The 2008 Global Summit in Budapest was one of the most extraordinary conferences I’ve been to … and I’ve been to almost 40 conferences in the past four years alone. What’s the big deal (and it is a Big Deal)? This community embodies the values they speak about: the members of this community are open, inclusive, transparent, engaging, respectful, mindful, diverse, committed, innovative, energetic, proactive, creative, responsible, serious, humble, fun and humorous. Is that all? Not even close, read on, if you will.
When I first walked into the conference room on Wednesday, I couldn’t help but notice that I was definitely not one of the younger conference participants but I was definitely (and embarrassingly) the most overdressed. The average age of participants over the past three days couldn’t have been more than 30. One participant was a high school student from Germany; another was from Colombia. This was inspiring (I for one was not attending international conferences as a high school student, let alone as an undergraduate student!). There were no suits, no ties and no dull gray colors. Instead, there were shorts, flip flops, t-shirts and the occasional pair of slacks. Needless to say, the informality was highly refreshing. Just like not all heroes wear capes, not all amazing people wear suites–in fact, 99.9% don’t!
Unlike the majority of conference circles I’ve frequented, participants at Global Voices were open, welcoming and humble. While introducing myself over the past three days, I must have repeated at least a dozen times that I am new to the field. At no point was I made to feel that I had less to contribute. There was no arrogance, no ego, no power trips. This was also the most international conference I’ve been to, the diversity was simply astounding: Belarus, Japan, Egypt, Pakistan, Kenya, Morocco, Hong Kong, Burma, Singapore, Iran, Tunisia, Syria, Bangladesh, China, Bolivia, Madagascar, Colombia, Venezuela, Canada, France, Brazil, India, US, UK, Australia, Thailand, Germany and several more!
A few points that I wanted to make sure I captured from the final day:
- We need a code of ethics for bloggers (me: and a code of conduct). What’s stopping us from doing so?! Lets do it!
- Blog, blog, blog, about anything of interest to you, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Blog away. You define the crisis. You determine what’s important. Blogging changes definitions.
- The Internet does not erode social links, does not make us individuals, does not undermine communities. Quite the opposite!
- You don’t need hardware or software to engage in an SMS campaign, just forward your texts to your immediate social circle.
- The space that Global Voices operates in overlaps with a number of other fields, like peacebuilding, conflict prevention, conflict management, nonviolent action and conflict early warning/response. See my blogs on Global Voices and Conflict Early Warning, as well as Global Voice and Humanitarian Action, for more information.
I conclusion, I wanted to add a point on complex systems. The Internet, and the information society, the global network of social nodes and connections, is becoming more complex. This complexity adds to diversity and balance. Most people, most of the time, in most places are nonviolent. Social extremes are by definition minorities. Global Voices are more informed and moderate. Giving a voice to these Global Voices online is likely to diminish the impact of extremists. How do we find these voices in the symphony of the superhighway? We need to make quanta of information more indexable and more searchable. Tag, tag, tag away. Only then will locality, diversity, opportunity be made more visible. See my blog on complex systems and conflict resolution for more information on the added value of a bottom-up approach.
So why is this one of the most important efforts one could possible engage in? Because “Seeing Like a State” has led to some of the greatest catastrophes we have witnessed in human history. Some excerpts from one of my favorite books:
- Some level of abstraction is necessary for virtually all forms or analysis, and it is not at all surprising that the abstractions of state officials should have reflected the paramount fiscal interests of their employer.
- Just as a merchant who, not knowing what conditions her ships will face at sea, send out scores of vessels with different designs, weights, sails, and navigational aids stands a better chance of having much of her fleet make it to port, while a merchant who stakes everything on a single ship design and size runs a higher risk of losing everything, forest biodiversity acts like an insurance policy.
- If the natural world, however shaped by human use, it is too unwieldy in its, “raw” form for administrative manipulation, so to are the actual social patterns of human interaction with natural bureaucratically indigestible in their raw forms.