The Death of Celebrity

As the year wraps up, there must be some news websites seriously considering whether to introduce new ‘Obituary’ sections alongside their usual News, Sport and Entertainment pages. After all, nothing drives click-throughs like a reminder that even the famous remain subject to the same rules as the rest of us and its been a busy year.

Yet even as the number of fake reports increase (although nothing that can top the original ‘Paul Is Dead‘ story from the heyday of The Beatles), is it the case that more of our celebrities are shuffling off this mortal coil than ever before? Perhaps some kind of Faustian pact is now a compulsory precursor to fame, a contract that must be signed in secret before your image, name or content may be shared online? Or is this just another case of the wisdom of the crowd, collectively latching onto another story, this time about the so-called ‘Curse of 2016’?

With no hard evidence either way, here’s my thoughts. We’re only now starting to see the effects of an increasingly heavily networked and interconnected world play out. Think of the number of minor celebrities we have today. The fifteen minutes of fame both bestowed upon and grasped at by so many leaves a trail of famous names, regardless of whether such fame is well-deserved or the inevitable byproduct of some mostly forgotten minor notoriety.

I can’t see the current situation changing. Indeed, as we each become aware of more people through a mesh of our networks covering locale, music, video, politics, profession and, in more general terms, TV, the chances of the number of ‘famous deaths’ doing anything other than increasing year on year must be tiny.

So 2016? It’s not good, it’s not bad.

It just is.

As an aside, it used to be the case that reading the Obituaries section of olde worlde newspapers used to be as valid a destination for learning as the reports of current affairs that monopolised the first few pages. With the passage of time, at least some of the bias can be erased and actions placed into context. If you want a place to learn about those who’ve done something special with the time they were given, you could do far worse than listen to the excellent  ‘Last Word‘ podcast.

Alas as the years pass, I suspect that increasing numbers of subjects for inclusion won’t translate into an equivalent increase in lives worth reporting. Our am I too cynical?

Dot Everyone and Digital Inclusion

Last night Martha Lane-Fox gave a hugely inspirational talk for the 2015 Richard Dimbleby Lecture. You can read the transcript here (and watch it here for the next month in the UK).

In short, it’s a call to arms. As is usually the case when digital issues are publicised in front of a mainstream audience, it has inevitably provoked discussion both for and against some of the themes raised during the course of 40 minutes.

But I recommend that you watch and/or read it. I fully endorse a number of the points that she makes and if you do too, I suggest that you consider signing the petition to call on the incoming UK government to take the points raised seriously.

In short, there were three main themes: increasing general understanding and usage of the internet at all levels of society; increasing the involvement of women in technology; and addressing the burgeoning ethical and moral issues that such advances generate.

After quoting Aaron Schwartz (“It’s not ok not to understand the internet anymore”), she hit the nail on the head by pointing out the all-too-real problem that we have today. Many of those with responsibility for regulation are often woefully under-educated about the technologies that they seek to legislate. To me, this is no more clearly illustrated than within the continued debate around the value of encryption.

Whilst there may be challenges, the reality of living within an increasingly digital world is that we have the opportunity to develop new business processes within the public sector that kill off inefficient and ultimately dangerous methods that exist by default. As she points out, technology provides us with an opportunity to “save money from the cold world of paper and administration and invest more in the warm hands of doctors, nurses and teachers”.

As for the call for more women in tech? Nothing new there, perhaps. But it’s old news quite simply because it’s true. The skills gap that we are currently accelerating towards is being either wilfully or negligently ignored by those who have the power to institute widespread change from above. Seeing this  reflected within the Bitcoin community has prompted me to progress a few initiatives on this front which you’ll (hopefully) hear more about during this year but I do think we have to accept ownership for solving this problem lies with each of us as individuals.

Martha Lane Fox’s idol is Dame Stephanie Shirley, a recent visitor to Edinburgh. If you need further context, watch her talk from the Informatics Ventures event here (I’ll blog more fully about her story at some point soon).

I’ve gone on long enough. If you’ve read this, you’ve certainly got enough time to read the transcript. Perhaps even to watch the talk. And you should. You can argue with some of the finer points that she makes but Martha Lane Fox hits delivers an important talk here and one worth listening to.