January 12, 2004

Milking the Digital Divide

Joi Ito, a man who's been to lunch with everyone and everything online, and whose blog is becoming the society page for geeks, is on yet another mission to make the world safe for Technocracy. His cause this time out is the always widening, ever-threatening, yawning wider and seldom closing "digital divide." The Digital Divide, in case you've been in a time share with Judge Crater, is the fret that what the poor need most, here and abroad, are Internet connections. This "issue" is of ancient online lineage and even predates spam. It's the Fret that has launched a thousand conferences and yet always seems to widen as the decades roll along.

Still, it has been a proven winner in the list of begging bowl issues that drive the urge to merge among those who can afford or get a company to pay for an off-site blatherfest. Plus it has the added advantage of making the organizers excel in the look and feel category of online humanitarian.

Never slow to run reanimator on a theme that has previously been done to death, Ito (who's been puffing new life into the hoary "direct democracy" concept by calling it "digital democracy") is now on a bender to pave over the digital divide by.... talking about it some more. A flyer reproduced on his site gives us this priceless summation of the issue and those who would batten off of it. He calls this meatup the Digital Democracy Tech-In

Emergent Democracy Worldwide
Joichi Ito, Founder and CEO, Neoteny
Ethan Zuckerman, Founder, Geekcorps
Time: 3:30pm - 4:15pm
Location: California Ballroom C

While we're building great new tools to build communities, we've done very little to ensure that people around the world have access to them. And even when we've made it possible for people in developing nations to speak, we've done little to ensure that anyone listens.

How do we ensure that the "Second Superpower" Jim Moore proposes includes the poor as well as the rich?

When a new democratic structure emerges from highly-wired westerners, how do we ensure it's fair and just for those currently unwired?

The answer is more complex than bridging the so-called "digital divide" - it involves bridging countless cultural divides.

Emerging technologies make it easier than ever to bring first-person perspectives, as well as images, movies and music to people in other nations - is this enough to bring cultures together and ensure they care about one another?

It is amazing how much hubris can be packed into so few words.

First up is the name "Emergent Democracy Worldwide." Sounds good but you can be sure that Joi and his gestalt were not and are not cheering the Iraq project along.

Next we have Ito's "company" called, coyly, Neotony, which means, first and foremost, " retention of some larval or immature characters in adulthood." Translation: "big babies."

Then we drop down into the meat of the announcement with the inclusively exclusive "we" who build "great new tools to build communities." That would be... ah... web sites?... blogs?... LiveJournal? Never mind, they will be insanely great new tools, for sure. But "We" just aren't doing enough for "Them" -- over there, down there, outside on the sidewalk, in the shelters, squatting in a mud hut gnawing on a root fifteen clicks southwest of Omaha or Mombassa, somewhere. We need to not do more but do something. Like this meeting.

Next up in the grand plan is not only to get "them" to speak, but to "ensure that anyone listens. " I guess the deal is to make great tools that force the message on unwilling ears. Strange goal for people who make a lot of noise about freedom.

The trouble with this crew is that it don't get no respect. Which is bad because, unless people start to listen, really listen, they'll never know that Ito and his cadre are the white-hot core of Jim Moore's Second Superpower. The 2nd SPower is something Berkman fellow cobbled together last spring to bring aid and comfort to a bunch of Americans who weren't too overjoyed about Iraq. It's a concept that been on lifesupport since about a week before it was published and requires constant conferences such as Ito's thump it back to life. It gets very thick very quick, but essentially promises that the geek shall inherit the Earth. It's persistence in this little corner of the web lends support to the proverb that "Those who code are easily snowed."

Ito also then puts forward as the gospel of the day that a 'new democratic structure will emerge from wired westerners.' To which one can only ask, 'Oh yeah? You and what army? Still, it is pleasing to note that as this brave new world emerges it is casting a caring eye at those who will be sadly left behind.

And caring is what this convocation is going to be about. Caring for the cultures, making sure that the cultures come together and "care about each other." Yes, we can see them now. The world's cultures all coming together under the big tent of broadband everywhere and caring deeply about each other. It sounds good enough to eat and it is. A banquet of caring. Belly up.

But the real kicker is when you find out that in order to attend this little smarm fest you have to fork over $100. That's about $99 too high for anyone who is actually, well, you know.... poor.

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Posted by Vanderleun at January 12, 2004 12:41 PM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Ouch! Nice kicker at the end. :-)

Posted by: Harvey at January 13, 2004 10:24 AM