What the net is doing to you

In 1949 Chinese communist leader Chou En-lai was asked about the importance of the 1789 French Revolution. After thinking for a moment he replied: “It is too soon to say.” The effect of the internet on the lives of its users is just as hard to determine. More difficult is working out how life might be different years from now as we adapt to these changes. Net gains But academics are starting to find out how important an agent of social change the internet is, the opportunities it presents for researchers and how to frame policy and practice to cope with its associated changes. We need academics to be leaders not cheerleaders Professor Eli Noam, Columbia University Last week saw the inaugural conference of the Oxford Internet Institute, one of the world’s first research centres dedicated to studying the net and its social consequences. Learning more about the net, the way it accelerates change and harnessing it to help research was key to future political, social and economic policy, said Andrew Graham, economist, Master of Balliol College and a keen supporter of the new institute. “How do we learn fast enough so that we are learning faster than the world changes?” asked Mr Graham, “if we are not learning faster than the world changes then we cannot possibly control it.” By Mark Ward BBC News Online technology correspondent

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