It's a weird,wired world out there

21st March 1997 at 00:00
I was sure my father was fibbing when he claimed he was unable to tell the Beatles apart, or to match Starr, Macartney, Lennon and Harrison to their first names. My Dad never even seemed able to remember which first names we were talking about. However much I taught him to chant John, Paul, George and Ringo, he just didn't want to learn, and at 14 I couldn't imagine how he could hold his head up in decent society.

Being, or more likely appearing, uninformed about popular culture is not confined to fathers. It is what stereotypical judges excel at, with all that crazy talk of: "Could the defendant kindly explain what a ravebikiniGazza is?" You can take it as a national benchmark, that, if our learned friends don't know about it, then it is a passing phase or preoccupation and not yet incorporated into serious and lasting establishment life.

I used to believe that they did it deliberately, to distance themselves from the hulahoop and Rollerblades, in the same way as my father did over Sergeant Pepper and his Lonely Heart's Club Band. Now, I am more sure that it is a mixture of two strange bedfellows: ignorance and good practice. Judges and fathers may very well be ill-advised to demonstrate in-knowledge like this; after all, a procurator fiscal who knows everything about hip-hop might risk being mistaken for an afficionado, and that would never do.

But culture moves forward, or at least it changes, and those activities on the edge become accepted in their turn; you only have to look at, or listen to, Paul Macartney, to know he is no longer the daring, anti-establishment young man whose picture adorned the underside of desk lids at school.

Centre stage today are all those Internetty things which have been wobbling on the edge of acceptability for a while. Many of the legal profession have found it quite acceptable to know little or nothing about online issues, dismissing them as a passing phase. This has numerous effects. Those new to the Internet, and having some related legal wrangle are unsure as to whether approaching a lawyer is really going to help. The sector itself needs legal assistance and guidance from time to time, and finds it hard to identify lawyers who have a good grasp of the issues involved. As far as new judgments are concerned, if we thought they were being made by those uninformed as to the consequences, then it would be right to worry.

But the majority of lawyers, representing people who have confusions about online matters, have not taken the subject onboard as a training issue, and are ill-equipped to cope. Heavens, they only need to subscribe to CyberSpace Law and they can join the rest of us, fretting over electronic contracts, html copyright and the like.

There is, of course, a business opportunity hidden in here; those few legal beagles who have got their online act together are attracting all the internet service providers and web designers around as their clients. It is a real treat to e-mail my solicitor for advice, and to help him develop his corporate web site. In return, he helps me balance existing laws with new situations; and we both gain. That is the small scale, local aspect; what is needed is an establishment initiative at national level to move the legal professions along. Which is why I have had the unusual sensation of being thrilled about the Queen. It seems there are still some things that we can look to the Royal Family to do for us. Just as Her Majesty shared the knitting patterns of Princess Anne's bootees in magazines in the fifties, now the Internet replaces Woman's Own, and we have Windsor Castle on the web. ER and her PR seem to have hit the mood of the times.

Let's hope that the lawyers will follow suit (sic); that judges and sheriffs will embrace the new communications with their implications for learning and culture; that solicitors will sign up for courses so that they can better help their clients in this weird wired world and fathers and judges alike will speak confidently of

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