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Platinum Queen

Queen Elizabeth celebrates 70 years on the throne this week with a reign and warning for the Information Age.

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When 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom in 1952, her commonwealth realms be-speckled the planet. She wore the crown in countries like Australia, Canada, and Africa too. In fact, she’d rule England and a consortium of 54 nations around the world for the next 70 years.

Over 27 million people watched her coronation on television because, and only because, the young princess and her prince insisted. Against the advice of Parliament and her Prime Minister, the otherwise sacred, religious ceremony was televised to the world. In fact, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was the largest audience ever assembled, and after 70 years on the throne this week's Platinum Jubilee in London rightly commemorates her reign over the Information Age.

The Royal Mail

Sharing information between computer systems is the hallmark of the Information Age and began with the development of the transistor in 1947, and the optical amplifier in 1952, which combined are the basis of computing and fiber optic communications. That these homeric inventions coincide with Princess Elizabeth’s marriage and coronation are both a coincidence and the collateral of her reign.

She was the first among us to ever send an e-mail. At Royal Signals and Radar Establishment — a telecommunications research center in the UK — Queen Elizabeth became the first woman in the world to create a profile and send an email. Her username? QE2: Queen Elizabeth II.

She joined Facebook in 2010, sent her first tweet soaring through the ether in 2014, and posted to Instagram in 2019. Conspicuously late to the party, social media enabled Buckingham Palace to announce engagements, promote charities and national interests. While we don’t expect to see the Queen in a TikTok dance challenge, there are rare moments in which she takes #theroyalfamily into her own hands.

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Princess Diana

Useful Servant, Dangerous Master

When Princess Diana died in 1997, she was considered the most photographed woman in the world. Following her fatal car crash in Paris, Queen Elizabeth became the subject of caustic newspaper headlines calling for the abolition of the monarchy. Prime Minister Tony Blair warned, “this level of public backlash, a levied consensus, could abolish the monarchy.”

With a live 3-minute broadcast from Buckingham Palace, the Queen contained a week of pandemonium, quickened one million people from the streets of London, and single handedly quelled the challenge and question being put to the monarchy.

While two thousand people attended the Princess of Wales’ funeral at Westminster Abbey, over 2.5 billion watched the Queen’s televised broadcast — live. Due to the advances in satellite broadcasting six months earlier, the Queen’s three minutes were bounced via satellite to the Dish Network’s now 200 channels throughout the world. Once again, the largest collective audience of all time. "I for one believe there are lessons to be drawn from her life and from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death," she said, subduing the crowd, recalibrating the message. "I share your determination to cherish her memory."

While Her Majesty was the first to platforms like television, internet and satellite, it was becoming appallingly obvious that technology was exceeding humanity. The digital revolution, in particular, would deepen that crisis within representative democracy. “Traditional democracy within nations is no longer enough,” Prime Minister Harold Wilson told the Queen. “People want more participation and collaboration with their governments.”

By her Golden Jubilee, QEII had an approval rating of 94% amongst the British population, proving she could marshal public relations campaigns and crises across her commonwealth. William the Conqueror ruled by the Divine Right of Kings. Over 1000 years later, Queen Elizabeth is an influencer literally reigning with soft power.

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Princess Elizabeth at Eton 1933

The Age of Deference

For centuries, the English monarchy held absolute authority, but its history is rife with challenges and concessions to the crown.

King John’s signature on the Magna Carta in 1215 acknowledged that the monarch’s powers had limits, and established that the crown could not levy taxes without the consent of religious officials and feudal lords. That council evolved into Parliament.

In the Glorious Revolution of 1688, parliament invited William and Mary to invade England and depose King James II, who wanted absolute authority. The joint sovereign’s assented to the Bill of Rights, which legally required Parliament to be held regularly, granted full freedom of speech in Parliament and ushered in various civil liberties. While there is no British Constitution, like that of the United States, foundational documents like Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights comprise the foundation of their government. And Princess Elizabeth, following the succession of her father, was being tutored at Eton on the fundamentals.

The Dignified > The Efficient

Today this Constitutional Monarchy is led by a Prime Minister, whilst their kings and queens serve as a symbol of the nation. Elizabeth is the longest-serving female Head of State and the longest reigning monarch in British history, but as this week's Platinum Jubilee unfolds a silent question lingers. What will be her legacy?

In "The English Constitution," published in 1867, Walter Bagehot asserts that the secret of the unwritten English constitution lay in having two kinds of institutions at once: The Dignified and the Efficient. The former “excite and preserve the reverence of the population” Bagehot wrote, "while the latter are those by which it works and rules.”

The Economist of London, writing about the Golden Jubilee 2o years ago, made a critical observation to Bagehot's analysis. “The Dignified institution of the monarchy is now also the only efficient one,” the Economist observed. “Parliament, Cabinet, Prime Ministers — all the traditional machines of efficiency — are creaking, and the very restraint and dignity with which the Queen has executed her job has provided a golden cloak around the mediocrity of civil service.”

At 96 years old, her cloak is now platinum. Known as a highly un-reactive and precious silver-white transition metal, this week's Platinum Jubilee reminds us that the efficiency of technology, and the inherent dignity of humanity, are the only real collaboration worth celebrating.

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