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Togo: on its path to development

It has been a while since I last updated my blog and sweeping off the cobwebs to arrive at the meat of content production has been disturbing for me. Do I start by offering an explanation to a few of my readers why the site has been still for sometime or do I just plunge into dialogging like nothing happened? I have agreed to take on the second approach with the hope that subsequent posts will contain explanations to my hiatus. So, pardon, the long silence and lets get into the meat of the matter.

This is a trip I was rather apprehensive of because of the many countries I have to visit and the tasks to perform on the trip. Series of interviews in Senegal on a truly interesting World Bank and African Development Bank funded project; a two hour stopover in Accra to breakfast with my friend Kwami Ahiabenu doing excellent work on the African Elections Project (; and Togo to participate with the internet and development community on its national consultation process on internet public policy in Togo.  On my return to Winnipeg, I will go through Senegal to continue my series of consultations with the Climate Change community, stop by in Columbia University where I am sitting on a panel with intellectuals talking about the current wave of democracies in Africa; “Power and Pressure, the Media in Africa” – my particular focus; African media, social media and the politics of representation (where I would also be meeting my host, expert economist and Nobel prize winner, Prof. Joseph Stiglitz, and my old time friend Prof. Anya Schiffrin); and then my team meeting in Ottawa with mentor David Souter. But I was truly impressed by my first hand observation of the happenings in Togo. This is not my first time here, so I had a benchmark by which to gauge the progress in this little but important coastal West African country.

I arrived the airport aboard Asky airline ( a collaborative project by African organisations, banking institutions and an african airline, Ethiopian Airlines. Flight was regular, plane was clean although the “free sitting” instruction is still very much alive in the region. No harassment from the customs and immigration people like they previously did to Nigerians/Anglo-phones. The tout trying to sell me a sim card for my mobile phone told me that the country has sort of stabilized. He was gentle, very friendly and to say the least, nice! Earned $2 for his effort plus the profit from the sale of his ware. One year after the elections he can see roads being constructed and there is a semblance of constant electricity.

I observed that people were kind of glowing – a facade of confidence that results from living in a rather peaceful society. Less stressed, I might add. My host took me to a street restaurant where I had fufu, local style and I could see vehement dialogue taking place between men and women who gather to share a drink. For an outsider, it would seem as though there was a fight but I was told that this is the style to debate, engage and enjoy friendship. “It is normal”, he says. He confirmed that it is true, there is some semblance of progress in the country. “No one can say there has not been progress in Togo given recent developments.” Although the opposition party, the UFC was “swallowed” by the ruling party, a more extreme fraction of the UFC called the ANC named after the South African anti-apartheid party continued to demonstrate every week for one year since the elections in March 2010. They had promised to keep to their words of demonstrating for five years to last the duration of the current mandate. However, they have taken their demonstrations to the churches – “we should continue our struggles through prayer and fasting.” My host said that there are current draft bills working their way through the parliament that should clamp down on public demonstration. Previously, you had to inform the government of your intention to gather and express your displeasure. The current bill will be more restrictive in that demonstrators must receive approval before they gather.

My host says that the country’s media had capitalised on an opening last year when they started probing a phosphate corruption story. Togo, he claims has the second best phosphates in the world. But the revenue from its sales cannot be traced back to the country. The ruling party shut that company down, fired its boss and started a new one. The extent to which they (government) will report revenues from the new company may be too early to predict. However, the media has since this probe began to comment on social and political issues – something that was a taboo in the last Eyadema administration. Dialogue is constant on the radios and call in programs are becoming more common. The national broadcaster has one station that broadcasts in FM and MW while community and private radio stations are scattered all over the country. There is one national daily newspaper. Others publish less frequently from once a week to once a month. Financial challenges pose difficulties to the media in Togo but also slightly repressive legal provisions clamp down on media from time to time. My host mentioned the closure, thrice last year of a particularly vocal FM station. That station has been opened now and the actual act of impunity has reduced even though it rears it ugly head  a few times last year. I funded a newspaper two years ago, “Le Crocodile” which used to be very vocal of the administration but I hear it has taken sides with the new administration. They (new administration) must be doing something right or …

So, I am pleased by what I see to be the new wave of true democracy sweeping across the West African region specifically and the African continent at large. The continent is becoming truly open and democratic. We would liken ourselves to the revolutionary years of the West where defining moments arose from a rather proactive and determined paradigm shift demanded by the people but entrenched by a few radicalist but open minded politicians. People are tired in the region – of wars, anti democratic practices and demonstrations. They want to see stability, peace and progress. My host kept saying, no one wants to see the situation of cote d’Ivoire here. I agreed with him. I can say for sure that there is some semblance of progress in Togo. Free expression and transparency is fundamental to open societies and Togo seems to want to embrace that.

The Eyjafjallajökull Volcano and Future Global Travel Scenario

This piece is inspired by a BBC news article –  A world without planes.

Suddenly, children reminisce of old times and wonder why the older folks were so proud of the technological advancements of their time. They grudge till date about how global travel was affected for one week when Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010. How humans of the day could not innovate and invent new means of travel or better “aeromobiles” as we call them, than the huge aluminum shells they clustered in for hours on end. Dust particles and birds sometime impeded their travel – hazards they called them, resulting in complete shutdown of airports and global travel. Days later, they are on about the millions of their currency they have lost from the resulting lock-down. As much as they have contributed to the technological advancements of global travel, it still remains to our utter amazement, how in the 21st century they would build crafts without due considerations to the medium within which they traveled.

