15th March 2008

Internet Lodge was Consecrated ten years ago on the 29th January 1998, and I was Initiated ten years ago, almost to the day.

This Lodge and I have thus far had a parallel Masonic career although it has to be said, this Lodge has had a stellar career by any measure. The Lodge is now world famous and enjoys the very highest esteem. I have some way to go, so it is abundantly plain to me that I am here to serve this Lodge and that is what I intend to do. It is a very great honour to be Installed as the 11th Worshipful Master, and I thank the brethren for the trust they have reposed in me.

It is also daunting that, because it is such a young Lodge, many of the Founders are still here, ready, willing and able to put me right if I attempt to take this Lodge off in a direction they did not have in mind for it.

I still remember my Initiation, I'm sure many of you still remember yours, it makes that kind of impression. I remember for the first time looking round a lodge with all the brethren sitting there in their regalia, and I was awed. Freemasonry was a very mysterious organisation. Secretive? That's for sure. Sinister? It never struck me that way. But even as recently as ten years ago we had a hard time in the media and we didn't do a very good job of sticking up for ourselves. In fact, let's be honest, we had some really bad press. There were councils rejecting charitable gifts from us simply because we were Freemasons. Charitable gifts? How low do you have to sink to use that as grounds to reject charity?

At the time of my Initiation, the papers were full of Chris Mullin MP, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee that was demanding Grand Lodge named names and threatening the Grand Secretary with imprisonment for contempt. At the same time, local authorities were passing regulations that required Freemasons to declare their membership on job applications forms - so they could be discriminated against and rejected. This was a low ebb for Freemasonry, it felt to me like we were subject to a sustained witch-hunt. It is little wonder that many brethren even to this day are anxious about revealing their membership.

But there were bright times too. For me, the highlight of the past ten years was Freemasonry in the Community Week. For me that was the proper response to our critics, and they were many. For me that reinforced the truth about what Freemasonry is. We are part of the community, how could it be otherwise. We live, work, and play in the community. We draw our members from the community. We all actively support the community too. If any organisation supports the community, it has to be us. And so I have taken that as my inspiration for my year as Master of this Lodge.

My theme will be, Freemasonry in the On-Line Community.

At our August meeting, in Oxford, I plan to deliver a paper with that title. It will look at how the community we are part of is now on-line, using the Internet to live, work and play. The Internet is having a profound effect on our lives and I will explain in detail some of the ways in which that is happening but for now I'd like to just mention a few things I'm looking at.

Some of you may have heard of something called "Second Life." It's a virtual reality world where you sign-up to be a "Resident" and you function pretty much as a resident in a real world. One fascinating aspect is that you can set up a virtual reality business and sell virtual reality products or services to those virtual reality residents, and then take out any profits you make from that virtual activity as real-world dollars. There are estimated to be 100,000 real people in China who work in "Second Life" full time earning a real-world living.

Now I'm sure most of you have heard of Facebook. There is hardly a day goes by when the papers don't make use of it to find background information about someone in the news. There's a good chance they will find something because there are currently 60 million subscribers world-wide.

I set up a page on Facebook for the Library and Museum of Freemasonry because I wanted to see what you could do with it, and how it worked. I haven't told anyone about it, so it's our little secret, and I haven't promoted it anywhere, it is just something I'm experimenting with. But all the same, in the few weeks it has existed it has accidentally drawn 73 members. All I can conclude at this point is there are people are out there, looking for anything to do with Freemasonry. I don't have any data about how many of them are already Freemasons, probably most of them I would guess, but what is fascinating is that 94% of them are under the age of 45. If we were to draw up a target demographic of who we would like to promote Freemasonry to, that has got to be a good figure.

The trailblazer for social networking sites, however, is MySpace. I'm experimenting with that to suss out it's potential as well, but the single most interesting piece of information for me about that so far is how many people are signing-up for a MySpace account. They are gaining 230,000 new users, per day. That's approximately how many Masons there are in UGLE. And that's after 300 years. MySpace gets that many every single day.

I'm sure you've all heard of YouTube as well. It often features on TV news when they find a video of some recent incident that someone has uploaded. Or you've read about some dozy criminals who were videoing their activities on a mobile phone and then uploaded it to show their buddies. YouTube was hosting 6.3 million videos as of a year ago. I did a search recently for "freemason" and it listed 4,500 videos, while a search on "masonic" listed 41,700 videos.

It's also being used extensively by the candidates in the US general election, and CNN staged a presidential debate in conjunction with YouTube for all the Republican candidates at the end of last year. Some might remember when CNN was the new-kid-on-the-block and look where they are today. YouTube could be heading the same way, they have an agreement to distribute content via Apple TV, and have just signed another agreement with a UK satellite TV channel.

The boundaries between the media are being increasingly blurred. Most of the UK newspapers have large and comprehensive web sites, and ordinary readers are able to post comments and even have their own blogs on them. I'm an active blogger on the Daily Telegraph site, look out for DidcotMan if you're interested. The Telegraph are also now "broadcasting" Telegraph TV on the site, comprising videoed stories, and many blogs are moving to a video format as the technology makes everything so much easier and as people choose to communicate in that way or get their news and information that way. It is demand-led.

So perhaps it is already an understatement to say that the difference between a newspaper and a tv station and a web site is being blurred. The Internet is changing everything and for the reasons I've just given, you don't even have to be on it to be affected. But if you factor-in the interactive elements as well, such as the social networking sites, I think there is a strong case to be made that society is increasingly moving onto the Internet, and we should move with it.

With or without virtual reality, this is Freemasonry in the Community in a very real sense.

So with that in mind, at our August meeting I will give a presentation on how Freemasonry might participate on-line in a more visible way, and I will point out some of the pitfalls. At the same meeting W Bro John Belton will deliver a presentation looking at the Internet as a resource for Masonic research and daily advancement. I hope you will find both of these presentations of interest and I look forward to seeing you all again there.

W.Bro Mark Griffin
Worshipful Master
Internet Lodge No. 9659