Friday, November 18, 2005

World Summit on the Information Society

Watching policeman rough up a taxi driver.

Second and final delayed blog posting from Tunis. Original post from Nov 18, 2005:

The WSIS Summit continues to be fascinating. In a recent post, I alluded to human rights activists getting beat up. Yesterday I had a personal experience with the police presence.

I took a taxi back to the conference after a brief visit to Carthage for lunch. The taxi had to stop a few hundred meters short of the center at a police roadblock. I leaned out to ask the policemen if we could go through, but they told me I had to walk. As I was having this brief exchange, a taxi right behind us honked his horn at my taxi.

Bad idea.

The policeman ordered the second taxi driver (not my taxi driver, the honking one) out of his taxi and pushed him roughly to the back of his taxi, yelling at him. He yelled back. One policeman started slapping him in the face and hit him four or five times. By this time, the neighbors are all out in the street watching this. Another policeman guides me by the elbow towards the conference center. I move fifty yards off and keep watching. Another policeman steps in and takes over the yelling, but stops hitting the guy. This goes on for at least ten minutes, until I finally move on.

It gives me some idea of what it must be like in a place with heavy police presence. You get smacked around for embarrassing the police in front of a foreign guest (I guess the idea it might be more embarrassing to be hitting someone in front of a foreign guest never occurred to the policeman). The guy can't do anything but take it, because the options to do anything else are probably not there.

And, while this was happening, a session on repression of human rights was going on inside the conference hall and the police were trying to disrupt that. It apparently took some delicate negotiating by the Dutch ambassador to keep things from getting completely out of hand, according to my friend who was part of the event, Ethan Zuckerman.

Very interesting place to be at the moment!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Building a Global Library

Tunisia is very interesting this week! The WSIS conference is going on, human rights activists are getting beaten up, and we're talking about how information technology can help build a better world.

I gave my talk here on Tuesday, entitled: Building a Global Library for People with Print Disabilities. It went well: many passionate and interesting people from the disabilities movement are here and we are definitely brainstorming ways to join our efforts.

A tech guy from Egypt was the standout moment for me so far. I was attending a session organized by the library association, IFLA, and he got up and talked about how Egypt does not have a culture of reading. His point was the 5 million Internet users in Egypt are the people who do read. His complaint: the Web is dominated by extremist content. No publishers get why electronic media is important, and their absence is an acute problem.

Makes me think that a great investment in civil society is buying the electronic rights to books in many different languages and making them available for free!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Benetech & Human Rights in China

The Tech Awards yesterday were a blast. The Mercury News ran a great story and quoted Peggy Gibbs, one of our execs:
Old problems, new solutions: The Tech Museum Awards also provide a venue for many local foundations and non-profits to seek out new ideas and partners.

"One of the reasons we're here is to make sure we're continuously collaborating," said Peggy Gibbs, vice president of business development for Benetech, a Palo Alto non-profit that looks for ways technology can help solve the problems of disadvantaged communities. Benetech is a past finalist for the Tech Museum Awards.

Mr. Global X (aka someone from the Skoll Foundation) mobile blogged me while I was talking to the Human Rights in China folks, Sharon Hom and Shirley Hom, who were honored as Laureates last night.

The Tech Awards are always inspiring, and it was cool to realize that I'm already in personal touch with many of the honorees. It's great to be reminded that there have already been 124 Laureates over the past five years, and that we are not alone: we're part of an exploding field of technology serving humanity. And, as Peggy mentioned, we spent most of our time cooking up ways to collaborate with other Laureates!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

World Usability Day - Accessibility Channel » Technology Social Entrepreneurship and Accessibility of Web Services

Thursday is World Usability Day, and I'll be giving a on-line session entitled Technology Social Entrepreneurship and Accessibility of Web Services at 20:10 GMT, or 12:10pm PST. I never have done such an event, so I'm looking forward to trying it out!