Here a Draft Text after WSIS

This text is a draft for discussion:

Culture, Knowledge, and the Public Domain

Each generation of humankind is depending upon its predecessors to leave them with a liveable, sustainable and stable environment. The environment we were discussing throughout the WSIS is the public domain of global knowledge. Like our planet with its natural resources, that domain is the heritage of all humankind and the reservoir from which new knowledge is created. Limited monopolies, such as copyrights and patents were originally conceived as tools to serve that public domain of global knowledge to the benefit of humankind. Whenever society grants monopolies, a delicate balance must be struck: Careless monopolization will make our heritage unavailable to most people, to the detriment of all.

It has become quite clear that this balance has been upset by the interests, of the rights-holding industry as well as the digitalization of knowledge. Humankind now has the power to instantaneously share knowledge in real-time, without loss, and at almost no costs. Civil Society has worked hard to defend that ability for all of humankind.

Free Software is an integral part of this ability: Software is the cultural technique and most important regulator of the digital age. Access to it determines who may participate in a digital world. While in the Geneva phase, WSIS has recognised the importance of Free Software, it has not acted upon that declaration and fallen behind it in the Tunis phase. In the Tunis Commitment, Free Software is presented as a software model next to proprietary software, but paragraph 29 reiterates ³the importance of proprietary software in the markets of the countries.² This ignores that a proprietary software market is always striving towards dependency and monopolization, both of which are detrimental to economy and development as a whole. Proprietary software is under exclusive control of and to the benefit of its proprietor. Furthermore: Proprietary software is often written in modern sweat-shops for the benefit of developed economies, which are subsidized at the expense of developing and least-developed countries in this way.

While WSIS has somewhat recognised the importance of free and open source software, it has not asserted the significance of this choice for development. It is silent on other issues like open content (which goes beyond open access to academic publications), new open telecom paradigms and community-owned infrastructure as important development enablers.

The WSIS process has failed to introduce cultural and linguistic diversity as a cross-cutting issue in the information society. The information society and its core elements – knowledge, information, communication and the information and communication technologies (ICT) together with related rules and standards – are cultural concepts and expressions. Accordingly, culturally defined approaches, protocols, proceedings and obligations have to be respected and culturally appropriate applications developed and promoted. In order to foster and promote cultural diversity it must be ensured that no one has to be mere recipient of Western knowledge and treatment. Therefore development of such cultural elements of the Information Society must involve strong participation of all cultural communities. The WSIS has failed to recognize the need for developing knowledge resources to shift the current lack of diversity, to move from the dominant paradigm of over-developed nations and cultures to the need for being open to learning and seeing differently.

Indigenous Peoples, further to self-determination and pursuant to their traditional and customary laws, protocols, rules and regulations, oral and written, provide for the access, use, application and dissemination of traditional and cultural knowledge, oral histories, folklore and related customs and practices. WSIS has failed to protect these from exploitation, misuse and appropriation by third parties. As a result, the traditional knowledge, oral histories, folklore and related customs, practices and representations have been and continue to be exploited by both informal and formal (being copyright, trademark and patent) means, with no benefits to the rightful Indigenous holders of that knowledge.

Education, Research, and Practice

If we want future generations to understand the real basis of our digital age, freedom has to be preserved for the knowledge of humankind: Free Software, open courseware and free educational as well as scientific resources empower people to take their life into their own hands. If not, they will become only users and consumers of information technologies, instead of active participants and well informed citizens in the information society. Each generation has a choice to make: Schooling of the mind and creativity, or product schooling? Most unfortunately, the WSIS has shown a significant tendency towards the latter.

We are happy that universities, museums, archives, libraries have been recognized by WSIS as playing an important role as public institutions and with the community of researchers and academics. Unfortunately, telecenters are missing in the WSIS documents. Community informatics, social informatics, telecenters and human resources like computer professionals, and the training of these, have to be promoted, so that ICT serve training and not training serves ICT. Thus special attention must be paid to supporting sustainable capacity building with specific focus on research and skills development. In order to tackle development contexts training should have a sociological focus too and not be entirely technologically framed.

Problems of access, regulation, diversity and efficiency require attention to power relations both in the field of ICT policy-making and in the everyday uses of ICT. Academic research should play a pivotal role in evaluating whether ICT meet and serve the individuals¹ and the public’s multiple needs and interests – as workers, women, migrants, racial, ethnic and sexual minorities, among others – across very uneven information societies in the world. Furthermore, because power relations and social orientations are often embedded in the very designs of ICT, researchers should be sensitive to the diverse and multiple needs of the public in the technological design of ICT. Similarly, educators at all levels should be empowered to develop curricula that provide or contribute to training to people not only as workers and consumers using ICT, but also the basic science and engineering of ICT, participatory design of ICT by communities with computing professionals, in the critical assessment of ICT, the institutional and social contexts of their development and implementation, as well as their creative uses for active citizenship. Young people – given their large numbers, particularly in developing countries, and enthusiasm and expertise in the use of ICTs – remain to be an untapped resource as initiators of peer-to-peer learning projects at the community and school levels. These issues have largely been ignored by WSIS.

The actors that need to be involved in the process of making this vision a reality are the professionals and researchers, the students and their families, the support services and human resources of the resources centres, politicians at all levels, social organizations and NGOs, but also the private sector. However, in the teaching profession, it is necessary to recognize and accept the need for learning and evolution with regards to ICT.

We emphasize the special role that the computing, information science, and engineering professions have in helping to shape the information society to meet human needs. Their education must encourage socially-responsible practices in the design, implementation, and operation of ICT. The larger information society has an equally important and corresponding role to play by participating in the design of ICT. We, therefore, encourage increased cooperation between the computing, information science, and engineering professions and end-users of ICTs, particularly communities.

We furthermore have repeatedly underlined the unique role of ICT in socio-economic development and in promoting the fulfilment of internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration. This is not least true in the reference to access to information and universal primary education. To secure the fulfilment of these goals, it is of key importance that the issue of ICT as tools for improvement of education is also incorporated in the broader development strategies at both national and international levels.

From Divina Meigs, meigs@wanadoo.fr / Edu mailing list – Edu@wsis-cs.org.

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