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Swimming, Shopping & The Future of The Internet

At the end of September experts gathered in Tiree from all over Europe, to discuss the future of the Internet.

The European Network of Excellence on Internet Science (EINS) includes economists, technologists, mathematicians, social scientists, architects, and legal experts, many of whom advise their own governments and advise or lobby on Internet issues at the EU.

When Clare Hooper, who works as part of EINS at Southampton University, started to organise a workshop ‘Re-Thinking Architecturally‘, she thought of Tiree as a venue, as she had been to one of the Tiree Tech Waves, and called upon me as ‘local expert’ to help with the logistics of managing an event on an island. In the end, the biggest problem turned out to be an Air France/KLM strike that delayed some participants and meant that one coming from Greece was unable to get across at all. However, a dozen participants managed to get here despite the European air chaos, including one all the way from Umea in northern Sweden, and I was able to attend as Tiree representative.

Topics covered included privacy, net neutrality (whether Skype, YouTube and BBC are all treated equally), governance (US vs UN control), the regulation (or not) of global companies, and the relation between the digital internet and the physical world as more and more devices become ‘Internet enabled’. I gave a short presentation about digital connectivity in a rural area and as participants wandered to the end of the pier at Hynish to find mobile phone signal, I think they got the point.

The word ‘architecturally’ in the workshop title was principally about the digital and social structures around the Internet (from fibre optics to social networks); however the workshop did include a number of ‘real’ architects. So, on Wednesday afternoon, our lightning tour of the island (from gift shopping at Chocolates and Charms to rock scrambling at Balevullin) included a visit to Noust with its blend of traditional timber construction and state-of-the art digital fabrication.

A key element of the success was the helpful and welcoming folk of Tiree: the wonderful team at the Hynish Centre, especially Lesley who kept on smiling despite a seven hour wait for participants whose travel was disrupted, everyone at Ceabhar , Ring’n’Ride, and at the airport rearranging travel across Europe when the Thursday plane was cancelled.

Despite the transport problems, the participants loved Tiree, indeed half of them managed morning swims! One of them wrote after the event: “one great consequence of the week in Tiree was a kind of intellectual regeneration that let me set aside the stresses of the coming academic year and…think openly a bit.” Another mailed a picture of swimmers in the water with the title “I’d rather be in Tiree!”.