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Manifesto for a Better Global Conversation
Jon Lebkowsky, 11 Dec 04

Update, 12.12.2004: From a followup discussion with Joi Ito: Thinking about the goal of the Global Voices effort, I asked "What are we after, when we try to bring blogging to the rest of the world?" Joi: I just posted some stuff on the global voice blog. Take a look at some of the posts there. I don't think it's about bringing blogging to the world exactly – it's providing free speech and voice in all of its forms, including video, wikis, paper, phone, etc."

Here's a new link, as well: Berkman Conference Transcripts

I wasn't physically present at the Harvard conferences that included the Global Voices Online meeting that Alex mentioned, but I was listening in via the chat backchannel (which included an ongoing realtime transcription of the conversation), and the conversation sounded promising. The group was working on a "manifesto for a better global conversation." Historically nations communicate with each other through their governments and patchwork visits by citizens for vacation, study, work, or whatever, but there's been no sustained, casual conversation by ordinary people across borders and across cultures as there can be now. We have a lot of work to do here, obviously, but the bloggers, techs, and activists at the Harvard conference expressed a strong sense of mission, talking about making social software tools easier to get and easier to use, and mentoring potential users within other cultures – which is a real challenge; Ethan Zuckerman was telling me a couple of months ago how public expression of this kind is not necessarily inherent in African cultures, for instance. [NOTE: Art McGee challenged this assertion in an email, noting that "There is a global, multi-century history of grassroots Pan-African conversation which has taken many forms and has not simply been limited to the elites. " I.e. the statement that public expression of this kind is not necessarily inherent in African cultures is incorrect. That's my error, not Ethan's. We had a conversation about the challenge of getting people to blog in Africa, and I think I made an assumption about a cultural concern over public expression.]

As these conversations grow, they enrich our perception of cultures other than our own, and our understanding of the world improves, as well as our opportunity to own our individual contributions to human destiny, hopefully steering away from the kind of violence and terror we see in places like Darfur and Iraq. This may seem idealistic, but an ideal can be a goal, and a goal that supports communication and hopes to end violence and exploitation is all right by me.

What happens next? I heard calls for unified action from some, but to me the better approach is to figure out how to network many projects that are somewhat aligned, than attempting to build a single project with a one-size-fits-all approach. The conversation continues... [Link to David Weinberger's notes on today's meeting]

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Though there can always be more done, it's already happening. Just as one example, Jeff Jarvis of was instrumental in getting several Iraqis online and blogging immediately after the cessation of formal resistance in Iraq. Anecdotally, I have email buddies in parts of the world I've never been to thanks to the Internet already.

I think, rather than make whole new tools, the first focus should be on making sure the tools we have (Moveable Type, Blogger) are available in as many languages as possible. I know there are already projects getting work done to create Arabic and Persian versions of MT.

Posted by: Brock on 11 Dec 04

That was part of the discussion yesterday, especially thinking about hosted services that don't require setup or any special expertise (e.g. TypePad).

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 12 Dec 04

We're ready both at Technorati and Six Apart to make Arabic versions if someone will help us with the translation...

Posted by: Joi Ito on 12 Dec 04

Thanks for the reports, all.

Jon, I agree with you that a network of aligned projects is the better approach. It both reflects the realities of the technological and strategic situation (we're already making the network), and keeps time and energy focused on doing the work in the particular geographies of place, culture and language. Diversity and distribution are key strengths of the "movement" to bring global voices online.


Posted by: Emily Gertz on 12 Dec 04

from _Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill_ by Jessica Stern (NY: HarperCollins, 2003) page 230:

"Asked about the biggest threat to their groups' survival, a militant says that 'free secular education for all' leading to an "increase in the literacy rate" is the gravest threat to the survival of the jihadi groups in Pakistan."

How about the globalization of local literacy through an integrated media program including Web/Net, TV, radio, video, hard copy, and word of mouth?

Posted by: gmoke on 12 Dec 04

Community network activists in the U.S. have found that one barrier to extending the effective use of technology is a lack of basic literacy, even here in the U.S. where we assume that access to public education would overcome that problem. (I've been told that public schools advance in some partsof the country and graduate students who haven't learned to read.) If we can't ensure basic literacy in the U.S., how do we ensure global literacy? It would take a dedicated effort. I wonder if any existing organizations have global literacy initiatives?

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 13 Dec 04

The biggest mistake many make is assuming everyone can read effectively. The simple fact is alot of people cant read and never can be made to read at an effective level. Thier brains simply arnt wired to do it.

While tutoring I would always suggest to those that didnt seem to be able to gain from reading or read worth diddly that they either watch vids on the subject or that they speak the written words into a recorder and play that back to themsevles. This worked VERY well.

The simple fact most intellectuals need hammered into thier skulls is that the written word is not king never was king get over it and learn to bloody well speak and show what the hell your up to.

