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I managed to wake up at 3am to follow day 2 of the IGF in Nairobi. Plugged in my laptop, stumbled in to the kitchen to make coffee, came back to find that I had forgotten to switch on the power. So I was almost completely too late for the IGC "Mapping the Internet" workshop.

Had a whole list of workshops for the second session but I also had connection difficulties so ended up in Room 11 listening to a discussion on Open Standards, moderated by Alejandro Pizanty, because that was where reception was clearest.

By that time I had missed a lot, but count myself fortunate to have been in time for Richard Stallman joining the discussion over a telephone link.

He stated categorically that freedom is paramount to him, and that he won't pay with freedom for technology. He went on to caution against the wide use of software with secret or patented formats and protocols. He described a situation with a company creating a space and people being lured in by an illusion of freedom.

Stallman was talking about software, protocols and standards, but I suddenly realised that he had helped me to articulate my concerns about Facebook. It seems to me that Facebook is being allowed to become de facto a standard. It is being presented as an open space, when in fact it is not. The pressure to "sign up for Facebook" is becoming considerable. If you don't sign up you are viewed as anti-social, old-fashioned, rather strange.

I would be interested to hear the opinions of other people about this. I sent a comment to the workshop and the person who replied pointed to the fact that the Facebook software is also "closed". 

I wonder how many of us look at situations from the perspective that it might be necessary to pay for technology with freedom.

Any ideas?

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Comment by Deirdre Williams on October 16, 2011 at 1:50pm

Hello Guy :-)

I'm seeing a strong link between the Internet and the Olympic Games in philosophical shift. I am old enough to have lived with (in?) an Internet where the fundamental ethic was that the Internet should be open and free (libre) and therefore NOT be for commercial activity. In the same way my children, who swam competitively, always had to be very careful not to compromise their "amateur" status in case there might be a chance to swim in the Olympics. I have seen both of those ideas turned on their heads in the last 20 years.

For young people coming into this world now "how things are currently" must seem like the only way possible. In the same way "how things were then" seemed the only possibility - a "truth", a "fact" for most of those of us looking at it 20 years ago.

During the Diplo webinar last week there was some discussion about the importance of perception. It is incumbent upon us to try to look at the issues from several different perspectives before we form "our own" opinions.

I found it interesting, listening to discussions in Nairobi, to hear what seemed to me to be a much louder - clearer? - voice this year speaking to the "old" philosophy. This is not just the issue of commercialisation - it's really about process I think - about how, and why, things are done. That theme seemed to run through all of the workshops I "attended" on the same day as the Stallman intervention. Coincidentally Alejandro Pizanty from Mexico was in each of those workshops as well - as moderator a couple of times but also as participant. Because I happen to know him I'm using him as a marker :-)

Commercialisation forces a particular type of process - not just in the Internet but in the whole world. I believe - ardently - in the need for balance. It seems to me that the world has currently lost its balance - gone too far in a particular direction - but hopefully there is the beginning of a tendency to "lean" in the other direction.

Comment by Guy Sheffer on October 14, 2011 at 6:01pm
Indeed Stallman is right. Its becoming even more apparent now when companies like Google and Apple are using open source based operating systems, without the free software ideology behind it. Strengthening the claim that free software is an ideology far beyond the license of the software. Many people from the free software community are becoming concern that even the best of us are finding it impossible not to 'go with the flow' and enter facebook closed system. Stallman wrote a pretty good post about this in his blog called the javascript trap. In a way we did not find yet the solution to 'open source' on the Internet arena.
Attempts like Diaspora are not catching on, and by the time they would it would be too late.
In a way the IGF helped me start to understand how problematic this is in 2009 in Egypt.
Comment by Michele Marius on September 29, 2011 at 3:48am

Hi Deirdre,

I really take my hat off to you for waking up at 3am (2am Jamaica time). I have pretty full days, so instead I wake up at 5am, get ready for work and try to catch the afternoon session, which starts around 6:30am Jamaica time, until it's time to set off for the office.

However, now I am in bit of a quandary, since I would love to listen in on the e-participation workshop, which Ginger will be moderating and is scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday) at 9am Kenya time, but 2am is REALLY early! It would be really great if the footage/recording could be made available after the session. Perhaps this is something that can be raised? 

Looking forward to chatting with you tomorrow... 

Comment by Deirdre Williams on September 28, 2011 at 10:09pm

Hello Michele :-)

I have simply appalling jet lag - remote trips to Nairobi at 3am have their price, even if you never leave your own home, so please forgive me if I respond to you tomorrow when I am rather more awake.

Today was a really good day though, and all through serendipity. I think the gods of the Internet must be taking care of me. I began the day with an ambitious plan. The workshop in Room 11 was not part of my plan. It sounded much too techie for me. Through a series of technical problems and peculiarities I ended up there anyway because that was the clearest reception for me, and having forced myself out of bed at 3am I was NOT going to waste the effort by giving in and going back to bed again. And I got my reward. The presentations were really lucid. Richard Stallman particularly gave me a  different and much clearer way of thinking about network neutrality than I had ever had before.

Same thing in the afternoon. I began with a list of where I was going to go, but had some difficulties arriving. I ended up in Room 1 where I sat and listened entranced to people who had been involved at the birth of the Internet giving a really clear explanation of the technical choices and decisions that they had made then, and the reasons and outcomes in human terms of what they had done.

Vint Cerf said that the Internet is offered. There is no obligation to accept the offer. Freedom to use, or not, is very important. A core value of the Internet is lack of regulation and control. As well as being a network of networks, the Internet is a society of societies, and the members of those societies must work together to find a balance which is comfortable for all of them.

And finally the statement that completely technical solutions are rarely successful, because, in essence, the problems themselves are basic social problems of human behaviour.

As an aside to this workshop - it made me wonder all over again about Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) which are currently being promoted enthusiastically as the solution to a great many problems, but are also, after all, simply switches. And switches can be ON or OFF, and allow for perfect control..

Finally at the end of the afternoon I did what I had planned to do - the meeting in Room 4 on a framework for international cooperation for the protection of children online. I have met John Carr several times, and Marco Gercke, one of the other panelists, has visited Saint Lucia several times to help us harmonise, throughout the Caribbean, our legislation for the online world. And I am very much aware of the vulnerabilities of children in this "brave new world".

There was emphasis on the importance of education and awareness for the children themselves but also for their parents, school personnel, social services and the police. The active involvement of children themselves in this process was also recommended, and in fact there were young people present in the room who will be holding a similar discussion later in the week. There was a very positive report on behalf of the mobile phone industry which is taking a very proactive stance on this issue.

So tomorrow I hope to wake up for 2am, and that the chance that guided me so fortuitously today will do an equally good job tomorrow.It would be nice if I could discover how to avoid having double audio feed, but I have discovered that if I listen through the right hand headphone, and don't allow myself to watch the video I can focus on one audio stream.

So - looking forward to "seeing" you all again tomorrow.

Comment by Michele Marius on September 28, 2011 at 5:12pm
Deirdre, I was viewing to the same webcast, but somehow when Richard Stallman was speaking I lost the sound, so it is great to get some idea of what he contributed to the discussion. I have some thoughts on the issue you have highlighted, which I have prepared as a separate post. It would be great to hear your views and those of others...

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