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Digital Sketches

digital citizen media, ict with a focus on Central Asia and the Middle East.

Category Archives: digital technology

Last week I attended some presentations at re:publica 10, Berlin:

  • Evgeny Morozov has taken up the role of the bad cop in the world of digital activism and always challenges the believers in the Internet as an inherently revolutionary an democratic medium: ‘Do not forget the commercialization of digital activism.’ According to Morozov the financial support for digital activism is ‘big business’ because of the large amounts of money foreign state departments – and private parties like funds and the industry – put into supporting internet activism authoritarian and developing countries. Morozov also stated the costs to start a digital campaign – or even a revolution – might be low but this means the costs for contra revolution – by authoritarian regimes – drop as well. ‘One man’s hacktivism is another man’ s cyberwar.’
  • Jeff Jarvis (What would Google do?) focused on the privacy issue. He stated in a slightly provocative presentation ‘instead of asserting the right to privacy, defend pubic information’ . Why do we want privacy? What is privacy but a very culturally defined concept? His description of the shock of the American woman entering an European sauna – and seeing all those naked people – was entertaining. Jarvis: ‘We want to control our own data, creations and identity. But what is the price we want to pay for privacy? The Internet is a public place, a connection machine. The Internet became big by sharing information and the Internet can only fulfil its promises when the default setting on our Facebook, Flickr and other personal accounts is public.’
  • David Sasaki started his talk with the case of the transparency – or the lack of it – after the archives of the German security service Stasi were opened after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sasaki of Global Voices Online gave an overview of the programme Technology for Transparency Network. He showed some cases of increased transparency during elections (Sudan, Philippines) and financial accountability (both and American as an Kenyan budget tracking tool)
  • In the session on freedom of expression Bahraini journalist and star blogger Amira Al Husseini gave an update of the situation in the Middle East. The three biggest taboos are sex, politics and religion. To avoid problems do not blog about these topics. She explained some differences between Arab states; Kuwait and Qatar are more open and Jemen and Egypt are famous for their on line rigid regime. The famous Chinese internet activist and journalist Michael Anti told that although Twitter.com was blocked in China many Chinese were still using twitter via other websites offering access (third party). Virtual Private Network (VPN) is popular in China; access to free Internet is possible if you can afford it. Anti pointed out the Internet is the first freedom Chinese people practise. The next step is to expand his freedom to other media and real life on the ground.’
  • Nishant Shah, from the Centre for Internet Society in Bangalore (supported by Hivos) gave an excellent presentation on his research ‘Digital natives with a cause?’ Digital natives are often looked upon as a technologically savvy, young generation, mainly boys, who spend their whole life on line. In contrast Nishant uses a less strict definition for the digital native. He considers his grandmother also a digital native, as she is blogging and uploading photo’s, her live changed significantly by using digital technologies. Here is the video of Nishants presentation.
  • Thou shall not block, not discriminate unfairly and let users use the tools of their choice. These are the essential rules regarding net neutrality, according to Tim Wu from Colombia University. Every medium – radio, television, films – started its history with democratic ideals, promoting equality and openness. The most important private censorship in the USA was the film censorship in the twenties. This moralistic film code ruined the career of Mae West (‘is that your gun or are you just glad to see me’). He predicted the openness of internet will encounter growing pressure in the near future. Nothing new, as history shows. But: 1) support the people (politicians, journalists, activists) who are protesting 2) there should be a distinction between the ownership of those offering the content and those providing access.
  • The winners of the sixth Deutsche Welle Blog Awards were announced. Of the eleven finalists in the Best Weblog category, Ushahidi (English: “Testimony”) was named the winner after a heated round of debate among the jurists. The jury was ultimately won over by Ushahidi’s innovative approach to collecting and compiling information from users and the important role it has already played in crisis situations throughout the world.

(Both Global Voices Online as the research Digital natives with a cause are supported by Hivos)

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Last week I followed the news about the violent protests in Kyrgyzstan (first week of April, 2010) via the mainstream media BBC, CNN, AlJazeera, NOS  and blogs of individual journalists such as from NRC correspondent Michiel Krielaars. Of course also digital media using and including contributions of citizen journalists were important sources the past few days. Some examples are:
– Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
– Transitions Online (TOL)
– the bloggers platform NewEurasia.net with amongst others Adam Kesher‘s blog
– an overview at Global Voices Onlines; with ‘the making of’ by star reporter Elena Skochilo combining traditional and digital social media in an excellent way
– the Kyrgyz youth portal Kloop

Some of my own performances:
– a radio interview on Radio 1 (Dutch)
– also I was quoted in the Dutch daily NRC Next (Friday 9 April) in this article: Oppositie_Kirgizie_vormt_geen_droomregering (Dutch) and Kyrgyzstan faces uncertain future after coup (ENG)

Cathy Fitzpatrick wrote an intelligent opinionated summary on the use of digital media, to be more precise Twitter, during last turbulent week in Kyrgyzstan.

