Queen Elizabeth II, the revolutionary ruler and tech advocate

Queen Elizabeth II was a revolutionary ruler, from being the first British Monarch to send an email way back in 1976 to posting tweets and Instagram photos, she embraced technological, scientific, and social change across her 70-year reign on the throne.

She was a pioneer and set a lot of firsts for the royal family, which started before she was on the throne by being the first in her family to serve in the military.

During World War II, the princess persuaded her father to allow her to serve her country. She was then allowed to volunteer in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the British Army, where she learned how to take apart engines and to become a driver, which at the time was extremely irregular for women, especially royalty. This set the tone for the sea of change Queen Elizabeth would bring throughout her reign, involving societal and gender stereotypes.

In 1953, during planning for her coronation, she broke tradition and allowed the BBC to broadcast the event over live TV. It was the first coronation ever televised. More than 20 million people worldwide watched the broadcast, which is credited with catapulting TV into the mainstream. Not only that, but it was also recorded using experimental 3D technology as well as being filmed in colour.

In 1957, four years after her coronation, the Queen gave the first televised Christmas broadcast by a British monarch, the first in a long line of annual Christmas speeches from the Queen.

Then came the internet. In March 1976, the Queen visited a telecommunications research centre in Malvern, England and used ARPANET – a military computer network linking universities, government agencies and defence contractors – to send an ‘email’ long before it was used like it is today. Peter Kirstein nicknamed “the European father of the internet” set up the Queen’s first official email account and guided her through the process of sending her first message, her username was “HME2”.

After permitting royal use of the internet in 1997, the first royal website was launched, another in a long list of firsts for the monarchy. In 2009, the @RoyalFamily Twitter account appeared, followed by a YouTube channel 2 years later, and an Instagram account in 2014 where she shared her first Instagram post.

During lockdown, the Queen also followed the rest of the country in using video links to communicate, for instance conducting conference calls with carers on Zoom.

Carefully controlled glimpses of the Queens lighter side – showing a very British sense of humour – have featured prominently over the past couple of weeks including, her appearance with Daniel Craig at the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony and, in a much-loved clip, her tea appointment with Paddington Bear at this year’s platinum jubilee.

In more recent years, she embraced an environmentally friendly message, giving her blessing to an initiative that encourages forest conservation all over the Commonwealth and even tackling plastic use on royal estates after working with David Attenborough—the British naturalist whom she knighted twice—on a documentary about her forests.

The monarchy she represented may be 1,500 years old, but the most recent Elizabethan era will be remembered as one of enormous technological, social, and scientific progress. She displayed a willingness to embrace technological shifts in how the institution was seen and interacted with the public.