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<nettime> FW: Towards 2003--The Year of WSIS? sigh...
Michael Gurstein on Tue, 31 Dec 2002 19:34:32 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> FW: Towards 2003--The Year of WSIS? sigh...

Below is a very interesting piece on the World Summit on the Information
Society http://www.itu.int/wsis (WSIS) written from a Swiss NGO perspective
(presumably having more direct access to the Geneva summit hosts than
others... (My own contacts suggest that the reality especially as it impacts
on the non-government, non-corporate participants is much worse than this
rather polite piece is willing to admit... As one very knowledgeable French
lady of my acquaintance put it, it is "merde", only she used the Anglo Saxon

>From my own perspective everything written below seems more or less
After several recent rather intensive bouts of attempting to come to grips
again with the WSIS without actually becoming enmeshed in what appears to be
the formidable and engulfing process I remain of multiple minds on the whole

On the one hand, I have too much to do IRL to take too much time with the
WSIS.  The possibility of having any effective output from my energy and
attention seems too remote:

MG-->NGO-->Civil Society Umbrella Org-->Prepcom Input process-->Summit
statement output process-->Summit Statement Output

with too many twists and turns and possibilities for having any possible
input I might make shunted into never never land by Civil Society concensus
seeking, Summit organizational editing/convergence seeking, bureaucratic
editing/censorship, governmental indifference/influence monopolization

On the other hand, this can be/should be seen as a Summit on the Global
Future, misnamed though it may be.  Rather than discussing "Information" of
which we have too much and which is a problem seeking a technical solution,
we should be discussing "Knowledge" or "Learning" of which we have great
need and for which the most effective modalities are still to be worked out.

So, I'm reluctant on a personal/ethical level to leave this, the
first global attempt to come to grips with an increasingly malleable and
technologically determinable future to the exclusive hands of the usual gang
suspects--the governments and the bureaucrats playing out their familiar
routines of control and regimentation; or the corporations seeking their
ever shorter horizons of profit maximization; or the traditional NGO's which
seem so unable to see that ICT's are more an opportunity than a problem
(admittedly this being forced on many of them by the Summit process itself).

What is missing so far from any of the "official" involvements in the WSIS
(are there any involvements so far that aren't "official" in one way or
another?) is the sense of building a common future with a remarkable and
incredibly powerful new set of tools; of going beyond the "market building"
cant of the "Digital Divide" towards opportunities for effective and active
use of ICT's to enable communities, active citizens, and democratic
participation and to achieve the widest possible distribution of locally
focussed globally aware knowledge creation and knowledge use.

There is in fact no sense of the Internet as a network, a network of
networks, a technology with  the capacity to engage and enable interaction
across geographies
and boundaries both physical and cultural. Nor, and finally, is there the
sense of the innovation and creative ebullience that the Net has let loose
initially through the DotCom's but which continues through the development
of alternative patterns of governance and consultation, new forms of
and new styles of knowledge production and effective use.

And overall there is in reality no opportunity for those actually building
the new "Knowledge Societies" as practitioners, researchers, suppliers; as
communities--to have a voice.  As with the DotForce and those that followed,
this is something that will be done to "us".

So, what to do, to partake of the process is to legitimate it (Don't Vote It
Only Encourages Them!), to not partake is to leave what ever influence the
Summit will have to the hands of those who least understand what it is a
Summit on the Future would be about.

I think in the end I am of a third mind... That is, rather than either
partake or not partake of the WSIS process, to seek to
create/enable/participate in an alternative process towards a World Summit
on the Knowing and Learning Society-- WS-KALS... (it's late and that's the
best I could come up with...

I know that several others have been thinking of something similar but of
course there are no resources either in personal time or in public funds, so
perhaps we can do what we do best which is to create another electronic
public space where real interaction can occur and out of which real
innovation and knowledge creation towards a WS-Knowing and Learning Society
can take place...

What do you think, are there better alternatives, is something developing of
which we should all be aware...

Thoughts/ideas as we are about to enter a new year...

The e-list dotforce-wsis {AT} vancouvercommunity.net has been repurposed to carry
forward an already active discussion

to subscribe send an email

to: sympa {AT} vancouvercommunity.net

subscribe dotforce-wsis


Best to all for the new year,

Mike Gurstein




Swiss Coalition News, Nr. 33, December 2002

World Summit on the Information Society

A vessel adrift

For lack of leadership, clear vision and real political will, preparations
for the World Summit on the Information Society are off to a difficult
start. Although frustrated, civil society is getting organized. In
Switzerland, a platform has just been created bringing together media
professionals and NGOs.