Kazakhstan is known for being ‘not free’ according to reports of Reporters sans frontiers and the FreedomHouse. But protests continue. Last week for example journalists held a silent protest in Almaty, former capital of Kazakhstan. More details on the redesigned Neweurasianet.

The protest also addressed the growing repressive nature of the media legislation. Lately the Kazakh parliament has adopted controversial amendments to the Law on Information and Communications Networks, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reports.  Main point is the Internet in Kazakhstan – including chat rooms, blogs, and public forums – will be recognized as mass media and gives the Kazakh prosecutor-general the right to shut down online resources without going to court.

Despite several protest under the flag of this symbol. More background information in this article published in The Guardian.

Last week I attended the Barcamp in Almaty.  Again it was a lively and informal gathering of enthusiastic digital natives from all over Central Asia.  On this videoclip (6.30 min.) some of them share the digital tools they use most and probable also love most.

Friday late afternoon I spent some time with friends at cafe Maxwell, one of the many nice pubs in my quarter. Winding down from a busy week and looking forward to  the long Easter weekend ahead. The sun was shining and the beer was tasty. The conversation took a spin after I mentioned a interesting experience with Twitter.  I am not twittering myself but I find it a fascinating phenomenon. I think Twitter and more of these digital tools are still very primitive and mainly appealing to playful and curious early adopters.

My friends reacted sceptically on Twitter. Their reaction was so full of mistrust that it took me aback. Their conservative views on new tools and media were annoying.  You should at least try them before you judge. Twitter is dead simple and after one hour playing you can find out for your self: this offers me opportunities and can be fun or this is too time consuming and not my cup of tea.  Instead of jumping to conclusions based on information you have read about-the-hype-that-is-called-twitter in the mainstream newspapers.

Digital technology is developing fast. Digital natives are born with their fingers glued to the keyboard and mobiles are growing out of their ears. This generation is not afraid of technology because they are growing up together. Meanwhile the majority of my generation – people in their forties and fifties – is not used to new technology. Most of them avoid it as much and as long as possible. Except the group of older early adopters. These people – amongst whom a lot of (former) hippies, squatters , scientists, artists and some journalists – are really putting in an effort to keep up.

We can not all be genius. Still, it is strange that most of my generation is not interested at all or even afraid of new technology. In the near future they will definitely benefit enormously from digital tools after these have matured in user friendliness and many other ways. In ten to twenty years time they will thank God on their bare knees for the advantages of digital technology.  There will be screens everywhere. Including many (wireless and mobile) possibilities to keep in touch with friends and to stay in business even when ones own mobility slows down.

I know digital technology – like everything and everyone else that is new – is looked upon with a certain waiting attitude and sometimes even distrust. Though it is much wiser to approach new tools with keen and critical curiosity. Please explore and enjoy them!

The Iranian documentary Head Wind about satellite television and internet access was shown at the Amnesty filmfestival Movies That Matter. Despite the fact free access is difficult – though not impossible – Head Wind is a lively film with lots of humour.

Interesting to do the Q&A with Kamran Ashtary.

Je kunt uitgaan van de vraag: hoe kunnen professionele media overleven in deze digitale tijden? Hoe moeten media – en kranten in het bijzonder – hun productiekosten en inkomstenstroom opnieuw vormgeven? Hoe kunnen bloggers en andere on line media inkomen genereren? Hoe een mediabedrijf te starten en financieren, gebaseerd op bijdragen van het publiek?

Van deze bekende vragen zijn zeker de eerste twee niet bijster nieuw zoals is te zien op de Amerikaanse nieuwsuitzending uit 1981 over de San Francisco Chronicle en Examiner en hun inspanningen hun krant online te zetten. Deze herkauwde vragen hebben vooralsnog weinig concrete antwoorden of bevredigende oplossingen opgeleverd. Deels omdat het de verkeerde vragen zijn, stellen Persephone Miel en Robert Faris van het Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

Lees verder op Netkwesties

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