Revolutions with numbers

By | 28th May 2013

Thomas Paine was born in Thetford in Norfolk in 1737 and died in NYC in 1809 and is credited with being the inspiration behind the decision which led America to secede from Britain.

Paine had an extraordinary life. Starting as a corset maker by trade, he emigrated to the USA and participated in the revolution there. Despite his nationality and his inability to speak French, he became a member of the National Convention in Paris at the time of the French Revolution.

He was also the author of a number of highly controversial and influential pamphlets such as The Rights of Man in support of the French Revolution and Common Sense in support of American independence from Britain, which led John Adams to say:

without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

Even if she did not lead a revolution, Isabel Allende is a modern writer and prolific author who escaped a revolution in her native Chile when her cousin, the then President of the Republic, Salvador Allende, was assassinated in the coup which brought General Pinochet to power.  

Patt Morrison interviewed Isabel Allende for the Los Angeles Times on May 1st 2013. The writer of magical realism such as The Island beneath the Sea (Haiti and slavery in the 18th Century) and The House of the Spirits bemoaned the fact that the future of the written word was bleak. She commented that children no longer read books,  newspapers or reviews. Everything is online. From her experience, there are no manuscripts any more. An agent receives a clean copy after thousands of corrections have been made and the originals have been destroyed. No one will be able to study the corrections made while writing of an author such as Mark Twain. She accepts that she herself uses a Kindle on which she can have 20,000 books. She says that books will become rare objects, something for collectors. She concludes:

“I think we are reaching the point where the technology needs to be controlled in some way. I think every person will feel the need for some time of silence. We are too connected. There’s noise in our heads all the time.”

Depending on your point of view, matters may be getting worse.

According to IBM there are 4 times as many mobiles as there are PCs and laptops and there are twice as many as TVs. A typical mobile user uses the device 150 times a day, including 23 times for messages, 9 times for social media and 6 times for news. Many workplaces have a BYOD policy and 93% of companies express concerns about mobile security. By 2015, 40% of all business orientated devices will be mobile.

Whether you agree with Isabel Allende and/or IBM, what is clear is that the potential exists for a good deal of uncertainty and uncertainty is basically a “bad thing” for corporations involved in litigation and their lawyers.

It is said that uncertainty is the enemy of recovery. In economic terms, if companies cannot see the way forward clearly, investment and jobs will suffer. It is the same for lawyers and their clients with the new CPR. 

But perhaps there are signs that all is not lost. Leave aside the lamentable way in which the rules were introduced and ignore the frankly shabby way in which cases worth more than £2 million were excluded from the ambit of the new rules at the last moment. Forget the disappointing decision in Henry v News Group Newspapers. The rules have now been in force  for a couple of months and I think lawyers are coming to realise that we need to accept that we now have a clear direction forwards, even if we do not like it. On that basis, we should all be glad: lawyers, clients, judiciary and vendors!

I have written recently about numbers and this is an area where matters really can get worse. Compare, if you will, the succinct American Declaration of Independence and the wordy European Directive on bendy bananas (now abandoned). Now look at the tax burdens on the internet.

It has been calculated that there are 9646 tax burdens on the internet. I know of no way to verify the number but an example of the ingenuity of politicians who seek to extract the last penny from the rest of us is the 1400 word regulation in the US state of Wisconsin which regulates when tax is due on the sale of ice cream cake. When you work it out, the regulation seeks to impose a sales tax when the ratio of cream layers to cake layers reaches a certain level, leading to the situation where the sales are made over the internet, that it is the online retailer who has to act as tax collector. A revolution in the making in Milwaukee?

So where does this leave us? I used to listen to a BBC programme presented by John Ebden. It was only broadcast once a week and lasted a mere fifteen minutes. Whatever the subject matter he thought it worth discussing from the BBC sound archives, he always ended the programme with two remarks:

  1. Despite my very best endeavours, I have come to no firm conclusion, and
  2. If you have been, thanks for listening!

I fear I have come to no firm conclusion except that the world is becoming more complicated and the data we all have to deal with so is much more diverse, that something, somewhere has to give. In the meantime, technology should be regarded as the solution and defintiely not the problem.

In conclusion, if you have got this far, thanks for reading!