Monday, June 06, 2005

The process continues

Last Saturday I wrote that conference was ove, but not the process. Yesterday I realised that I did not continue the continue the process by putting the discusion version of the Vienna Conclusions online. Please do realise that it is a discussion version, which still is under discussion. I hope that the dicussion site will soon be in the air.

Discussion version of the Vienna Conclusions (1)
(Conference Draft vs 5.1.)

ICT and Creativity: Towards Global Cooperation for Quality Contents in the Information Society.

1) The general text of the Vienna conclusions is a shared effort, drafted by Peter A. Bruck on the basis of a disputation with Peter Sloterdijk and by Sergei Kambalov, and reworked by a drafting group at the conference, taking into consideration recommendations from the conference participants

This document is a forward-looking statement on the importance of creativity for bridging the digital divide, fostering opportunities and closing the content gap.

Creativity is one of the highest forms of human energy. It is a defining human trait that enables us to design and use tools, and gives us the ability to solve problems.
“In the modern world, creativity and its outcome-innovation-are credited as the greatest predictors for economic advancement, equal to or surpassing investment.” (2)
Creativity can be a vehicle for empowerment and fulfilment, or, if denied or abused, can lead to frustration, apathy, alienation, and even violence.

The role of creativity has been magnified by the explosive developments in information and communication technologies-ICTs are the most powerful means to produce, preserve, and communicate the fruits of human creativity, including information, know-how, knowledge, and works of art.

(2) Carlos Margarinos, Director-General of UNIDO, in his opening address to the WSIS contributory conference on ICT and creativity in Vienna, 2005.

ICTs are permeating all aspects of social, economic and cultural life in modern societies. They are the scientifically developed technological means for the easy generation, rapid processing, global transmission and near unlimited storage of information. Their power lies in their continuously increasing speed and decreasing costs for manufacturing and access.

ICTs are powerful tools. They enable us to build better communities and shape our cultures, producing and sharing work, education, and leisure activities.

ICTs increasingly help to liberate us from menial labour. In the emerging knowledge-based economy and globally networked society, what counts is not so much physical strength as intellectual strength, the product of human creativity. ICTs enable people to be more creative by setting us free from many of the constraints of the older technologies. They permit the creation of augmented and even virtual spaces in which we can dream and shape a better world. Nature can be simulated and ideas visualised without the effort and expense of building them in real space.

Tools have elevated humankind above other animals and enabled us to create civilizations for the past thousands of years. The remains of thirty-thousand year-old cave societies, like the one found in Lascaux, France, clearly exhibit the use of technologies (paints, knives) and artistic creativity. And the past twenty-five hundred years of scientific discipline have enabled new levels of productivity and material wealth that would have been undreamed of in earlier times.

In the present, ICTs are the tools that are making the difference for societies to move to the next level of human civilization. ICTs invite us to participate in entirely new types of activities and to achieve previously unthinkable results. Access to IT and to content networks is essential for reaping the benefits from today’s technologies. That‘s why it’s important that it should be universal, ubiquitous, equitable and affordable.

Only with access to IT and network access can the human mind be free to reach its maximum potential.

ICTs triggered the digital revolution, dissolving the boundaries of material media and setting human inspiration free from most restrictions in form and content. And the ability to record information and share it over space and time have revolutionised its reproduction and distribution.

Through ICTs, creativity has become our central resource for personal, economic, cultural and social development. Creativity, when channelled through ICTs, provides new forms of media and new works of the human imagination that were not before available.

Content is the end result of human creativity as applied to a medium. Content that is distributes and stored on ICT media is sometimes known as E-Content (E for electronic). Whereas ICT is most effective when it is standardised and uniform, contents are most valuable when they are varied and unique. Whereas ICT infrastructure strives to be culture-neutral, content is most effective when it resonates with local cultures. Content communicates best when users recognise their own faces and their own stories-their culture-in the content.

The right to local has been recognised in many United Nations documents as having prime importance. The UNESCO Human Rights Report in 2004 urged the promotion of cultural freedom and diversity as well as respect for ethnicity and language. In fact, local culture rights trump economic rights in most trade agreements. The Uruguay round of the GATT in 1993 recognised the exemption of cultural goods and services from Most Favoured nations and National Treatment treaties.

The creation of quality content that speaks to the many cultures around the world is of prime importance to the success of the information revolution of the twenty-first century. It is an equal partner to the development of ICT infrastructure. Either one is of no use without the other.

ICTs collapse the production and distribution chains that were the hallmark of the Industrial Age. In the information Age, a producer need not be a scientist, technologist, artisan or craftsman, but only a creative individual who has learned to use the powerful software that is increasingly available at low cost and short learning curves. A relatively small effort on behalf of a motivated individual can now transform the understanding of millions of others, enabling a much more democratic expression of human interests and ideas on all aspects of human life.

Along with the new ease of expression is the ease of duplication. This is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it makes e-content much more accessible. On the other, it raises difficulties with the control of protected intellectual property that embedded in the new content. Digitisation enables limitless copying of the original and e-contents offer no natural trace back to someone who is author or originator.

