Two problems today. One, I’ve got a 9pm flight out of London Gatwick to Marrakech. And two, England were playing against Ecuador in the[tag]World Cup[/tag] at 4pm. As ever, the [tag]Internet[/tag] popped up like a white knight…
This shouldn’t be a problem except that the bus to Gatwick takes me two hours. And there’s only one an hour. So if I wanted to catch my flight it meant either: leaving very early and catching the whole match at the airport; watching the first half, jumping on a bus and listening to the second half on the bus; or, finally, listening to the first half on the bus and watching the second half at the airport.
I eventually decided to go for the first option and arrived at Gatwick just a few minutes into the game. Except – and I really hadn’t bargained for this – there weren’t any televisions showing the game. In fact, there weren’t any televisions if you discount the departure boards and the ones with airlines logos permanently on. Normally this fact would delight me beyond belief – but NOT when every minute you spend looking for a TV, your country could be winning or losing in the World Cup.
Anyway, it took approximately six minutes of frantic information gathering to ascertain three things:
1. There was a pub showing the game in the departure lounges
2. I couldn’t get there because my fight wasn’t due for five hours
3. There was only one place to watch the game in the terminal – WH Smith.
[This is going somewhere btw, don’t worry.]
So I end up watching the first half in WH Smith of all places, wedged between the sweets and the bestseller paperbacks. I wasn’t the only one. There were 10 of us, which rapidly expanded as more and more people found the only solution in Gatwick North Terminal.
At half-time, everyone rushed off in different directions desperately trying to find a way of catching the game outside of a newsagent, preferably with a beer in their hand. I had a masterplan however. I have been in this terminal before and know you can get Net access in the bar at the end – where I am sat now actually – called, for some infathomable reason, The Bridge Bar. The Internet was going to save my bacon because I knew the BBC was providing live video coverage of the all World Cup games.
I buy a beer, fire up the laptop, paying Â£5 for an hour’s T-Mobile coverage (still a rip-off but a quid cheaper than last time) and navigate immediately to the BBC site and click on its live game video button.
Connecting… connecting… connecting… it informed me as I revelled in how terrific and marvellous the Internet was – providing information, providing *video* of events thousands of miles of away instanteously and – crucially – where all other media had failed.
Except that was when the BBC video player informed me that the content I was after (the game) was only available to people in the UK. The BBC is in a difficult bind in this situation since it can’t charge for showing stuff to UK audiences because it is funded by a compulsory licence fee, but also can’t make its output free (well, has chosen not to) to anyone in the world. Someone it had decided that the IP address of the T-Mobile hotspot in Gatwick North resides outside the UK, and so it refused to let me watch it.
So, the daft smug git sat in the Bridge Bar (I had considered legging it over to the South Terminal where commonsense appears to have prevailed in some ridicuously named “Village Inn”) suddenly realised that half-time would be over in approximately 30 seconds, and had to leg it back to WH Smith to catch the second half. A shambles.
Except I think there’s a lesson in here somewhere. And it is that the Internet revolution is slowing down. It’s inevitable of course that old powers, held by the rich elements of society, will reassert themselves. But the fact was that I *was* in the UK, but since the BBC wasn’t absolutely sure, I couldn’t get the information. It is constraint as the first consideration – and *that* is the depressing element.
I found it incredibly frustrating that a medium that could – and even did – provide exactly what I wanted, decided it wouldn’t give it to me. And if you are a US citizen you are going to learn just how frustrating that experience is real soon, thanks to the failure to write net neutrality into law because of corporate lobbying.
What *really* concerns me is that the Internet might become another version of the TV. Thousands upon thousands of the lowest-common-denominator, almost-unwatchable crap programmes (called it content if you like) pumped out at high cost to yourself and aimed only at getting the largest number of viewers. Quality dies in the quest for profit.
Am I being paranoid? No. Because as we can see from the fight put up for Net Neutrality, there are vast profits to be made from Net control. And vast profits means huge efforts. And that means people are made to believe something 180 degrees from the reality.
I don’t know why I should be so grumpy though. England won 1-0 from an extraordinary David Beckham freekick. The problem is I have the same sense of foreboding both for England’s next match against their first good team, and the Internet against it first strong opponent.