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Notes From Berkman@10 Conference

At the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, attendees and special guests discussed “The Future of the Internet,” and its political dimensions and its affect on the global community. In addition, during the opening remarks there was an announcement that the Berkman Center will become a university-wide research center.

In this global framework, John Palfrey led the conversation about ways to help Cubans find creative ways to circumvent their restrictions and overcome legal risks in order to blog freely in a country with restricted speech. There was also a special focus on two of the Berkman Center's projects: Open Net, which investigates and analyzes the various filtering and surveillance practices around the world. The project is a joint effort of four universities and a team of top-level investigators in the field.

Global Voices Online is another featured project, which focuses on global conversations in blogs, as well as the outreach projects of Rising Voices. A new project of GVO is Voices Without Votes, which covers what is being discussed about the US elections throughout the world's blogs.

All the attendees seemed to agree that the internet is nothing more than people linked together, who are learning how to interact on a daily, yet spontaneous basis. However, one hard question raised during the discussions is not necessarily about freedom of speech, but rather what happens after speech. Often the behavior of individuals and how they react to others’ opinions are where the problem lies. Some attendees asked, “Do we need to fix people?” A Russian attendee and another individual working in Asia raised these concerns.

There was also a lot of focus on new ways to overcome problems. For example, computer games are being used to teach about technology and transmit expertise in developing countries, as well as new inventions to share information in Cuba. The Facebook campaign that mobilized Colombians against the FARC was also used as an example. However, access issues still remains a top concern, where it appears that the internet is only used by a limited group of people, and that it is not only a digital divide, but also a participation divide. The closing commentary was provided by Kevin Wallen of the Prison Diaries project, which has been funded by Rising Voices. He described the project, but also added that it is really hard to get people from the grassroots connected, involved and to become interested in the message. He asked how it would be easier to collaborate with people on the ground in order to make a real difference in the real world.

The Future of the Internet and the future of The Berkman Center is still “unforeseeable”. However, now they can proudly say that via action, via breaking the patterns that they are making a real change in the world.

7 comments

  • It seems to me the crucial issue in terms of the political future of the internet will be how it interacts with social hierarchy. Will it flatten it by giving voice to those who previous did not have it or will it become another tool that is regulated in ways that lead to it further supporting hierarchy?

    Ultimately, that does seem to mean it will come down to how people use it. The internet itself just provides the opportunity for new ways of relating. It can’t itself guarantee that those relationships are healthy or supportive of freedom. Only the people with an interest in it can decide those things.

  • From my perspective there are a lot of conversations that are not taking place, in Spanish, in Italian, across Africa… And the best Web 2.0 stuff is mainly in English, the best open content is in English, etc… So it is a big challenge of respecting identity and working on many plats and languafe to keep it diverse

  • Well that’s definitely another issue that the web needs to spread and become integrated in more places in more languages. Then, wherever it is integrated more, the issue I raised will become important over and over again.

  • Hurray for the Berkman Center. Wish I could have been there too.

  • Renata:

    I think you’re completely right, barriers of language and culture are absolutely key. Did the issue of language come up very much in the conference?

  • Well, Jimmy Wales mentioned that we need to realize how to reach places and languages not covered by media, for example Zulu, or such places that are just not that attractive for markets.

  • Still language issues will remain ignored if people using the languages does not get involved… Great Renata!! good you are there telling us what is going on

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