The clueless in pursuit of the unattainable

This morning’s Observer column.

Oscar Wilde described foxhunting as “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable”. If Wilde had been able to see the diminutive tyrant who is currently president of France going on last week about bringing the internet to heel, he might have updated his hunting metaphor to “the clueless in pursuit of the unattainable” perhaps.

Sarkozy was speaking at the eG8, a gathering of those whom the French government thinks are the important players in the online world. But in a way, he was just acting as a mouthpiece for the political, judicial, commercial and security establishments which are becoming increasingly hysterical about the way the internet is upending their respective applecarts. In that sense, Sarky was echoing the fulminations of England’s lord chief justice that “technology is out of control”, by which he meant, as Peter Preston has pointed out, is beyond his control.

Establishment panic about the net’s disruptiveness is matched by renewed outbreaks of an age-old neurosis – moral panic about the impact of new communications technology on young people…