Barefoot into Cyberspace vs The Revolution will be Digitised

Last weekend, the Independent on Sunday reviewed my book Barefoot into Cyberspace, alongside Heather Brooke’s latest book The Revolution will be Digitised. The review was written by Twitter friend and fellow book-hacker Lisa Gee. Here’s a taster:

Heather Brooke and Becky Hogge are (or in Hogge’s case, were) freedom of information activists.

Brooke is, famously, the investigative journalist whose determined ferreting triggered the MPs’ expenses scandal.

She was also a key player in mainstream press coverage of the WikiLeaked US diplomatic cables. Hogge led the Open Rights Group for two years, withdrawing disillusioned with the UK and European political process, which she compares to a “group of people trying to decide how to direct rush hour traffic by playing an arcane version of cricket”.

Both balance excitement about the internet’s potential to make our world a better, fairer place against concerns for loss of privacy and, most acutely, the personal safety of activists challenging powers-that-be. Brooke is more upbeat, techno-Utopian even, proposing that “instead of re-engineering the internet to fit around unpopular laws and unpopular leaders, we could re-engineer our political structures to mirror the internet … We can create the first global democracy. Hundreds of millions of people are climbing out of poverty … They can join a worldwide conversation and come together in infinite permutations to check power anywhere it concentrates.”

Except, according to Hogge, most people don’t. She quotes the US “hackademic” Ethan Zuckerberg on how “the web is ploughing us deeper into our cultural furrows” with users experiencing “a kind of imaginary cosmopolitanism” instead of genuine, cross-cultural connection. More sinisterly, as Brooke explains, our use of digital technology creates “a handy one-stop shop for the nosy official”. US and European laws require all mobile communications networks to “include an interception capability”: this made it simple for Egyptian, Libyan and Tunisian intelligence services to locate and arrest many pro-democracy protestors earlier this year.

Both authors look to hacker communities for the skills and determination to crack such oppression. As a rule, hackers act. If they don’t like something, they try to build something better, be it hardware, software or society. They don’t do red tape. Their collective attitude is one of empowerment cut with mischief – an enticing contrast to Hogge’s wading-through-treacle Westminster-and-Brussels experience.

You can read the rest of the review here.

For me, reading Heather’s book was a bit like the feeling you might get when visiting the house you grew up in once another family had moved all their stuff in: objectively, you can see how what the new people have done makes sense, but you can’t overcome the feeling that everything is in the wrong place. Heather’s book and mine deal with a lot of the same material – sometimes eerily so – but we often approach that material very differently. I think Lisa captures it well when she says that my “questioning, uncertain approach” is “the perfect complement to Brooke’s surefooted, campaigning rhetoric”.

So tonight’s Little Atoms should be an interesting listen, because Neil and I will be speaking with Heather Brooke about The Revolution will be Digitised. Tune in at 7pm to 104.4FM if you’re within the London orbital, listen live at, or subscribe to the podcast.