Life:Connected for BBC Future

BBC Worldwide launched its handsome new global technology site, BBC Future, earlier this month. And I’m delighted to say that I’m writing a fortnightly column called Life:Connected for it, exploring the cultural and philosophical aspects of technology around the world.

At the moment, for licence-fee related issues, the site is only accessible to those outside the UK. For those of you not living in Britain, then, here are the first few paras of my first two columns, with links below to the full pieces.

And for my fellow Brits: hopefully both you and I will be able to access the site at some point in the not-too-distant future…

1. Why we should all learn to hack

There is an old joke amongst computer programmers: “There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.” Not funny to everyone, but it makes a neat point. We now live in a world divided between those who understand the inner workings of our computer-centric society and those who don’t. This is not something that happened overnight, but it is something that has profound consequences for our future.

Rewind to computing’s earliest decades and being a “hacker” was a term of praise rather than disgrace. It meant you were someone who could literally hack code down to size and get it to do new things – or stop it from doing old things wrong. You were someone who could see through the system and, perhaps, engineer something better, bolder and smarter… [continue reading]

2. Cats, memes and internet schemes

There are tens of thousands of memes online, embodying near-unimaginable quantities of ingenious timewasting. From dancing babies to flying felines shaped like pop tarts, they sweep from satire (the gap between politicians releasing campaign posters and the net adapting them into parodies is now numbered in minutes rather than hours) to pop-cultural gags with more layers than a set of Russian dolls (read the 3,000-word Wikipedia article on “Rickrolling” for an example of how a meme can eat itself several times over within the space of five years).

There’s much argument over the first digital meme – although one leading contender is the emoticon for a smiley face, :), seen in use as early as 1982 on early internet discussion forums. Almost everyone agrees, though, that the most potent memes involve some combination of appealing animals and punning text… [continue reading]