When setting up lastminute.com with Brent Hoberman over 20 years ago, Baroness Martha Lane Fox was at the centre of the dotcom boom that promised to be a positive social force. But on this week’s episode of Capital Conversation, Michael Hayman asked Martha whether there has been a “tech-lash”, amidst growing fears around the internet’s role in fake news and cyber security scares.
“Firstly the internet has been around for about 30 years – maybe a bit longer,” she says. “I think maybe because I’m 45 it feels a bit like a mid-life crisis, we’re thinking some of the things we did not intend to be consequences have become consequences.”
She cites the way the internet is used by powers in the East compared to the West as the main difference: “Russia has absolutely weaponised the internet. It’s built a huge army of people very effective at undermining the things that we take for granted in a living, breathing democracy.”
Martha is optimistic however that the original promise of the internet can be recaptured: “I think it’s quite important that we don’t become luddite. We have to be progressive in how we see this – we can’t take technology out of our lives, so we have to harness it and make something positive.”
The industry has also failed to deliver on diversity, claims Martha – who as co-founder of lastminute.com was a trailblazer for women in tech.
Two decades on, men still outnumber women by three-to-one in more than half of digital businesses. “It’s one of the things I feel most depressed and dispirited about,” Martha says. “There’s not nearly enough being done now, and it really matters.”
“The internet is the organising principle of our time, but I don’t think the UK is organised around it.
The countries that are, are the ones that will be successful in the future.”
Baroness Martha Lane Fox
This concern led her to set up Doteveryone, a think tank that promotes digital understanding to counter structural inequality and build a responsible technology movement. Martha addressed the House of Lords – where she sits as the youngest female peer – earlier this month to demand that an ethical and morally responsible digital economy must be at the heart of post-Brexit Britain.
“The internet is the organising principle of our time, but I don’t believe the UK is organised around it,” she tells Michael. “I think the countries that are, are the ones that will be successful in the future.
“In both [main political] parties at the moment there is an absence of digital leadership. We need to build society, resilience and communities.
“There’s a correlation to areas that are very rural, very poor that feel as though the world has left them behind. Those are the things that we have to put at the heart of how we rebuild our society.”
You can watch the full interview with Martha here