In summer 2013, I caught a glimpse of a poster as I glided by on an escalator. The bottom right-hand corner had a comment that everyone had a right to … I think it was free internet access. But in a well-worn phrase, they had me at everyone had the right to…
That’s because it encapsulated a number of points that I’d been pondering for some time. It’s the idea of everyone. And that everyone has rights. And that recalibration of where rights exist and what they mean is currently a work-in-progress.
Now, this can open up all sorts of avenues (or cans of worms, depending on your inclination), but let’s start with a few thoughts about where we see the concept of everyone – and please bear in mind that I’m throwing out a few ideas, rather than reaching any conclusions.
Taking a big-picture point: politics. Everyone has the right to vote, but not everyone does vote. Interestingly, the turnout in the Scottish Referendum was far higher than any other vote in recent UK political history and that was on an issue that was presented as applying to the people of Scotland (i.e. Scottish everyone).
Everyone can have a view and I’m sensing that, increasingly, all views are perceived as equally valid. Online blogs can be created and published (and the irony of what I’m saying in a blog entry to be published on my website isn’t lost on me). Dialogues are opened. There are new ways of expressing views. Established journalism is still accessed, but I’m pretty sure it lacks the influence it once had.
There’s a tension around people considering they have the right to take photographs, even where that’s prohibited. I’ve seen this repeatedly at exhibitions in London museums and galleries and it now feels that old-school mores – if it’s prohibited, you mustn’t do it – are being overtaken by new-world conventions – everyone has a right to take a photo if they want to.
And there’s a similar and well-documented tension between posting personal information online – is that a right to communicate or to say what a person thinks? – and everyone having rights to privacy and the right to be forgotten. Which trumps and does it raise the thorny issue of responsibilities accompanying rights? Are responsibilities old-school mores too?
And from a slightly different angle, a much larger proportion of the population than was the case 30 years ago now expects to go to university and to be able to travel – to other countries and on a regular basis. I’m not sure whether these are yet regarded as rights or expectations or how they are changing.
Taking that further, there’s been a general increase in living standards, with some things that were once luxuries now being regarded as essentials by many people – step forward, smartphones and laptops.
But at the risk of stating the obvious, not everyone does have benefits – not just of consumer items, but more particularly of opportunities. That’s unchanged. Everyone potentially means all of us. But focus on the rights of everyone in respect of the granular (smartphones; taking photographs – even the right to vote) can distract from society being every bit as selective as it has been in the past.