The countdown has started. The first phase of the World Summit on the
Information Society (WSIS) will take place on 10–12 December 2003 in Geneva
and the second is scheduled for 2005 in Tunis. An important topic:
information and communication technologies (ICTs) – the Internet first and
foremost – are not only the drivers of economic and financial
globalisation, but also powerful vehicles for ideas and images that are
shaping our vision of the world and our consumption patterns. Hence the
substantial stakes involved, in terms of access (digital divide), power
(concentration of the media), democracy (freedom of expression), and
cultural diversity (macdonaldisation). These issues become even more
crucial considering the great chasm between the info-rich and the info-
poor, and that information as a commodity most often wins out over
information as a human right or a public good.

Yet, one year before the Summit, the mix still seems all wrong. States are
lacking in political will, enterprises are just beginning to wake up, civil
society is struggling to mobilize beyond specialized circles, and media
professionals on the whole are spectacularly indifferent or apathetic. It
is as if the Summit were coming too early or too late. Too early because
the political terrain is still lying fallow and public awareness is almost
nonexistent. Too late, because the sector is in the grip of an economic
downturn and the positions of strength of certain groups and countries –
such as Microsoft and the United States – well established.

Three questions now arise concerning the Summit. First, will Geneva 2003 be
anything other than a major curtain-raiser for the Tunis Summit in 2005?
The Swiss and Geneva authorities, which have been keen to hold this high
mass and plan to invest SFr. 20 million in it, are obsessed by the fear
that it could turn out to be just that. Yet the risk is real, for there is
no true leadership, no strong emblematic organization or figure capable of
galvanizing energies and embodying a forward-looking vision. The United
Nations agency responsible, the very technically-oriented International
Telecommunication Union (ITU) has neither the requisite stature nor
capabilities. The upshot is that in the absence of a real brain, the Summit
looks like a many-headed hydra – the ITU, the host country secretariat and
the Summit’s executive secretariat – each with its own perspectives and
agenda. The result is a somewhat paralysing strategic vagueness and
institutional complexity.

Alarmed by the situation, Switzerland finally spoke out at the European
Preparatory Conference held in Bucharest from 7 to 9 November. The head of
the delegation and Director of the Federal Communications Office (OFCOM),
Marc Furrer, shook things up somewhat, at the same time berating
the «scepticism or even sarcasm» of some European countries. Is this a sign
of stronger and more courageous commitment? So far, Switzerland has not
really dared or been capable of seizing the opportunity offered by this
Summit to raise its international profile and play a pioneering role in a
field where much remains to be invented.

Second question: what will the Summit to be discussing? According to the
official discourse, it should focus more on content rather than channels.
The reality is much less clear. Bearing the marked imprint of the ITU, the
official documents thus far published place more emphasis on infrastructure
development (for the South) and potential markets (for the North) than on
the rights and real needs of human beings. Most often reduced to ICTs, the
vision of the information society strangely overlooks the media. As States
are on the whole poorly prepared, much more substantive work will have to
be done if the Final Declaration and Plan of Action are to be any
different. Switzerland, precisely, has decided to concentrate on some
topics that are yet to be determined amongst the federal offices, which do
not always speak the same language. The OFCOM specifically mentions access,
cultural diversity and freedom of expression, the Swiss Agency for
Development and Cooperation (SDC) speaks of the fight against poverty, and
empowerment. By comparison the United States is interested primarily in the
growth of telecommunications, IT training and security on Internet (fight
against terrorism).

Third question: Will the Summit be of a «new kind» – as has been trumpeted
for the last year – in other words open to greater civil society
participation, amongst other things? The answer is almost certain: no. To
quote Daniel Stauffacher, the delegate for the Federal Council, «NGO hopes
have been raised too high and some governments have been made overly
fearful.» In fact, it is only the large enterprises that could gain
influence thanks to their privileged links with ITU. This is not preventing
civil society from organizing and putting up a fight, having been
galvanised by the CRIS (Communication Rights in the Information Society)
international campaign and strongly supported by UNESCO. A platform for the
information society was just created in Switzerland, bringing together NGOs
and media around a vision and some shared claims. The objectives? To
mobilize and coordinate forces so that the Swiss Government will better
take account of the interests of civil society. The Swiss Coalition and
Bread for All are participating in this initiative, which strives to be
open. This is worth keeping an eye on.

Contact: Michel Egger

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