Michael Gurstein on Tue, 1 Jul 1997 17:13:25 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Some Observations on GKD97 (fwd)

I had the opportunity to attend the GKD97 Conference.  It was a rather
overwhelming experience both in its size and in the diversity of subjects
being addressed.  

Once accustomed somewhat to the rush of people and opportunities however,
the conference became more accessible--the faces of old friends and the
formulations of global issues, both emerging somewhat out of the swirl.

I came away with three separate but interlinked frames in my mind as
organizing categories for the events and the ideas of the Conference and
for the activities and formulations which will be the follow- up.

The first of these frames--"the global in the local/the local in the
global" were represented substantively in the glare and opulence of the
"official" GKD97 (Global Knowledge) conference at the Sheraton Centre and
in the ad hoc attempt at "street cred" of the LK97 (Local Knowledge)
"counter"conference up the way at the University of Toronto.  The first
was as self-conscious in its self-presentation as a global conference
(Annan, Wolfensohn, Chretien (who didn't show)) as was LK97 in its self-
presentation as the counter-conference complete with street theatre and a
vegan lunch.  

But the issues of the "global/local" were more significant than the
stylistics of events and their "others"-- there was the matter of those
who were concerned with discussing global trends and global investments,
broad historical sweeps and the reconciliation of national with
continental with global policy and practice.  On the other hand were those
who were insisting on the "local"--the experience of the immediate and the
situated--in economic circumstance, in gender, in language/culture.  It
was clear (to me at least) that the two were of a piece--the local and the
global--one being senseless without the other, and this being true both
for the GKD and the LK conferences (and practices) of the world. 

The second of these frames--the corporate and the "social strategic" were
themselves represented by  Jean Monty, the President of Nortel (Northern
Telecom) and Jay Naidoo, Minister of Post and Telecommunications of South
Africa.  While Monty talked of the boundless opportunities for technical
(and corporate advance) in a de-regulated, seamlessly internetworked world
telecommunications environment, Naidoo talked of the need to maintain a
"social strategy" as a guide to the manner in which the industry would be
"allowed" to develop--in South Africa's case to ensure that the
opportunities of communications access and investment return would be
directed in part to those (in South Africa) who were historically

Clearly there was something of a "struggle" going on at the Conference and
one presumes in the larger global forums which the Conference only
showcased, for the "hearts and minds" of regulators and politicians,
investors and electors between the two positions.  Nevertheless, while one
could see the proponents for Monty and Naidoo staking out opposing
positions--in the real world the two are as interwoven and symbiotic as
the local and the global.  

No one, certainly not Naidoo, I would think, would argue for a completely
"social strategically" directed ICT sector;  nor I expect would Monty want
to be understood to be taking the position for complete deregulation in
all circumstances.  Monty after all is a Canadian and recognizes as well
as anyone I'm sure, the degree to which Nortel and Canada's various social
and economic communities have directly benefitted from "regulated
competition" which has been Canada's contribution to the theory of the
telecom markets.

The third frame which underlay much of the discussions during the
conference was that of "high tech" versus "appropriate tech".   In this,
the "sides" were anything but clear...interestingly though, it appeared
that the Internet was being presented as "high tech" presumably because of
the need for some sort of connectivity to the network and the computer
base, while the appropriate technology discussions seemed to focus on
radio and video as means for information distribution. 

What seemed to be missing from this discussion was the recognition that
all of these media have applications which are supportive of the broad
range of both corporate and "social strategic" objectives and that even in
the case of the higher tech applications the cost of effective access was
plummeting with competition and technology advance (satellite and cellular
distribution for example).  There was clearly a need to focus more on the
outcomes desired than on the media modalities available

A likely immediate consequence of GKD97 is to firmly and directly place
telecommunications and particularly Internet communications on the
development agenda both for the World Bank and for the Canadian
International Development Agency (and likely for the other development
agencies as well), where up to this point the technology had been seen as
at best peripheral and enabling at the margin.  From now on it appears
that telecom will be presented as having a role as part of the
"infrastructure" of development alongside the provision of electricity and
transportation access.

While this development may prove to be a bonanza for certain strategically
located consulting and technology firms it is less evident that it will be
of much immediate benefit to the proposed beneficiaries.  The problem is
that telecom in general and the Internet in particular, especially in very
recent times does not fit very well into the lengthy contracting processes
and elaborate management administrative structuring of typical aid agency
(and World Bank) infrastructure programs.  

The technology is moving extremely quickly and even the
infrastructure/delivery options available are in very considerable flux
and it would be highly risky even speculative at this point to put the
kind of investment normally assigned to infrastructure into one or another
of the available (and contending) delivery options.  In any case, the
donors are unlikely to be able to move into this area with anything like
the speed of the private sector provision of access delivery (nor should

Rather what is needed from the donors is precisely what they have
difficulty in providing ie. highly flexible seed funding for a variety of
alternative delivery strategies, for content development and for the
development of content delivery mechanisms; and particularly for a very
large number of very small initiatives to allow those on the ground
"locally" to begin to participate in the increasingly "globalized"
structures of opportunity (for education/training, for health information,
for political participation, for economic development/entrepreneurship)
which are emerging.

I'm pleased to be able to report that there was considerable knowledge at
Global Knowledge 97.  What made the conference more interesting than
illuminating though, was the absence of much global data at one end and
of global wisdom at the other...but that is what we are working toward
and remains to be reported to the next conference/s...

Mike Gurstein

Michael Gurstein, Ph.D.
ECBC/NSERC/SSHRC Assoc. Chair in the Management of Technological Change
Associate Professor Organizational Management
Director:  Centre for Community and Enterprise Networking
University College of Cape Breton
PO Box 5300
Sydney, NS, CANADA  B1P 6L2

Tel.  902-562-1055 (h)
      902-563-1369 (o)
      902-562-0119 (fax)

Email Mgurst@ccen.uccb.ns.ca
WWW   Http://ccen.uccb.ns.ca

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