Smart as a fox: Martha Lane Fox, Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho, the "poster girl" of the dotcom bubble and former digital adviser to the Cameron goverment, will be gracing the re:publica 2015.
The re:publica blog is not the yellow press, and we never roll out red carpets as a rule. We are nevertheless delighted – as a kind of reverse motion to the “most prominent German digital export” into the EU, Günther Oettinger – to welcome an inspiring member of the British House of Lords onto the re:publica stage.
Martha Lane Fox, Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho, was the "poster girl" of the dotcom bubble – that’s what the media called her, in any case. As a university graduate, she founded an Internet travel platform that, after the bubble popped and some confusion ensued, ultimately became profitable. While she was raising starting capital, she was asked by investors: "What will become of the enterprise if you get pregnant during the founding phase?" But Lane Fox was not to be side-tracked, she instead started rethinking her options for influence – and her own privileged position. Gordon Brown convinced her to bring her knowledge and experiences to political affairs of the UK. In June 2010, the then Prime Minister David Cameron appointed her as "UK Digital Champion" – as an ambassador for the online world. In late 2013, she resigned from her post in protest against the British government’s plans to increase blanket surveillance measures. Today, she is the founder and chairwoman of the digital literacy organization Go ON UK, as well as the newly appointed Chancellor of the Open University.
Several weeks ago, Lane Fox held the prestigious Dimbleby Lecture at the BBC, wherein she stressed the fact that the negotiation of rules and regulations of the net has always been a matter of dialogue between private companies and public institutions. And at the moment, she argued, the civic, public, non-commercial side of this equation was particularly in need of a boost. She sees the integration of diversity as one of the major challenges here. The full text of her speech can be found on her website.
Perhaps Lane Fox’ working life provides an explanation for why she has always placed special emphasis on the "role of women" in society throughout her career. "The House of Lords is 24 percent female", she says. "In the UK technology industry, it’s 17 percent. By contrast, in engineering there are only around four percent women! We are creating products that are less diverse than they could be, because women are not involved in the development process." What does she mean by that exactly? "Twitter, for instance, once let it be known that if there had been more women on the original design team, they would have possibly thought about the potential of intimidation and harassment along the way. And the Apple Health Kit [an app that analyses health data] is able to perform every test imaginable on the human body using blood, sweat and tears. But it cannot predict the female menstrual cycle. Why? There was not one woman on the engineering team."
Martha Lane Fox continues: "The Internet as a core technology and a participatory tool helps make relevant decisions and integrate more stakeholder groups in the founding phase. But that requires people to understand the transformative power of the Internet, and understand how to use it. We need to integrate the Internet into the public and social sphere."
And political administration and discourse is not a one-way street: Civic technologies can be a tool for participation, and the Internet is frequently one of free expression.
Which is why Lane Fox was consistent to resign from her "UK Digital Champion" position. In her letter of resignation to David Cameron, she also pointed out a number of her achievements, like the concept for a “Digital Service” and a unified domain for all government information. We are looking forward to her outside view, and hope that some of the ideas she is bringing to #rp15 might be equally consequential for German government policies regarding digitization.