Charles Dickens was born 200 years ahead of his time. Today the world celebrates his birth back in 1812 when the notion of the World Wide Web would have been science fiction. But had Dickens been around today there is little doubt he would have loved the Internet, would have been a prolific blogger and a vocal supporter of Safer Internet Day, which is also celebrated today.
Dickens was a social reformer and someone who used his books and articles to campaign for a better deal for the poor and specifically for children. He wanted them to live in safety and prosperity. So, Safer Internet Day would have given him a great focus for his blogging and his books, had he been alive today.
Indeed, Charles Dickens would no doubt have been horrified by the stories of children being preyed upon by adult sexual predators. And he would also have taken to task companies that allow their products and services to put children at risk. You can imagine a Dickens novel with a 12-year-old girl as a central character and some seedy, drooling 50-year-old chatting to her on Facebook, while her parents were down the pub getting drunk every night. Or Dickens may well have written about some powerful business owner, living in the lap of luxury, unconcerned that his products were not fully tested, only really salivating at the thought of more sales and more money.
Nothing much has changed in human behaviour in the past 200 years. People still exploit children. Businesses still only concern themselves with money, paying only lip-service to social responsibility.
But with someone with the literary skill and the passion for change as Charles Dickens alive today, we may well have seen more change. Just one of his books, Oliver Twist, led to significant change in the clearing of the slum area on which the book was based, as well as change in the treatment of women because of his portrayal of the character Nancy. Indeed, Karl Marx commented that Dickens had used his books to greater effect than all the words ever spoken by politicians. With the Internet at his fingertips there is little doubt that Dickens would have had an even greater impact had he been around today.
Which rather begs the question – who is using the Internet to lead social change these days? Which individual or group of people is having real impact? The folks at Safer Internet Day are doing their best of course, but do they have the impact of Dickens? The fact that there are cuts taking place in the policing of the Internet suggest otherwise.
Today, of all days then, perhaps we should learn a lesson from Charles Dickens. We should use the power we have with the Internet at our fingertips to make it a better place for our children and for future generations. There is too much good about the Internet to allow it to fall into the hands of those who are less caring than us. What are you going to do today as part of Safer Internet Day to make the web a safer place for your family and friends?
- Charles Dickens’ 200th Birthday Marks First Google Doodle as Promotional Vehicle (searchenginewatch.com)
- Charles Dickens stamps for 2012 – Telegraph.co.uk (telegraph.co.uk)
- Claire Tomalin: Charles Dickens novels ‘too long for today’s young’ says writer’s biographer (dailymail.co.uk)