Douglas Carswell

19 NOV 2012

The web means people power

As an MP, my advice surgeries are an opportunity for any constituent to come to see me about pretty much anything.  They've given me a number of insights, not least a sense of how the internet is giving people power.

Take just two examples from last week.

An elderly man came to see me because he has, for months, been lobbying a state agency to release information as to the whereabouts of someone he wanted to get in touch with.

Set aside whether the data protection rules that prevented this from happening were right or wrong. Overlook the question of whether this is something an MP should get involved in.

What I thought striking was that, opening up my lap top, my constituent and I were able to search online and get a name and address within a matter of minutes. Instead of begging a government organisation to provide the data, my constituent (after a crash course in Google) was able to get it himself.

A few moments later another constituent told me how a child had been taken ill in their family. In the time it took the child to be seen by a specialist, the family had been able to make a correct diagnosis. How? The internet, again.

Of course many will recoil at the idea of self diagnosis online. There's a lot of alarmist, inaccurate nonsense on the web, particularly when it comes to matters medical. But the fact is that obtaining information and asking questions online allowed this family to get their loved one the right treatment faster than if they had stood in line and waited for the analogue experts to deliver their verdict.

When we seek answers online, we are not asking a giant super computer that stores the sum of all human knowledge. Instead we are harvesting the knowledge of millions, skimming a vast reservoir of insight and wisdom.

"Wisdom?" you bridle. "A lot of what is online is anything but wise".

Absolutely. But in aggregate the web is surprisingly wise – not least when compared to the wisdom of experts.

Before the internet, we lived in a world where the great repositories of wisdom were those with a monopoly of knowledge.  Government departments, officials and experts knew - so they decided.

What is so revolutionary about the web is not merely that raw data is aggregated, but sentiment, too.  Everybody will be able to draw on this vast, collective brain to make decisions and live their lives.

It will change more than just MP advice surgeries.

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The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy

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