The Musings Of Alan Moore
Earlier this year, Lord Carter published ‘Digital Britain’, a major report that
sketches a vision for improving the Internet in the years ahead. It is an
unassailable report, so far as it goes: It calls for modernizing the digital
network infrastructure, developing investment-friendly content and applications,
guaranteeing universal access to the Internet and improving Government
services through better uses of the Internet. The report dutifully mentions the
challenges facing mobile, broadcasting, copyright law and education, and it
cites a variety of experts with their own sense of the future.
The report is a disappointment, however, because it amounts to a plumber’s
guide to the future. It suggests that the primary task facing this country is to
develop better, faster ‘pipes’ to push conventional media content. With little sense of what might fill these pipes
and little examination of the disruptive dynamics of our digitally connected world, the report affirms the status quo.
It smiles upon the existing business models of BT, the BBC and Virgin Media, and implicitly seeks to extend their
dominance over the cultural landscape. To read ‘Digital Britain’, one would think that the nation need only let
business assert greater control over online networks and give government upgraded communications tools to carry
on its customary work. In the words of Joshua Coper Ramo, we are at the start of what may become the most
dramatic change in the international order for several centuries. What we face is an avalanche of ceaseless
change. Yet, some of the best minds of our era are still in thrall to an older way of seeing and thinking.
Little attention is paid to the real dynamics of this current communications revolution that is now transforming
countless corners of our world. Innovators of all creeds – talented amateurs, enterprising schools, resourceful
academics, artists from all creative sectors, self-organized online communities, smart entrepreneurs – are
pioneering new creative genres. They are the creative economic force, inventing new revenue models for
organizations, new intellectual property norms, and new social collaborations that create value. None of these
issues receive as much attention as they deserve.
Which prompts us to ask, do the authors of this report truly understand the
rich promise of this paradigm shift described as the digitally networked
society? When Lord Carter was CEO of OfCom, his then right-hand man,
Ed Richards, described digital’s epochal impact on society as an “evolving,
historic act of liberation.” The reader of ‘Digital Britain’ glimpses few of the
enormous opportunities that might be seized by, via this evolving, historic
act of liberation. The report is a small-bore compendium of policy reforms
and infrastructure improvements that fails to appreciate the immediate
promise of the connected society, technologies of co-operation and the new ways of doing anything and
Yes, we can all agree we need better connectivity. And we need some serious housekeeping. But how might
society leverage digital tools of co-operation to better meet its essential needs? Such basic questions do not get
asked. We need fresh, large-scale ideas, and to see the world as a ceaselessly complex and adaptive system that
demands a different way of thinking.
Think about it like this - the only straight lines made in nature are made by man, and similarly our industrial world
has been built with the same straight-line logic and, philosophy. Yet nature has no straight lines. Nature flows;
nature is more densely connected in all respects. It is a completely different ecosystem, in fact, one that digital
networks emulate. It suggests a different type of process and logic at play that is not centralized, bureaucratic or
For straight-line thinkers, the world of no straight lines is akin to living in a foreign land; the customs, language,
symbols etc., are dis-lo-cating-ly alien – they are outsiders, unable to fully participate, as they do not have the
comprehension, language, nor the insight or the necessary capability to fully engage. They have become
concussed observers to the vital world around them.
The visceral shock, however, is, that this is happening, not in some foreign land,
but in our own backyards.
Our world of business, media, communications, and society are evolving from
the straight-lines of an industrial era to the more complex and networked world
that mimics nature. This interactive networked world isn’t about vertical silos,
traditional notions of product and service creation, mass-production and mass
media and marketing. It is about the massive flows of people who are
autonomously connecting, collaborating, organising and creating in messy,
unpredictable ways. This is truly an engaged and participatory culture.
Yochai Benkler in The Wealth of Networks argues that, for over 150 years our economies, culture and society have
been shaped by a straight-line logic producing considerable economic success. However, in the dawn of the
Networked-Society, a straight-line logic of getting stuff done becomes a barrier to progress. Why? Because, the
change wrought by the networked-society is structural – challenging how markets and organizations have co-
evolved over the last 150 years.
This creates a dilemma. And the dilemma is this – How can organisations, and the people that work in those
organisations, develop coherent strategies, products and services in the new networked environment when they
have been versed only in straight-line thinking from birth?
