John Harris

Journalist & Author

Tim Berners-Lee: ‘We need social networks where bad things happen less’

The father of the world wide web talks about its first 30 years, the rise of the toxic internet – and whether Facebook needs to be broken up

Zoom being Zoom, Tim Berners-Lee’s name appears in my browser window about 20 seconds before his audio and video feed kick in – and for a brief moment, the prospect of talking online to the inventor of the world wide web seems so full of symbolism and significance that it threatens to take my breath away.

During the hour we spend talking, that thought never fully recedes – but the reality is inevitably rather more prosaic: a 65-year-old man in a slightly crumpled, light blue polo shirt, talking – usually at high speed – from his home a dozen or so miles from Oxford, at a desk positioned just next to a fancy-looking model house (“I think that’s a mansard roof,” he says). For all that he is one of a tiny group of people who can claim to have fundamentally changed how most of us live – which explains why he had a role in Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics – he carries himself with a striking lack of star power. He could probably walk down the average high street unrecognised; as if to underline that the human race may now have its priorities slightly wrong, at 345,000, his Twitter followers number less than 5% of Piers Morgan’s.

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