Always On : Rory Cellan-Jones' new book review and video interview


In Rory Cellan-Jones' new book sub-titled “Hope and fear in the social smartphone era” Rory illustrates too well the unexpected turns that new technology has taken. Rory is the technology correspondent for the BBC and seems to attract more than his fair share of unusual situations. 

Take for instance in chapter 10 Rory witnessed an attempt by Craig Wright to prove he was Satoshi Nakamoto the inventor of Bitcoin, or a scheme by Baroness Michelle Mone to sell property priced with Bitcoin, or meeting Elon Musk who claimed that one day you will be able to summon a Tesla from New York all the way across the country to L.A. through to the SpinVox business which Rory revealed to be using mainly humans to transcribe audio rather than automated technology which they claimed.

The book covers the time period since the launch of the iPhone in 2007 including the rapid expansion of social networks and their data gathering through to the attempts by the UK government to use phones to carry out proximity monitoring for the Covid virus.

On the surface the book is an easy read, and Rory’s involvement with some key technology moments from behind the scenes are enlightening. I was left with a deeper sense of unease that personal technology, data gathering and crypto platforms are taking us to places we never anticipated and aren’t prepared for.

In our video interview I put to Rory the question of whether social media platforms need regulation, and Rory summed it up by referring to an attempt by the UK government to put in place an online safety bill, a set of laws which govern “things which are harmful but not illegal” – a difficult knot to untangle. 

We discuss the evolution of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and smart phones and how that lead to the Cambridge Analytica scandal during the 2016 US presidential election and also the influence on UK politics. Arguably there is gathering momentum to change direction on data gathering and privacy towards giving ordinary people more control over when and how their personal data is used. 

The final chapter deals with fake news, 5G and the virus and the way that personal opinions can now be broadcast widely and instantly causing huge reactions amongst ordinary people. We all have a voice now which has democratised communications, but this has unleashed a torrent of opinion which is allowed as free speech but can be harmful without some sort of checks and balances.

The combination of internet technology and new platforms, and the portability of smart devices means we now have a tiger by the tail. Have a read of the book and watch the interview – what is the net benefit of the last 14 years of innovation?

For more information


Chapter markers are within the video, but for reference:

  • Q1 00:32: Rory intro
  • Q2 01:36, When did the technology revolution kick off?
  • Q3 04:49: How has technology changed politics
  • Q4 12:28: Do social media platforms need regulation?
  • Q5 15:14: How have tech CEOs changed?
  • Q6 16:38: Are crypto currencies and NFTs the future?
  • Q7 21:31: How does new technology show up in the economy?
  • Q8 25:10: How is the structure of the internet going to evolve?
  • Q9 28:52: What magical device or service would you like to see invented?
  • Q10 30:09: What are your biggest fears and hopes for technology?