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ICT & new media

di Betsy Dougas da Rio de Janeiro

betsydougas_2I guess the first thing that strikes me is the good will and passion each person has for that piece of the Internet they work for.

Then you feel, listening to the discussions that the world is so big and diverse and therefore, it is a wonderful thing, everyone comments, that the IGF makes it possible for everyone to come together and share their experiences, their needs, their challenges and their hopes and to learn from each other and encourage each other.

As I listen to each topic I think - "Oh, we could do something in this area.." it is all so fascinating. Each one of us in the delegation has commented how we wish everyone in NetOne could have the chance to participate. To hear the voices from all the different countries, the different accents, the different points of view, the many variations of concerns about the same issue. It is beautiful. Then the amount of information, to understand the history behind each aspect, the research being done, the projects completed, the plans that countries and businesses and civil society are working on - at a certain point it could be overwhelming!

As someone pointed out, this is not your standard UN conference. When they call someone to make a statement, they do not include their title. Each one is Mr. or Ms. in a sense, like on the Internet, we are all equals. This is what encourages people to share their concerns and voice their opinions and say "hello, we need to be taken into consideration too"  the blind, the illiterate, those who want to preserve their culture, the ones who want to protect the children, etc. In general, I think government officials have the most difficult time with such an open forum as the IGF as well as with the Internet. It is interesting to realize that there is no clear cut line as to where the governments role ends and civil society begins. The idea that the Internet and much of its governance is outside of the reach of the governments is intriguing.

While IGF is the meeting point for everyone, everyone, I realized that there are many conferences that take place on specific subjects all over the world. This is often seen on the panels, where they know each other, they know people in the audience. It is quite impressive to see these international groups talking together in the meetings, in the corridors etc.

I really liked a comment on the first day many of the social issues existed long before the Internet, illiteracy, lack of electricity, etc. and we need to ask ourselves if an issue is truly related to the Internet or are we hoping to use the Internet as the silver bullet to finally get them taken care of. I can only imagine that there are many organizations working on literacy, working on women's issues, working on free speech, etc. who are not represented here. Then someone points out how progress is accelerated when the Internet is properly introduced to a village that has these kinds of issues.

I have the impression that sometimes people working on the same issue do not always know what others are doing on the same issue. It would be great if out of this IGF could come a catalog of organizations, coalitions, multi-stakeholder projects. One woman suggested that we are all reinventing the wheel because we don't know. She suggested starting with a plane text write up for each project - including what they are doing, of some issues, and of contact information. In fact, she suggested that the contact information that is most important to be available is that of the people working on location, to be able to gleam from them their practical experience.

For me, perhaps because I am American, it is a little frustrating to hear all this discussion, people raising all these issues and needs and no one taking notes, no one making a list of action items. Besides a list of what people are doing, wouldn't it be great if there were a list of all the open issues, it could facilitate people finding partners to take on various projects. Kind of like, as I imagine, on an open source project - there is the list of enhancements and people sign up to work on them. Of course if there are multiple developers, one of them takes on coordination.

After the first day I thought, hum, it looks like they have everything under control, someone seems to be working on everything. Then I realized that, yes, there are lots of people working, but each location needs a full team to take on the specific challenges of that unique piece of the world, from cyclones, to electricity, to corruption in the government, to monopoly in the telephone company, to the unique culture.

The issues are not just broad but also wide and deep and language sometimes perpetuates discussions because of lack of precise meanings. Of course if Corporate America has trouble concisely expressing requirements to a development team - how much more time is needed for people to share their needs with cultural and lingual diversity.

Every now and then it comes to mind the question - how much of the desire to get the internet everywhere comes from a desire to "give everyone our western society". "Because we can do it and it helps us be more productive, everyone should be able to do it."  I think here is where the greatest care needs to be taken to protect and promote the positive aspects of local cultures. People are talking about this, especially the Minister of Culture of Brazil.

One interesting experience was shared about work done in Santo Domingo, where they were told, only 2 people have PC's. But then the next day when they insalled broad band there were 10 people waiting at the door to sign-up. It turns out that these people have family in the US who want to be able to communicate with them. Given computer pieces, the youth assembled them with out instructions - they are so creative. He pointed out that this is why it is so important to work on projects at location, at least have someone there.

I'm amazed at the range of problems the people here are ready to take on.
Once in a while I hear an issue and think - "but that is a government issue, we can't do anything there". Then I realized, but no, that is why this forum exists, to give civil society, the private sector a chance to work together and for the government. That explained why there were so many lawyers present. Then to realize that these people are ready to take on the governments who are not present.

The sun came out today!! and the beach is across the street.
There would be so much to say... that is it for now.

Betsy