SEIZING THE MOMENT
We believe that Great Britain needs a larger, more robust vision for the future delivered by a different set of
technological tools. The dynamics of our culture that are now unfolding need to be better explained to the public,
legislators, industry and the press. The boundless energies and imagination of British citizens do not need to be
directed and organized, but rather, unleashed. If you want to build a ship, it has been said, don’t divide the work
and give orders; teach people to yearn for the vast and endless sea.
We need a report that conveys much more about “the vast, endless sea.” It must go beyond the mundane
mechanics of ship-building and sketch the new logic and ways of thinking that our new society is now demanding.
If one looks to the periphery, where innovation always occurs, one can see how digital technologies are enabling
entirely new sorts of capacities in commerce, civil governance, media, healthcare and education. Revolutions are
now raging in open-access scholarly publishing; in scientific data-sharing; in social networking and wikis; in user-
driven collaborations; and in the curation of public-sector information.
The question is, will Britain help co-create and develop the new paradigms of business, learning, creativity, culture
and citizenship? Or will it recommit itself to backward-looking models while other nations capitalize on the novel,
emergent dynamics of digital networks, tools and technologies?
It is important for British leaders to come to terms with some inexorable realities: new gatekeepers will arise in the
information distribution wars. Grassroots collaborations will compete with conventional hierarchies. For example,
socially based innovation is already challenging corporate R&D models.
Digital communication technologies hold the promise to transform this society in the same way that Gutenberg’s 42
Line Bible liberated information from the controlling authority of the church and redistributed it to a wider society,
which subsequently delivered us the Reformation, and the possibility that man and woman for the first time could
make their own way in the world.
The new tools and technologies of co-operation are empowering individuals as never before. They are challenging
the centralized institutions of the 20th Century to be more responsive and transparent. They are enabling value to
be generated more efficiently, with broader participation and new types of collaboration, than in the past. They are
empowering individuals and self-organized communities in ways that many institutions prefer to ignore.
These are the types of issues that this nation must be grappling with frankly and intelligently. This discussion and
debate has yet to occur. We need to have an informed debate that celebrates our diversity – and the inherent
capacity of everyone to contribute in meaningful ways. We need to explore how learning and education can be
made more effective and cost-efficient in a world of universal information access. How can the ‘sharing economy’
that exists outside of the marketplace be fortified to perform its valuable work? How might digital technologies of
co-operation improve the efficiency and responsiveness of healthcare?
Let us explore new participatory, open structures for learning, journalism, arts and culture, community and civic
endeavors, voluntarism and more. Let us challenge government to re-imagine its services to make them more
citizen-friendly and – more significantly accountable. Let us seek to make the ‘public-sector information’ controlled
by museums, universities, archives and other public institutions more accessible to all.
STARTING A NEW DISCUSSION, DEVELOPING A BROADER VISION
Proust once said, “The real voyage of discovery is not seeking new landscapes but, to look
upon the world with fresh eyes.” As the digital revolution swirls around us, it is imperative
that our nation has a more bracing and sophisticated sense of the future. We must have a
more honest reckoning with the transformative power of open platforms that provide
community co-creation, sharing, co-operation and grassroots innovation.
To that end, we propose a small, three-day retreat to address the questions posed above.
We wish to convene some leading thinkers and practitioners who have thought deeply about
how digital technologies are changing the shape of creativity in music, video and journalism;
education and healthcare; media in all its myriad forms; SMEs and emergency services, and
government services at all levels. We need to hear from the guardians of cultural artifacts
and civic organizations, cultural curators and entrepreneurs.
We propose that a report be written that distills the key insights of this gathering, and that the report be widely
disseminated to thought leaders throughout the country, particularly among elected officials, government agencies,
business executives, and prominent leaders in education, healthcare and other nonprofit sectors.
ALAN MOORE, DAVID BOLLIER – 2009.
Alan Moore is a writer, thinker and public speaker on the future of digital
communications and culture. His lectures, from MIT to Cambridge, have
given Alan a global reputation for a fearless expression of how such rapidly
changing technology impacts on our lives.
Author of ‘Communities Dominate Brands’ and ‘Social Media Marketing’,
Alan is also widely credited with influencing Nokia’s acclaimed marketing
This month, Alan shares his thoughts on Digital Britain. Co-written with policy
strategist David Bollier, the piece provocatively assesses the merits and the shortfalls of
Lord Carter’s ‘Digital Britain’ report.
As ever, the objective is to stimulate interest and raise awareness of issues which affect
us all. Just don’t expect an easy ride.
Seizing the moment:
Can Britain harness the promise of digital networks?
historic act of