Baroness (Martha) Lane Fox: Be Curious About Tech

20 March 2018

This article is a part of our Skills Young People Need for Work in 2030 campaign, with the i newspaper, helping share what skills leaders of today think are going to be the top ways young people can prepare for the careers of tomorrow. Be sure to follow #Skills2030 to see their top advice over March.

Martha Lane Fox: Teenagers should think carefully and critically about the internet

Teenagers should educate themselves on what popular apps like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are doing with their personal data, internet entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox has warned. Speaking to pupils from Duke’s Aldridge Academy in Tottenham, London, Baroness Lane Fox encouraged the 14-year olds to embrace rather than fear technology, but to be aware of the compromises they may be required to make digitally.

“The thing I would take most from the experience of building my business is just how important it is to try and understand technology,” she said.

“I feel really strongly that all of us, whatever our jobs, should have a basic understanding of what the digital world is – how it works, what the internet is, what it means when you’re using all these services on your phone.”

The lastminute.com founder was speaking as part of the Speakers for Schools programme, founded in 2011 by the ITV political editor Robert Peston. The charity aims to place influential figures into state schools to provide pupils access to people who were once the preserve of the public school old boys’ networks. In partnership with i, the organisation has launched the Skills 2030 campaign.

Thinking carefully about the demands technology places on its users and how services affect lives is crucial, she continued, adding that:

“if we become lazy about this stuff, I don’t think we’ll be able to invent the future they way we could do.”

“I want you to all question technology, to be curious about it – not just to play around on a few apps that you may have on whatever device you use, but actually to think about what’s happening when you use their services, to think about the data that you’re giving them, what your identity is online: all of the issues around what means something is real on the internet, and when it’s not real.”

“I really encourage you not to be frightened of technology – not to think that you have to become a coder, but to be aware it’s underpinning every single thing that’s now happening in your lives.”

All industries across the globe, from manufacturing and transport to banking, pharmaceuticals and science, are being “eaten up” by technology-driven change, Baroness Lane Fox said.

It is important to draw distinctions between the internet as a whole and companies, she added, imploring her audience to “keep asking questions”.

“I was with some young people a couple of years ago, and they said to me: ‘I don’t need to know about all of that stuff, Facebook’s the internet.’ And I was thinking: ‘That is not true, Facebook is not the internet.’ There is a world to explore out there, there are incredible places where you can find out any information you might want.”

Baroness Lane Fox is recognised as one of the UK’s highest-profile digital pioneers. Since co-founding lastminute.com in 1998 with Brent Hoberman, she was appointed a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords in 2013 and joined Twitter’s board in 2016.

The lack of gender diversity within technology remains an issue, she admitted, saying she found male dominance within the industry “very upsetting.”

“Even though [the gender divide in] Parliament is not appalling, the internet as a whole is even worse, so there are actually fewer women as a percentage in the internet sector than there are in the House of Lords, which is a 500 year old institution, and the internet is only 25 years old. It’s really bad, it’s awful.

“I find it very upsetting when I think that all the power and the money and influence and the design and the creation of products and services is mainly done by men in technology.” On occasion, her gender was an advantage because she was considered “unusual,” and people consequently remembered her company, though she “didn’t particularly like it,” she added.

You can read this article on the i newspaper’s website here.

Our Skills 2030 campaign will continue with more speakers across the UK. Keep up with the coverage of this talk series here.