Friday 27 March 2009

Of geeks and men

Matron just returned from a few days in Athens where she attended the inaugural WebSci'09 conference. For the blissfully ignorant, web science is the latest project of WWW Godfather Tim Berners-Lee and the newly made up Dame Prof. Wendy Hall (yes, this really is the correct title, there's nothing like a dame, as we all know). A few years ago, they got together to create the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI - apparently pronounced Woozri according to Dame Wendy) with a view to bring several research areas together to form a new academic discipline.

Matron was warned before she travelled that she would meet some hardcore geeks there. Real geeks that is, not like the ones she normally meets who are actually interested in things like law and policy and society and stuff. And indeed, the place was packed to the rafters with creatures who quite clearly may not be able to survive in bright sunlight. But very interesting it was too.

Now, Matron is not sure herself if "a new new discipline was born" in Athens as Dame Wendy apparently claimed during her closing address (Matron could be wrong about the attribution of that statement as by then she was already back in her hotel room, all conferenced out). But the interdisciplinary opportunities are certainly worth pursuing.

What was almost touching, though, was the way in which the hardcore geeks were going about discovering as "new" a number of subjects (privacy for a start) that have been discussed by social scientists, Internet lawyers et al. for more than a decade. Apparently, "web science" is all about the way in which the existence of the web affects society as a whole, as individuals live more and more of their life online. Matron wants to be neither patronising nor scathing, but it seems to her that that particular wheel may already have been invented. Or at the very least been designed in some detail. Nonetheless, the more the merrier. And as the general consensus among tech lawyers and social scientists seems to be that we need computer scientist to think about the issues close to our hearts ab initio, that is when they first inventi new technologies rather than as an afterthought (see, for example, in the area of privacy-enhancing technologies), any cross-fertilisation between disciplines has to be a good thing. So here's to the success of the project - plus Athens certainly was a very nice place to wet the babies head.

No comments:

Post a Comment