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Prince Philip reminds us of the internet

Prince Philip, the Duke Of Edinburgh is 90 today – Happy Birthday old chap. In a much-publicised interview with the BBC’s Fiona Bruce he was brusque, pompous and downright rude. He won’t care I said that because, as he admitted in the interview he simply does not care what we think about him. His Royal Highness is well-known for his forthright views and his devotion to his wife, The Queen. But there is little doubt he represents an elite. Perhaps his views about the media, about us and about society in general all stem from the fact that almost all of his life has been spent living in a rather different world to the one the rest of inhabit.

HRH Prince Philip Duke of Edniburgh 90 Today: By Flickr user Steve Punter derivative work: Andibrunt via Wikimedia CommonsAnd recent research shows that almost everything you read online is like that too – from a world that most people do not inhabit. According to sociologists from the University of California almost all of the online content we are faced with is produced by the elite – the powerful, highly educated and the rich are the people who produce almost all of the web’s content. The rest of us don’t get much of a look-in.

According to Jen Schradie, who conducted the research: “Conventional wisdom tells us that the Internet is levelling the playing field and broadening the diversity of voices being heard. But my findings show the Internet is actually reinforcing the socio-economic divisions that already exist, and may even heighten them, which has all sorts of implications as more of civic and economic life moves online.”

The study showed that in spite of the plethora of blogs, the burgeoning use of social media and the vast number of domain names being registered each day, only around 10% of people who use the Internet are contributors. Most are simply consumers of the content. The billions of web pages that now exist are actually produced by the minority. And that minority is mostly highly educated and rich. Not quote the universal free system that Sir Tim Berners Lee imagined.

So what should be done about it? Well, making your website more interactive, enabling more people to contribute and getting as many people involved as possible with your web presence would help. It means taking a business from being “controlling” to being interactive. Interestingly, new academic research on lecturing university students shows that this kind of approach works.

In this study students were split up mid-course and put into two groups matched for exam results. One group continued to receive their normal lectures from a highly-rated lecturer. The others received no lectures at all for the remainder of their course but were taking part in interactive group sessions with non-experienced lecture staff. The final exam results were better in this second group than the group who continued with normal lectures. Not only that, all other measures of success – including lesson attendance were also better. Indeed, attendance at the group sessions went UP as the course progressed.

What the study showed was that participation works. It demonstrated that not having an expert to “teach” was not a problem – indeed, the group without expert input did best in the  study. It is yet more data that shows us the old way of “chalk and talk” should be killed off, in just the same way as the old way of Internet “broadcasting” has also had its day. Instead, interactivity is being revealed as the superior way of engagement. The elite don’t like interaction; with it, their elevated position gets reduced. Hence you’ll find all sorts of reasoning online as to why interaction cannot work – especially from many business leaders. Tosh.

Perhaps it also explains Prince Philip’s behaviour; his opportunities for meaningful interaction with “real people” are limited. Which means he hasn’t had the opportunity to learn from us that actually we are mostly OK. And if he did check on the Internet, he still wouldn’t know because like him, the bulk of the Internet is an elite. Which begs the question – what kind of online world do you wish your business to be associated with?

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