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TV review: The Virtual Revolution | Seven Ages of Britain

FACT: more people look at internet porn in Harrogate than anywhere else in Britain. An investigation into this could form the basis of another programme entirely – Tonight with Trevor McDonald probably – but it was just a throwaway titbit in The Virtual Revolution, a new series looking at the evolution of the worldwide web. I only mentioned it to grab your attention.

Presented by journalist and web expert Dr Aleks Krotoski – who some viewers may remember in more frivolous mode as a presenter on Channel 4's nocturnal computer games round-up, Bits – the first programme asked whether the internet has lived up to the egalitarian expectations of its idealistic progenitors. Answer: no, thanks to the hierarchal dominance of oligarchs such as Google, Amazon, YouTube and eBay. Yet the internet still allows the widespread proliferation of information and opinion that those pioneers always dreamed of. It also, thanks to YouTube, provides a vital forum for the world's idiots to broadcast footage of cats playing the piano. So perhaps a more accurate answer might be, errm, sort of.

Krotoski delivered a disjointed essay which proved fascinating when focusing on the origins of the web, but less so when dealing with more recent and familiar developments. She showed how the original idea grew out of 1960s counterculture libertarianism – the period illustrated, as it always is, by Alan Whicker's report on a love-in scored to For What it's Worth by Buffalo Springfield – which valued freedom of expression over corporate ownership. The eventual fruits of this ideology was The Well, which in the mid-1980s became one of the earliest online communities. Appropriately enough, it was supported by The Grateful Dead and allowed a miniscule fraction of the populace to chat with them virtually. It's heartening to know that some of the earliest online conversations must have revolved around the relative merits of Aoxomoxoa over Anthem of the Sun.

Although web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee selflessly gave away his invention for free – a decision for which, as talking head Stephen Fry observed, we should applaud him daily – it was inevitable that enterprising nerds such as Bill Gates would realise that there was a dollar or two to be made from it. As always, the freedom of the people was monopolised by the capitalist bread-heads. Bummer dude.

Visually, the programme looked like it had been directed by an octopus let loose in an editing suite. The camera was fixated on Krotoski, offering endless shots of her tapping at a laptop in various locations, staring meaningfully into the distance, and filmed in slow-motion close-up for no discernible reason. They might as well have renamed it Aleks Krotoski and Her Nice Red Hair.

And here, in Seven Ages of Britain, is David Dimbleby in his nice pink shirt presenting yet another landmark travelogue around our nation's greatness. This time he's exploring 2000 years of British art and treasures, beginning with a look at the age of Roman and Norman conquest. Despite the winning efforts of Bellamy's People, this genre has gone beyond parody: portentous music, panoramic aerial views and old Dumbledore enthusing all over the shop. I don't doubt his passion and sincerity, nor the interesting nature of the history itself, but the production style is ludicrous.

 
 
 

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