Feb 16th 2015

The politics of technology

Politicians get roasted for lots of things. They are sitting targets, often oblivious to their shortcomings, like Dappy or Robbie Savage. But in the last decade, they’ve picked up that technology is pretty handy to the people, and these people use it and spend millions on it. If the phone in the hand of the voter is buzzing, why not make it buzz a Conservative ditty? That was the question in the mind of Our Beloved Leader® David Cameron last week, as he announced he plans to stick free Wi-Fi on every train in the whole country by 2017.

At first glance – good. I won’t deny for a minute that if the plan comes to be I won’t be hogging the bandwidths on a daily basis to stream grainy Vines of Europa League goals and play Words with Friends, but when politicians go near technology, it seems to me that it’s just a thinly veiled attempt at snapping up votes.

OK, so Obama announcing stringent cyber security laws recently had the usual American pomp and circumstance of a House of Cards finale – but as he was allowing those confident words to tumble from his mouth, a group claiming to be ISIS were tweeting from the Centcom official feed, with promises of ‘CyberJihad’. The wind was very much taken from the sails- probably not the best result.

But somehow, British politics is incomparable. Seeing JFK announce plans to put man on the moon is a rousing, defiant, historical speech. Seeing Boris Johnson use contactless payment to hire a public bike he named after himself is a tad less alluring to the discerning voter. I get the impression that politicians still view tech as a separate commodity, like milk or sofas. They’ve yet to cotton on to the fact that this world is tech now, and we just live in it.

That’s not to say it’s all going Skynet on us just yet. Cameron promising free Wi-Fi on trains seemed to outrage the public, who argue that if you are raising £50 million in late service fines from National Rail, why not spend it on improving arrival times? Or making train travel even remotely acceptably priced? As much as I love using Flipboard on the tube, it can wait. For ten minutes. Which is the longest any self-respecting commuter stays underground for in one go. Fact.

It seems that for as long as politicians try to be cool, or appeal to the voter on their terms, the harder they fall. Train Wi-Fi promises aren’t quite as disastrous or ominous as when our leaders are targeted satirically with the use of technology, like the artwork ‘Photo Op’ of Tony Blair, or when they simply don’t know what they are talking about, like Nigel Farage (no satire needed). But to me, Cameron’s advisors and PR team gunning quite so hard with the free Wi-Fi card seems to jar when, as we all agree, you can’t really even get cellular signal on a train. If that train actually turns up. Most of us in the tech industry understand that technology isn’t a thing anymore, it just is. You can’t use it in the way David Cameron did this week – it won’t win him my vote.


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