The internet governance symposium I participated in at Syracuse University was a fascinating physical and virtual experience. These are interesting times we live in.
Spent a lovely couple of days in Syracuse New York, participating in a symposium on internet governance sponsored by Syracuse University on November 12. Milton Mueller and Derrick Cogburn were the principal organizers, and they were kind enough to include me on the program.
The symposium was a combined physical and virtual meeting, inviting participants to either come to Syracuse or to log-on to the conference using the Elluminate online collaborative platform. The challenges of having a virtual and a physical conference at the same time was not insignificant. Not only did the moderators and organizers have to attend to the logistical and programmatic needs of the physical participants, they also had to be cognizant of the needs and requests of the virtual participants.
That said, it went off surprisingly well. All the participants were able to hear the presentations of the speakers, whether they were located in Syracuse or anywhere else in the world. Markus Kummer, the head of the secretariat of the Working Group on Internet Governance was present and speaking at the entire meeting, probably from his residence in Switzerland. Participants were able to ask questions verbally or in the text-message area.
The technology still feels very experimental and strange. Every time you are hearing someone speaking at the meeting who isn’t in the room you still get that “Earth to Mars” kind of sensation. Eventually the technology will get better and people will get used to the experience of attending to participants in a meeting who might not physically be there. But for the moment it does take some getting used to.
The real question for me is how these technologies can be built into the traditional modalities of governments and civil society in the United Nations context. All of our strategies and methods are based upon who is in the room at the time, so re-thinking our strategy sessions, panel discussions, lobbying, drafting and outreach activities to include virtual components will take some thinking. And I think that NGOs can be as stodgy and stubborn as governments in accepting new ways of working.
At any rate, these are interesting times we live in. Perhaps in 20 years the idea of flying to Berlin for a two-day meeting will seem quaint and inefficient, when you could participate as effectively from wherever you are wired. But for now, where your feet are still matters.