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It is ironic – to say the least – for participants of an annual IGF meeting to have limited Internet connection during an event dedicated to the Internet itself.
Perhaps it was not so bad after all. During workshops and main sessions, there were fewer ‘distractions’. We could not respond to e-mails, check out Facebook, or do any other unrelated task that depended on a stable connection. Whoever attended workshops could do nothing else but follow the discussion, take notes, or contribute. (Or connect via smartphones and giving up after a short while).
Yet, neither could we talk with the rest of the world. We were right in the centre of what was happening, but strangely disconnected from all the rest. We could not tweet or blog (except for the occasional/random surge of bytes our cellphones managed to push through the network); we couldn’t communicate with those who were following from home; we couldn’t read what others were managing to say about the discussions - for the entire duration of the IGF.
It makes you think, and think hard.
For some of us, our life includes being constantly connected (or at least close to a good connection). Probably, this is the result of a choice we have made: to either be online or offline; to connect when we need to, and disconnect when we don’t longer need to. It’s fine when ‘connecting’ involves making a choice.
Yet, it becomes a real problem when we need to be connected but we’re not, for reasons beyond our control: when electricity problems mean we cannot switch on our modems; when we are promised a good connection only to find out that this is not the case; when governments are in discussion over an Internet ‘kill switch’; when the authorities arbitrarily decide that a country needs to be disconnected from the rest of the world.
Obviously, there is no comparison between a no-Internet IGF and an Arab Spring Internet blackout. It would not be fair on the organisers of the 7th IGF, who worked hard to organise an international event of this scale, and who did all that was possible to make sure the delegates enjoyed a comfortable stay (from free VISAs to modern shuttles, including the hundreds of Azeris who were contracted for the event). Technical glitches should not dampen these enormous efforts.
Yet, it does make one realise what it must have meant for end-users in a country to be disconnected from the rest of the world; to be cheated out by an arbitrary decision of a few people in power; for someone else to have taken a decision to go offline on their behalf.
I thought about the situation for a while and finally concluded that the experience would serve as a learning experience for other countries hosting the IGF. From what I gathered, it seemed that the organisers really underestimated the number of gadgets. But who can blame them? These days, one can own 3 (on average) devices that connect to the Internet.
At IGF we were lacking Internet, Food and Coffee - it seems to me they tried to hurt us bad :)
Nevertheless, we still had fun and we still learned so much!
Although am used to being offline for some time, I found it strange to only have connectivity at the hotel. What ever the cause was, the first day complaints were enough for a listening person to change the course of things in the second day but there was nothing changed. The most amusing thing, we had telecom companies exhibiting next day with very good Internet connections, one after the other!
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