The powers of ICTs have set new horizons for human expression and communications; but as they have created wealth, they have also opened a cornucopia of new distractions, diversions and waste.

In many contexts, ICTs have increased social noise and opened the floodgates of redundant messaging. Formulaic contents may sedate anxious citizens in a world of stress and crises, they offer diversion obligations and imperatives to act and lead to escapism and consumerism in addictive proportions.

Humans can stay in non-stop contact as gossip faces no limit in time or space.

ICTs create a powerful continuum of passive consumerism, bringing cheap gadgets and quick fashions to the cultural worlds.

Quality contents do not fit into the comfort zones of easy listening, simple entertainment and 24/7 TV and broadband pictures. They do not create sameness, but differentiation; they require attention and sometimes sound warnings.

Creativity is the opposite of human entropy. To create is the antithesis to numbness.

Quality contents enrich and sometimes even empower their users. They reward attention with experience, convert time spent into inspiration and excitement.

Quality contents have more than use value; they transport cultural signifiers and enrich personal meaning. Quality contents are always connected to improvement, on an individual scale and on a social or global level.

The challenge for creative people is to match the powers of the ICT tools with their imagination and minds. Generally, the technologies can do more than most creators and users require, know about or even might want to have available to them. This capability surplus constitutes a key challenge to creators; it can dwarf them or open new horizons for expression.

In quality contents and innovative applications, creativity matches IC technology. Creativity produces quality contents.

The industrial sameness of commodities makes them cheap to produce in high quantities, but with a loss of differentiation that is unsuitable for the information Age’s demand for personalised and services. Marketing departments are frequently effective at countering this deficiency by clever advertising that caters to base human instincts such as sex, violence, and the desire for peer acceptance. Even so, the early twenty-first century has witnessed a steady erosion of popular taste for cookie-cutter mass communications content and a steady growth of internet content that is much more diverse and more narrowly targeted. This evidence is very encouraging for the production of quality contents because it justifies an economic argument to create quality in addition to the usual ethical arguments.

ICTs allow mass circulation of massages and global transactions; but they do not merely add to industrial growth and consumptive abundance. Due to human innovation in research & development, they lead to exponential increases in performance and productivity with exponential decreases in unit costs and product prices.

ICTs liberate us from the rules of industrial markets. This is also their promise in the global information society; leapfrog development becomes possible because new technology is not just more powerful then old, but cheaper, cleaner, safer, more energy efficient, and more sustainable.

The promise of the new economy does not market bubbles, but in capacity building in all sectors of society, in all societies in all regions of our one world.

However, the new economy does not mean that one can break all the business rules. The scarcity of production resources and the necessities of good management and proper bookkeeping are lifted by a magic digital wand. This is as true for the content economy as it was for the industrial economy.

The rights of creators warrant protection and the distribution of intellectual property requires permission and compensations. These shall not be played off against the rights of citizens and society to know and to have access to a common heritage of knowledge and a vast sea of new information.

Quality contents should pay back their creators; and not just intermediaries. They ought not to be nor should they be seen as being for free. Such appearances are demeaning to creators and producers, authors and developers and deny them the fruits of their efforts and work.

Anyone should be free to share the outcomes of their creative efforts for no pay; but none should be forced to do or accept this as the dominant model. At the same time, success and market power should not be used to dominate and restrict the free exchange of ideas.

The information space of the Internet appears to some to be free, but it is not. The costs are hidden and most payments do not go to the creative content producers.
Revenues flow easily to those who sell technology. Device makers, network operators and access providers have concrete billing points and efficient mechanisms to collect sales revenues. But once has entered the net, contents are accessed largely as free of charge.

The illusion of the free information and communication space is built on the two pillars of public investments into research organisations and educational institutions and the private investments in marketing and public relations. A new economic realm is needed for quality contents. The Content gap needs to be closed.

The development of ICTs is not even and not all parts of the world participate in the benefits. There are past and present monopolies. In many countries, an understanding of openness in information exchange and communications is only starting and the liberalisation of telecom and media is still a task to be achieved.

Monopolies undercut creativity. State monopolies and censorship strangle the creativity in expression and in the production and exchange of ideas and opinions.
Market monopolies and domination stifle creativity in innovation and in the production and exchange of goods and services. Securing the opening up of societies and markets means also to prevent the growth of new monopolies.

Monopolies perpetuate digital divides. They restrict dynamic diffusion of new devices and new contents and maintain divisions and inequities ICTs tend to spread quickly due to the exponential growth in their performance and the exponential decrease in costs. E-Contents tend to spread quickly due to their personalisation and time and space independence, their media richness and global hypermedia linkage, and their high user involvement and interactive potential.

In developed countries, the digital divides affect the marginalised minorities, in developing countries the excluded majorities. While the access divides exclude still more than 60 % of the world’s population from basic services, the digital divide in e-contents is more severe than in basic telephone service by a factor of 112. The content gap is a persistent phenomenon. Useless we act, the technology poor will remain the content poor for a long time to come.

The digital divides e e-content and the content gap are a challenge to the creativity of politicians and policy makers and to the corporate social responsibility of the ICT industry.

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