Posted by: wintermane on 13 Dec 04

Jon Lebkowsky and wintermane make good points - the US has its own problems with functional literacy and literacy in the written word is not the only literacy and maybe not even the most important literacy to acquire.

However, to go back to my main point, a global local literacy campaign (literacy in the local language taking into account the varieties of learning intelligences and possibilities inherent in the concept of literacy beyond the written word) would help cut the ground from underneath radicalizing madrassahs which teach only the Koran, only by rote and act as recruiting stations for terroristic Islamic fundamentalist groups like Al Queda. The more I think about it, a widespread educational alternative like this might have demonstrable effects within a year or two.

My assumption is that worldchanging people want a conversation that is open to everyone in the world, word literate or not. Worldchanging people believe that everyone has a right to be heard and that worldchanging ideas can occur to even those most ignored and considered the most ignorant.

So, who is beginning the process and how do we maximize those efforts?

Posted by: gmoke on 13 Dec 04

We should be talking about that, for sure, with the realization that it's hard enough for neighbors to have shared understanding, and here we're talking about cross-cultural communication where meanings will shift; words and concepts won't necessarily translate.

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 13 Dec 04

There's an assumption here that's interesting. Why is there a need for cross-cultural communication/conversation?

Posted by: Zaid Hassan on 13 Dec 04

Because jaw-jaw is better than war-war? Or, to put it another way, because understanding groups and nations through individuals, with all their associated human flaws and strengths, is better than understanding them through national caricatures.

Posted by: Anthony Zacharzewski on 14 Dec 04

I couldn't have said it better, Anthony. Thanks!

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 14 Dec 04

Some times jaw jaw isnt better then war war. Some times the only thing that will end a conflict is the end of one side or the other or both.

Posted by: wintermane on 14 Dec 04

The cross-cultural communication may or may not be necessary but, personally, I am interested in conversing with people from as many different cultures as possible.

However, cross-cultural communications is not necessary for local literacy (word-based or other) even though some methods of learning one language apply to learning others.

MIT puts its multimedia Japanese curriculum online. In fact, MIT is putting its full curricula online last I heard. Google is about to put the NY Public Library and Harvard's Library online. Surely a group of us here at can spend a few hours each beginning to link to literacy resources online.

Say we start with Arabic and our target population is Iraq, how would we begin?

Or what about Pakistan? It national or official languages are Urdu, Sindhi, English, has a literacy rate of 26%, and includes populations using Indian Sign Language, Parsi, Turkmen, Uyghur, Southern Uzbek, Arabic, and Chinese.

Posted by: gmoke on 14 Dec 04

"Say we start with Arabic and our target population is Iraq, how would we begin?"

The Arabic blogging tool is already being developed. There are over 100 Iraqi bloggers now, in English. There are already thousands of blogs in Iran, in Persian and English, because one Iranian decided to introduce the tools. There are hundreds of Chinese blogs.

Lots of people want to get online, explore the world of information, write their thoughts for others to read.

You don't have to "begin it." It's happening.

I don't know whether it will keep wars from happening, but it will certainly increase secular education, whether self-directed or not.

"There's an assumption here that's interesting. Why is there a need for cross-cultural communication/conversation?"

If so many people didn't feel a need to do it, they wouldn't. But they are, so I guess they do. But some people think it's dangerous.

Posted by: Yehudit on 15 Dec 04

Learn the following along with the personal pronouns, present tense of 'to be' and numbers 1-100:

Basic words/expressions:
4.good morning
5.good night
7.thank you
11.when? much/many? (some languages have one word for both)
19.a little
21.too (as in 'in excess")
26.excuse me/I'm sorry
61.(your occupation)
Verbs: ask speak know (most languages have 2 verbs for to know; to know a fact and to know a person/place) see do, to make (often the same) eat drink understand want study/learn (often the same) sit need go live (most languages differentiate between to live as in 'to be alive' and to live as in 'to inhabit' ) come buy sell look for work visit smoke (even if you don't smoke, people often ask) like/love (often the same) pay hear think
97.old (be careful, many languages distinguish between an old person and an old thing)
100.(your nationality)
101.(your language and others you speak)

Here are some others categories of useful words:
Parts of the body
Nationalities and language names
Days of the week and the months
Telling Time

Posted by: gmoke on 18 Dec 04


Open Here: The Art of Instructional Design Instructional Design

I thought I was the only one in the world stealing the safety instruction cards from airline seats because of their terrific folk graphics. For radically clear thinking nothing can beat a really good set of wordless diagrams; hundreds of examples from around the world are paraded here. Designers of the world, please heed.

-- KK

Open Here: The Art of Instructional Design
Paul Mijksenaar and Piet Westendorp
1999, 144 pages
Joost Elffers Books

Posted by: gmoke on 18 Dec 04

UNESCO just happens to be engaged in the UN Literacy Decade, 2003-2012

UNESCO is also engaged in a Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

Posted by: gmoke on 19 Dec 04



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