Desde Bogotá

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Often times I work myself harder than my body is able to support, but this past month has been especially rough. And now I’m paying the price. I arrived to Bogotá yesterday morning with deep purple bags under my eyes, a sore throat, and about enough energy to stumble into the taxi that took me to my hotel and sleep for 18 hours straight. The rest has been a blur … kind of like the past four weeks. Exactly a month ago I left Los Angeles for Berlin to give a brief talk on our Technology for Transparency research at Re:publica. A video of the talk is available on YouTube. Then it was to Austria for this year’s Prix Ars Electronica jury for the digital communities category, which was filled with fascinating conversations about how digital communities are evolving as the internet – and our online experiences – evolve as well. An indicative excerpt from our Jury Statement, which will be published in September when the winners are announced at the Ars Electronica Festival:

The jury observes that, increasingly, new and old digital communities alike are relying on commercial platforms like Facebook, Google Maps, and Twitter, which create easy entry points for ordinary citizens to become more involved in issue-based campaigns and discussions. However, the ultimate profit motive of these corporations is often inherently opposed to the culture of openness, sharing, and freedom that have defined the first two decades of the World Wide Web.

Trying to Catch the Big One

Fisherman in Venice

Then, after a 12-hour intermission in Venice, it was immediately off to Perugia for this year’s International Journalism Festival where I spoke on two panels. The first – about social translation and the news industry – is available online (where you can see Bernardo make his superman appearance a few minutes into the panel). The second panel – on new media in the Middle East – I was completely unprepared for, but it was an opportunity to show off the projects and websites of some friends from the region. It is also always a pleasure to participate in any discussion with Naseem Tarawnah and Donatella Della Ratta. They both always inspire me every time I hear about their latest projects. Check out last month’s Creative Commons Beirut Salon that Donatella helped organize. And also Naseem’s work on – one of my absolute favorite citizen media communities, which is based in Amman, Jordan. As I write this Ramsey Tesdell – also of – is back in Beirut with Noha and several other friends for the Arab Women Techies meetup.

I am grateful that the International Journalism Festival uploaded videos from all the panels and presentations because frankly I was only able to attend just a few as I was finishing up our research for the Technology for Transparency Network. This was supposed to be just a quick three-month mapping of interesting projects and it has turned into much more thanks to the hard work of our team. For anyone interested in the role of technology in improving governance in developing countries, our researchers’ regional overviews are must-reads.

Antonio Lopez

Antonio Lopez

From Perugia I took a train down to Rome to finally meet Antonio Lopez whose work at World Bridger Media I have long admired. I highly recommend that anyone interested in new media literacy should take a good look at both of his websites. Antonio is currently a professor of media studies at John Calbot University in Rome and invited Bernarndo and I to give a basic introductory presentation to Global Voices. The presentation went well – the students seemed interested, and perhaps even inspired. (Then again, they were also drawn to the evening event by extra credit points and free food.) But the most interesting part of the experience for me was doing some work at a nearby café and overhearing (OK, eavesdropping in on) the conversations of the American students about their classes and professors. “Oh my god, earlier today our professor asked the class, ‘what is globalization’,” complained one girl, “and so I type into the Facebook chat, ‘like, why doesn’t someone ask her to look it up on Wikipedia?”

Walking through central Rome, Antonio – an unabashed enthusiast of the internet – and I had some good conversations about students who can’t pay attention in class because they’re on Facebook the entire time, and tourists who never look up because they’re constantly staring at their GPS-enabled iPhone tourist maps. I’ve been thinking a lot about the basic nature of education – its purpose, its evolution, its pros and cons – thanks to Panthea Lee who kindly gave me a copy of the 2008 Ways of Learning edition of Lapham’s Quarterly when I saw it sticking out of her bag in DC. Highly recommended. As a starter, check out William Deresiewicz self-deprecating takedown of Ivy League culture.

Over the next three days I traveled from Rome to Madrid to Buenos Aires to Santiago de Chile. It felt like both crossing continents and crossing centuries of immigration. In many ways Rome felt more similar than Madrid to Buenos Aires. Stranded at Europe’s largest hotel in Madrid because of a pilots’ strike in Argentina, I happened to have a wonderful and unexpected dinner conversation with a couple in their late 60’s who had never even left their province in southern Argentina until they decided to take a 14-day guided tour of Western Europe. Their humility and enthusiasm was infectious. Everyone else was complaining about the pilots’ strike, about how nothing ever works in Argentina, about all the delays just a week earlier because of the volcanic ash. And then this couple found a reason to appreciate just about everything. They were married for over 40 years and still held hands while eating dessert. I was reminded, yet again, of Louis CK’s “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy.”

Buenos Aires was a blur: 10 hours of work a day in my favorite cafe, a quick visit to the Feria de Libros, dinners with friends, and a stroll through many of the Worker’s Day street festivals. From the moment I arrived to Santiago it was nothing but work in preparation for our 2010 Global Voices Citizen Media Summit, which was stressful, wonderful, and emotional for reasons I’ll get into in a later post. Some rough notes from a few of the sessions are already on the summit blog. Videos from the summit will soon be posted here. In the meantime, I love just flipping through the pages of photographs on Flickr.


Some of the lovely ladies and gentleman from Global Voices

And now here I am in Bogotá. Tonight I will meet with Juanita Leon who has done some inspiring work at La Silla Vacía. Tomorrow I get to finally meet Georg Neumann of Transparency International who is leading a session on social media for the Americas chapters of TI. And in the afternoon I’ll catch up with my dear friend Carolina Botero who has been hard at work with the Karisma Foundation to improve the quality of online and offline education in Colombia.

On Thursday I’m off to Medellín to spend some time with HiperBarrio, one of the most successful of all the amazing Rising Voices grantee projects. They have received some more local funding from the local government to replicate the successes of their project in many of the other libraries around Medellín. I also look forward to meeting the HiperBarrio participants in Ituango, one of the regions of Colombia that has suffered the most from recent violence and forced displacement.

I will also be following the exciting presidential campaign here that concludes with the election at the end of the month. La Silla Vacía is organizing a presidential debate and is collecting questions for the debate from its readers via YouTube. I hope to record a few “Yo Pregunto” videos myself while I’m in Medellín, and hopefully the HiperBarrio citizen journalists can help me.

All that plus the final report from our Technology for Transparency research in the next week and a half. Clearly I am not learning the lesson that my body is trying to teach me, but I’ve already made myself a promise that I will spend the vast majority of June offline. Hugs and high fives.

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