Coming out of the first of many in-world interviews with some of the major personages attending this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, I am left with the question, What’s the point?
The WEF is an annual gathering of 2,000 of the most influential business and political leaders in the world to discuss important policy issues and to form partnerships on areas of common concern. It has no international governmental or legal standing, it makes no decisions, treaties or agreements on behalf of its participants, it makes no claims of legitimacy or representativeness of the planet. It’s the most powerful coffee klatch on the planet.
So why should the organizers of the WEF care what the world thinks?
An enormous amount of effort is going into trying to show that the WEF is open to dialogue between the elites gathered there and the larger world. They are using webcasts, blogs, and Second Life appearances to at least appear to be trying to engage a larger public in what goes on there.
This is all well and good. I’m all for using Web2.0 and virtual worlds to try and bring people together to talk about social issues of importance, such as those being addressed in Davos. Looking at the WEF programme, there are like 50 sessions I wish I could attend. Since I can’t be there, I will have to settle for web-mediated participation.
But part of me wonders why the bother? There are elite gatherings all over the world that make no effort to engage the public, from the Security Council to the G8 to the World Trade Organization.
One possible reason is the same reason that SLers and WOWers spent way too much time in-world: It’s really fucking cool. The Financial Times writes about how having an avatar is the "accessory of choice" for the muck-a-mucks in Davos this year. Just because you’re an Indian textiles CEO or a Minister of Agriculture for Luxembourg doesn’t mean that you don’t want to have a blinged out, totally ripped avatar with your name on it. Arianna Huffington was clearly giddy at watching her avatar and hanging out in SL. I remember the feeling.
WEF is just getting on the hype bandwagon that has been rolling for the past five months and doesn’t look like its stopping anytime soon.
Photo by Ork_dot_ch, used with permission under a CC-license
Beyond the coolness factor, the cynical side of me thinks that the WEF organizers are just covering their ass. That is, all of these tech-enabled public engagements with the Davos forum are intended to mitigate against the public backlash against a bunch of old white powerful men meeting in a swanky Swiss resort to reorganize the world. It’s that kind of symbolism that creates the fuel for anarchistic, angry anti-globalization protests, like the ones I witnessed a couple of years ago in Geneva and in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
So the question for SLers is, are we being unwittingly co-opted into the WEF elitist agenda in our rush to get the biggest names to appear in-world? Are we letting ourselves become the next opiate of the masses that keeps people from rising up and demanding less high-powered ski trips and more action against AIDS, global warming and genocide in Darfur? Or are we using these technologies to challenge the power structures and networks that have largely been responsible for the mess our planet is in?
I don’t know the answers. Part of me is just another fan-boy excited about meeting Peter Gabriel in-world tomorrow. But another part of me wonders if we are all monkeys getting shocked into submission.