Conformity could kill the net, Freeserve warns

18 Mar 2003

The technology research director of pioneering UK internet service provider Freeserve has slammed the growing sense of conformity and political correctness within the internet and its related technologies for stifling cultural diversity and individualism, resulting in a universally bland experience that could ultimately kill technology development.

Speaking at MIT Media Lab’s recent Open House on how new technologies supports and betters a multilingual, multicultural society, Dr Norman Lewis of Freeserve said he felt that while technology has managed to bring a multitude of societies and cultures together, too much effort to unify rules could lead to a “blandness” that could stifle cultural diversity and ultimately slow technology development.

“Technology is too often being presented as a substitute for real social progress both here and in the developing world. By placing IT on a pedestal and presenting it as a solution to the world’s problems, we are setting up a development agenda that will fail to deliver,” he said.

Lewis referenced a number of social inclusion initiatives in the UK aimed at bridging the ‘digital divide’ where internet access was provided to the less well off, when housing support might have been more appropriate. He also touched on the availability of broadband.

“While every group in society can potentially see themselves as separately constituted or victims of circumstance I am suspicious of the use of multiculturalism in technology as it can block potential. Technology in the western world is no more than an enabler and for it to truly flourish we need to encourage standardisation. Ironically, it is only through an open environment and common platform that society and diversity can be integrated,” he continued.

Lewis told “The problem is too much conformity. The internet, rather than being seen as a space that encourages diversity, it actually demands conformity. My concern is with the internet itself, which is based on universal standards and protocols, everything has to comply or nothing will work. I think it is brilliant that there is a universal medium that everybody can participate in, in a way that breaks down all kinds of boundaries. But too much conformity in both the technology and the way we communicate could rob people of the ability to make their own decisions or be transformative agents of their own destinies,” he warned.

By John Kennedy