The Global Voices 2010 Summit in Santiago, Chile brought together people from 60 different countries for a two-day public conference, followed by two days of internal meetings for people who work directly on Global Voices Online in some way. Our citizen media community is now five and a half years old. It has grown organically in ways that Ethan Zuckerman and I never imagined when we started the project back in late 2004 with a small meeting of bloggers from a range of different countries.
(Image by FabsY)
Since 2004 the global information environment has changed dramatically. One of our board members, Rosental Alves, gave a presentation on Friday in which he compared the pre-Internet media environment to a desert. For most members of the public, there were very few sources of information about what was happening around the world. You had access to a handful of TV stations and newspapers. Your understanding of the world depended on the priorities and budget decisions of the editors who ran those news organizations.
Then came the deluge. Now, in the Internet Age, the information environment has gone suddenly from a desert to a rainforest. We have moved rapidly from a problem of scarcity to a problem of over-abundance - at least for some kinds of information. Other kinds of information remain rare and harder to find amidst the rapidly proliferating dominant species.
In my closing remarks at the public conference, I pointed out that just because we have the Internet, and just because anybody can now create media, doesn't automatically mean that human society will be more democratic or peaceful. Life in the jungle is just as likely to be a Hobbesian state of nature, in which life can be nasty, brutish and short. In the offline world, this is why we build civilizations.
It is now up to all of us to figure out how to build a sustainable civilization within the new information rainforest - which provides sustenance and shelter, as well as poisonous plants and deadly predators. Success is by no means inevitable. We - citizens living around the world who believe in our right to create independent online media - need to make a concerted effort to build structures and systems that make it in people's interest to behave constructively, and which create strong disincentives for destructive behavior in this new environment. We need to help everybody understand how to participate constructively and responsibly in this new space, and protect the rights of minorities and dissenters. We are in uncharted territory, but we have to start somewhere. Global Voices is a community of people who are acting like real citizens - not mere passive "internet users" - and who are taking personal responsibility for the future of our information society.
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