We’ve Been Watching – The Virtual Revolution

by Lynn Connolly

I suppose it had to happen sometime, this in-depth look at how the internet is shaping the world, and Saturday’s first part of four Virtual Revolution programmes deployed some clever strategies to make the present sound like history.

And of course, the internet is history in the making because it’s constantly evolving. Even though it’s been up and running for fifteen years, it’s still – arguably – in its infancy and the scope for it is limitless.

In this film, both the history and the possibilities were well presented by deploying some big names – from Sir Tim Berners-Lee who set the whole ball rolling to Bill Gates whose life has been dedicated to it to Stephen Fry who’s somewhat jaded about it – and applying a liberal dose of the ever-so-brainy Aleks Krotoski to hold our hands and guide us through it.

And guidance is needed if we’re to view the nature of the ‘net as a whole. It’s just too big to break down into more easily swallowed bits, so because it’s a hugely elaborate maze, best to take an overview than go down each corridor.

To that end, it was nicely done; clever graphics alongside interesting facts made it infinitely more watchable than it might have been. Some of those facts are ones that’ll stick in my head for ages, such as Harrogate being the place where most of this country’s online porn is watched, and Swansea being the online shopping capital.

Who’da thunked! I thought Harrogate was all elderly ladies taking tea and strolls along the front with dogs that resemble slippers, but I was wrong for it seems beneath Harrogate’s ultra respectable veneer beats a heart labeled XXX.

There were funny moments too, such as comedian Lee Siegel’s irreverent jibes at Wikipedia and John Perry Barlow – once in the band the Grateful Dead – on the subject of cyberspace.

However, despite all the facts and figures, and a look at the big players on the ‘net – Bill Gates, YouTube, Amazon, Google et al – Krotoski summed up the power of the ‘net for me in one sentence when she said, “The lack of regulation means that those with the most resources shout loudest and impose their authority.”

See, not much changes does it? It’s been that way forever and will continue to be so, no matter how “empowering” the ‘net is or becomes, only those with the money to back their ideas are likely to make a big profit from it.

But whatever conclusions one might personally draw about the internet as a subject matter, this film was interesting to watch for those of us with a vested interest in the ‘net, and in fact, for those who haven’t and just have an interest in the subject.

If you missed it, you can catch it on BBC’s iPlayer here.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.