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The CARDICIS Experience
Taran Rampersad, 5 Sep 04

smculture.jpgFew people appreciate the variety of cultures in the Caribbean and South America, either inside the region or out. English is actually a minority language, though many people wouldn't realize how much of a minority it is. The cultures extend from the original inhabitants - the Amerindians - to roots derived from Africa and India, as well as those of Spanish, French, Dutch, Portugese, English. Even as I write this, culture creeps in and out from various other places. With the smile and 'joy of life' characteristic of the region, we take it and transform it - sending it back.

This very diversity made CARDICIS ("Information Society and Cultural Diversity Within The Caribbean and South America") necessary. The result of sponsorship by L'Agence intergouvernementale de la Francophonie, and Foundation Networks and Development (FUNREDES), CARDICIS drew participants as diverse as the region itself. It should also be noted that I am using direct links in English, though the CARDICIS site offers Kweyol, Français and Español as well.

As Yacine Khelladi would point out in his presentation, "Empowerment is more than appropriation." I can personally assure people that the concept of empowerment transcended appropriation. People trancended - and even used to their advantage - language and cultural barriers. When I left, I found myself - a typical monolingual English person - speaking with different accents within the same sentence. Perhaps in losing ourselves in the potpourri of languages and cultures we found ourselves.

This region is a developing region. When people with a common bond (of coming from developing nations) and vision get together, powerful and unique things happen. That's what CARDICIS was. A powerful and unique thing, which will serve as a base for future endeavours for the region.
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So in growing this new social network, we were in fact touching on things which were common throughout the region. By being unique, we had common ground in the uniqueness itself. Coming from an English speaking country (Trinidad and Tobago), and being in St. Lucia, I was instantly met with languages and cultures that heightened my awareness. When was the last time you sat next to a Carib?

smtranslate.jpgA new social network was created to discuss the role of ICTs, and it encapsulated this diversity in amazing ways. Translation was done by a wonderful group of people who also participated; I do not think that this has been done before but the effect was interesting - and I daresay more productive. As we speak, we affect those around us - and in the case of translators, they get affected by both sides and serve as more than linguistic bridges. They serve as cultural and intellectual bridges; as humans they are not a simple tool of process but a process in themselves. Many of us who depended on the translators appreciated this, and we also appreciated the need to learn other languages.

We spoke of the cultural profile of the region, and in doing so we brought to light the demons within our own languages and cultures. The very languages we speak have limited us in the past, as has the mentality passed on to us through being former colonies. There's something we call a 'colonial mindset', which sometimes makes it difficult for us to communicate within our own groups, as well as within our own region. Our expectancies are affected so. I do not think that this region is alone in this, and yet I wonder if any other region has such a concentration of it. It is for each region to look to themselves and understand their culture, and the inherent subcultures.

The unspoken remained the technology until the end - and rightly so. Although much technology was used to assist in the conference, we did not focus on this until we got to know what we wanted collectively. Even then we did not allow the technology to steer our human network, instead defining what we wished to do and considering what technology could be used for it. As one of the more technologically informed participants, I found myself biting my tongue until towards the very end, where I saw that the culture did not seem to allow for decisions which included some of these technologies.

The use of Open Content (and, perhaps, the implication of Free Content) was seen as a key factor for assuring that countries within the region could share information at various levels to assist in improving the quality of life by sharing experience from mistakes and successes. The use of Free Software and Open Source was seen as an important aspect of doing this as well, since it would allow for the region to grow it's own infrastructure to become more self sufficient.

And yet, to many readers, none of this is new. We who read weblogs, who are familiar with the Creative Commons and so on - we know these things. But we also have to realize that when it comes to knowing these things, we are a minority; we need to practice Open and Free content in sharing with people outside of the technology. This is a key challenge in the region that CARDICIS covered, and is also a great challenge to the rest of the world. What is the use of such content if it is unavailable to the reader in his or her native language? This, of course, ties back into Intellectual Usability of information.

So we didn't make great strides in technology - but that wasn't the real point of all of this. In speaking with Daniel Pimienta (Director of Funredes) after the conference, we spoke of whether or not the CARDICIS was a success or not. It was, and it was not because of the technology. It was successful because the right people were gathered to speak of ICT in the context of cultural and linguistic diversity. The right people physically met, shared information and even now are contacting one another about various things that we, formerly as individuals, are doing.

Out of Babel, we are re-awakened. We are a part of the global community. We are the West Indies and South America. We are working together now at a level which previously was not done, and we have a common vision of the future. The ICT bond is a social bond, and technology only a tool that must be used effectively in accomodating cultural, linguistic and other forms of diversity.

If we can sustain this newly created Free Culture we spoke of, embracing and understanding our own diversity ever as we contend with the issues of the rest of the world, then CARDICIS has been a success. At this point, it's a good first step, and more importantly it appears to be the correct first step.

To change the world, one must start with where one is.

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