anniversary of world wide web

On 16th January 2014, the Bishop of Derby took part in a debate to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the world wide web. He spoke about the huge advances enabled by the world wide web, but also of the challenges presented by technological advances. 

DerbyThe Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, on introducing a party into this Chamber. Perhaps the screens should have moving images and the lights should move much more quickly.

The world wide web is a wonderful development but it is full of challenges. It is a mixed bag, as we have heard from a number of noble Lords. Regarding health, I was part of the IF campaign for enough food for everybody, and the web enabled that campaign to involve all kinds of people. It was inclusive, flexible, transparent, participative and enormously successful. The web is the new political tool.

On the other hand, I have been involved in debates in the past couple of months in this Chamber—as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, hinted—about online pornography, the objectification of women and the bullying of young people. There is a dark side to the internet and we should not be surprised at that, given that this is human nature engaging with a wonderful invention with all kinds of dark possibilities.

I am reminded from my experience of being a university teacher that when students writing an essay searched the web to fill up a couple of pages, you could always tell—the information just did not fit with the main argument because they did not understand the angle it came from. The information that the web is so wonderful at making available needs interpretation. Wisdom is interpretation on a very wide scale—a big picture—and the bigger the picture, the more you can see, appreciate and interpret.

The marvel of this world wide web is that you can now hold it in the palm of your hand, and, with one finger—or two thumbs, if you are more dextrous than me—control the web and have the information come to you. That raises huge questions about how we help people interpret all the information, temptation and possibilities. My simple question is: what is the role of a Government concerned about human rights and human welfare in trying to give people a hinterland and some tools, with allies—which allies the Government would recognise is another question—so that there is a big picture to help people interpret? People talk about giving parental control. That is a technical solution, but parents and others need a kind of hinterland; a wider vision with which all this information can be processed, evaluated and deployed creatively.

Lord Bates: …As well as the economic issues, we have also had outlined for us the philosophical, almost theological issues, most notably by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, who spoke of the information overload—the scope of what we have. The picture of holding the world in the palm of your hand was very powerful. I was able to scroll up on my—I do not think I am allowed to say the brand—personal internet device and find that line from TS Eliot, when he bewails in “The Rock”:

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?”.

Placing things in context, understanding wisdom, is something that we all have to be aware of, not least the Government…