DiploNews – Issue 93 – 16 November 2006
Diplo and the Athens Internet Governance Forum
The first Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was held in Athens between 30 October – 2 November 2006. It also marked the end of 2006 Diplo’s current Internet Governance Capacity Building Programme. Twenty-five participants and tutors from this program participated in the IGF, selected from the group of 70 participants who attended the Diplo Internet Governance course (March-June 2006) and research phase (July-October 2006). Attendance at the IGF in Athens was the final phase of the Programme, adding a policy aspect to their previous training and research. In Athens, they participated in workshops and simulation exercises, as well as met with Vinton Cerf, the “Father of the Internet.” In addition, they presented their research projects.
The Programme is described in the Diplo Internet Governance Capacity Building Programme brochure. The Programme assists individuals involved in Internet Governance issues from countries with limited financial and human resources to develop the skills and knowledge required to participate meaningfully in the global debate on Internet Governance. Over the past two years, 119 participants with different multistakeholder backgrounds from over 40 developing countries have taken part in the programme.
For further information on this programme and Diplo’s participation in the IGF please visit Diplo’s Internet Governance and Policy website.
DiploFoundation’s IGCBP participants meet Vinton Cerf
The Internet is a mirror of society,” Google’s vice president Vinton Cerf explained during an hour-long private meeting with participants and tutors of DiploFoundation’s Internet Governance Capacity Building Programme. “If you look at the mirror and you don’t like what you see, you don’t fix the mirror; you try to fix yourself,” Dr Cerf said in an analogy to the discussions surrounding the policies related to the Internet. Dr Cerf said that he was especially happy to be speaking to young professionals engaged in the Internet Governance debate.
Widely known as a “Father of the Internet,” Dr Cerf is responsible for identifying new enabling technologies and applications on the Internet and other platforms for Google, and is the co-designer with Robert Kahn of TCP/IP protocols and basic architecture of the Internet.
Speaking of social aspects of ICT, Second Life is a privately owned, partly subscription-based three-dimensional virtual world, made publicly available in 2003 and rapidly growing in popularity. The Second Life world resides in a large array of servers owned and maintained by Linden Lab. The Second Life program provides its users with tools to view and modify the Second Life world and participate in its virtual economy, which concurrently has begun to operate as a real market. Presently, the population of Second Life approaches a million and a half members.
The use of Second Life in commercial activity has become so popular in Australia, reports indicate, that the Australian government plans to tax people for income gained in Second Life, where apparently people now spend $7 million a month for virtual goods and services. As well, educators are beginning to explore the use of Second Life in educational contexts. “A growing number of educators are getting caught up in the wave. More than 60 schools and educational organizations have set up shop in the virtual world and are exploring ways to promote learning. The three-dimensional virtual world makes it possible for students taking a distance course to develop a real sense of community,” said Rebecca Nesson, who leads a class jointly offered by Harvard Law School and Harvard Extension School in Second Life.
Culture and Internet Governance
In his opening message delivered to the delegates of the IGF in Athens, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan pointed out that the success of the forum consultations would very much depend on finding a symbiosis of two different cultures. He stated that “with more than 1 billion users worldwide and still growing dramatically, the Internet has outgrown its origins as a network run by and for computer specialists. Indeed, it has become too important for almost every country’s economy and administration for governments not to take an interest. The challenge therefore is to bring two cultures together: the non-governmental Internet community, with its traditions of informal, bottom-up decision-making, and the more formal, structured world of governments and intergovernmental organizations.”
In an interview in Intercultures Magazine, Prof. Geert Hofstede, intercultural communications specialist, has noted that different national cultures also have different social practices surrounding the use of the Internet and e-mail. For example, people from avoidance cultures tend not to rely on e-mail for important business transactions. A culture with high power distance may be less enthusiastic about sharing information via the Internet and favour control of access to the web. It seems that awareness of both professional and national cultural differences is vital for those engaging in Internet Governance negotiations and policy making. Training and educational opportunities that put stakeholders from different professional groups and geographic regions into contact may lay a strong groundwork for successful future interaction.