Workshop B3: Open Sessions

University of the Future. IT frenzy. Capacity crisis. The South giving aid to the North. The radical potential of festivals. And a fascinating dream birthed along the shores of the Tigris River.

These were the stories, experiences and wonderings presented during the Open Sessions in the Cinema.

Kim van Haaster talked about the UCI (Universidad de las Ciencias Informáticas) in Cuba, a new university that was especially built to foster the ICT growth in the land and encourage software development. This is in line with the country’s goal of bridging the ‘digital divide’. By building a hi-tech campus that would house 10,000 students selected from the best and brightest in the country, Cuba hopes to revolutionize its ICT sector. Both praise and criticism about the campus abound ranging from facilities, limited use of internet, quality of education and teaching, allocation of funding at the expense of other universities, contribution to society, etc.

From the talk it seems that this university is nothing like its Western counterpart in terms of facilities and academic freedom. However, criticizing Cuba on this aspect should also merit a critical look at how the U.S. government continually blocks Cuba’s efforts at ICT development, among others.

T.B. Dinesh gave everyone a reality-check regarding our ideas of Bangalore and how ICT has impacted its society. ICT has acquired more than the usual trading power. It can put you in the center of power or at the margins — from government and business levels to everyday life. You won’t even be able to go to the good schools or rent the better houses if you and/or your family are not employed in ICT jobs. ICT runs the show, so much so that everyone wants to study it and yet the quality of education is compromised.

Toni Eliasz spoke on a long-time problem faced by many NGO’s: the crisis of capacity. Capacity-building should be given more attention and put more into practice if the principles of sustainability and ownability are to be lived by NGO’s. Governments, funding agencies, NGO’s and other development actors should not only know their beneficiaries/partners/target group, but also critically investigate the problem areas these people occupy. In interactive media jargon, we’d call this USER-CENTERED designing and developing. In making websites, for example, the work doesn’t end when the website is online. Questions of management, maintenance and sustainability are equally important.

Tobi posited that ICT capacity- building and support leads to better ICT strategies. This, in turn, improves operations and programs that result in a better way of fulfilling the project mission.

Enrique Chaparro gave a different twist to the old North-to-South flow of aid. He concluded that it is actually the South who aids the North, as the former becomes the users, central and extended markets and labor force of North-driven technological projects. He reiterated the hidden goals of aid, namely:
1. Transculturation which results from certain world views that are imposed by ICT agencies;
2. Assistance with strings attached: ICT projects give big businesses and government bodies a handle by which to conduct political and economic maneuverings;
3. Creation of labor market in the South that sustains the technologies and systems of the North

A nice deviation from the usual topics of discussion was Oliver Vadeb’s and Jerneja Rebernak’s presentation of the Memefest Festival, an international festival of radical communication. It uses festivals as a tactical communications tool to encourage students of communications, sociology, and visual and design arts to shape a collective counter-culture. Many talents are more attracted to the advertising and marketing world and thus visualize the world more according to the commercial dictates. The audience was treated to a few samples of visual and interactive creations generated by the festival. Unfortunately, these pieces weren’t fully discussed due to lack of time. All artworks can, however, be accessed in the Memefest website:

And last, but certainly not the least, were Jo van der Spek and her colleague (whose name I didn’t catch – sorry!) who presented Streamtime is a loose network of media activists from Iraq and other places, whose mission is assisting local media to get connected. It uses both old and new media in producing content and networks in the fields of media, arts, culture and activism in crisis areas, like Iraq.

If you want to really know Iraq beyond the traditional media hype, go check out the blogs at Streamtime. It offers a taste of what the speakers termed, Counter-Journalism. This project is their way of acquiring a cultural sense of ‘finding your way in Iraq’ and representation in new media.

What fascinated me was their dream of Tigri, the “Wet Radio”, a permanent radio stream of the Tigris River. Content will come from everyone: from passers-by, artists, fishers, bloggers, etc. How the project would flow will be based on the principles of solidarity, shared needs, right to communication, multilinguality and open source. This way, the people can ‘navigate’ Tigris (which is still a military territory) and know it again. This dream is their way of reclaiming this ancient river in all its glory and pain.

Find out more at:

— timi