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9:07pm on Friday, 3rd May, 2013:



The School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering had a visit from the Chancellor of Essex University today, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. He seems a fairly decent chap, to be honest.

When he gave us a small, informal talk, he said he lamented the fact that a lot of what we're doing in CSEE is about communications, but that communications is undermining community. People today are less likely to get to know people in real life, because they spend so much of their time online. As a result, real-life communities are suffering.

Hmm. Well that's a fair enough view if you mean communities formed of people based on where they live in the real world, but those aren't where communications come into their own. Communications allow you to join communities to which you otherwise would have no access. I didn't go to an independent school and didn't thence go on to Cambridge: Lord Phillips moves in circles — communities — from which I am completely excluded. Communications allow the democratisation of communities: you don't need personal ties to become a member (those come later); if you can't join a community because the people in it shut you out, you can find like-minded people on the Internet and hook up with those to form a new community.

I'm never going to get an OBE, let alone be raised to the House of Lords. I'm not part of the communities from which such people are drawn. I am, however, able to talk to people who are interesting and whose views I respect, who are making a real impact on the world for the better. Internet communications allow me to do that.

Communities are great, yes, if you're in the right ones.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to out these views to Lord Phillips himself. The first time I was about to, a random passing Member of Parliament dropped in and derailed proceedings. When I tried again 20 minutes later, four students were presented to him when I was next in line to talk. I did get to eat cake, though, so all was not lost.

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Copyright © 2013 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).