The Century of Information

Last week, at a seminar held at the James Martin 21st Century School, I was struggling over how to best capture the significance of e-research, in particular, and the social significance of technological change in information and communication technologies, more generally. Today, at a workshop at the OII, Carol Tullo, Director of the Office of Public Sector Information, pointed me to a very recent speech ‘on liberty’ by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, which helps convey the significance of the digital age. He asserted that: “This is the century of information.” To see this in context, the Prime Minister notes:

“Up until now our concerns about privacy have focused on the physical space of our homes and neighbourhoods. What is new about 21st century ideas of privacy is that they rightly extend far beyond the home right across our lives to the way information about us is handled.

This is the century of information. Our ability to compete in the global economy, to protect ourselves against crime and terrorist attack, depends not just on natural wealth or on walls or fences but on our ability to use information – in industry, in our schools and universities, at our borders, in our police forces and intelligence services. …

At the same time, a great prize of the information age is that by sharing information across the public sector – responsibly, transparently but also swiftly – we can now deliver personalised services for millions of people, something not dreamt of in 1945 and not possible even ten years ago. So for a pensioner, for example, this might mean dealing with issues about their pension, meals on wheels and a handrail at home together in one phone call or visit, even though the data about those services is held by different bits of the public and voluntary sectors.”

It is a long speech, and news reports generally failed to capture this theme, but I think it is a promising phrase, and a potentially powerful theme for the government to prioritize. Is this the century of information?

For the full ‘Speech on Liberty’, see: http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page13630.asp

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