If they could only see what global travel have metamorphosed into. Ships the size of cities with all the comfort of a traditional home – apartment style comfort with all the amenities you could possibly imagine. Thousands and thousands of families move from one continent to another at will – truly global citizens. Visas, passports and travel documentations no longer an impediment to social or economic migration. Truly global citizens as declared by Articles 13 (1),(2) of the the universal declaration of human rights. Once they had classes – Business class, First class – segregated according to societal standing. The folly of their time. Wider seats, much better food, warmer blankets, and ever smiling hosts and hostesses were the distinctive characteristics of class separation. What compares with our current family communities – truly balanced, non segregated societies which travel together in our modern ships. We interact without segregation, distinction or classification. A truly open, transparent society.

If they could see that we only use our ships to migrate for pleasure rather than the need to be physically present at another global meet.

There is talk about some experimentation. A project by a 16 year old university professor on “holographic transportation.” While they talked about “out of body experience”, a concept which most of them could not nail down,  this project already in its version two, incorporates voice resolution into the senses components of our existing holographic experience. With the new version of voice resolution, we have eliminated the robotic non sensual tonality of our speech and improved on its projection to include pitch, emotions and feelings. This, in addition to the senses of touch, feelings, hearing, and seeing. A sixth sense they called it. A natural, integral part of being, existence, for us.

They basked in their advanced use of the hologram for election coverage. Flickering images that wowed the presenter of the day. We enjoy ours as an essential dimension of today’s existence. Not as a projection but as a state of being. We have developed it such that we could transport ourselves to Hawaii, feel the heat of the sun on our transported self; do the safari in Kenya and watch the animals stare in amazement at human creatures who are not scared of walking amongst them; or feel the sand dunes of the Sahara as it rests and buries us, only to re-emerge in the clear blue sea, swimming amongst fishes and in between the corals of the Indian ocean on the Mauritian coasts. Global travel is changed for ever! All because of Eyjafjallajökull!

Our ships are dust proof, bird proof and crash proof.

Our meetings happen in holographic conference venues. Participants meet from all parts of the world in preconceived places, in swiftness of seconds.

The world is no longer wired by fibre cables. Our technology uses the air waves, which ceases to become a scarce resource. Spectrum allocation is not a global phenomenon. Spectrum is smart and every kid could rent them, broadcast, and release them for later re-use. Spectrum space is no longer seen as a resource, neither does broadcast become a prerogative of governments or big media owners. The channels do exist for one to many government communication but they are rarely used as communication takes  a viral dissemination mechanism. Using “impulses”, government sends one to a node and then watch as it propagates across the entire globe. Social networks have again become mainstream and the core of existing personality, being and identity. And as people are not limited by distance, sending information from one to another largely depends on which ring in the ripple one belongs to at a given moment in time – and that as a matter of nanoseconds.

So, does that one week lockdown caused by Eyjafjallajökull such a complete lost in monetary terms? At the time, perhaps. But right now, it has completely changed the face of global travel and we have our fore fathers to thank for it.


Resource Allocation to Educational Training Videos – Then and Now

Ok, the “Recognition of the Japanese Zero” Training Video was quite eye opening. A combination of motion picture and animation; the use of comparisons; repetitions; interaction and motivation were some characteristics exhibited in a video that used a bunch of Hollywood stars and top behavioral scientist to teach an almost simple and perhaps, easily ignorable piece of lesson – identifying a piece of Japanese flying war craft.

Makes me wonder, if so much attention (resources – time, human and financial) is paid to a simple piece of valuable information, how much more other valuable pieces of information were out there during the war, and how many more training videos were made? If any?

Would we pay so much today, in resources, to teach a simple concept like adding one and one? Or could we do so only if this has detrimental impacts such as the devastating effects of a Jap Zero?

Internet Futures Scenarios – What the African (global) youth thinks it will be in 2015

I spent last week with a bunch of 18-29 year olds from 24 African countries. Thats why I was not in my Seminar class. And like previous times, I have to make a post of where I was and what I did.

One hundred youths gathered at a remote getaway resort in the Kenyan plains called Lukenya in a week of fun-packed youth oriented activities, activism and intense lectures, education on the tenets of democracy, the values of governance and the truths that is associated with international criminal justice. The role of social media seems out of place within this discourse but it became the glue that cemented all of these topics together and crystallized it into a whole that would seem to define the shape of future societies.

To give a context, these youths were aspiring political leaders, community spokespeople, activists who have themselves commanded respect for their engaging community development work. They have a number of followers and followership akin to school student union leaderships – which in most African countries have tended to produce leaders that have become vocal in parliaments and governing counsels in most African countries and societies. Most of them use the Internet for traditional forms of communications – emails, social networking. A few have gone on to leverage the wealth of the Internet to run advocacy campaigns such as a consumer complaint network purely run on social networking platforms. Some of them have held companies accountable to quality services though these social networks and have gotten them to meet up with their consumer quality mission statements or corporate social responsibilities. Some are gathering support and wrenching youths out of militancy into a social network citizenry of sorts that would use alternative means to quell political violence and advance the causes of peace in war stricken countries.

The place of social media in the discourse on governance and democracies may seem totally alien and a new field to venture into, to the majority of some who have not quite appreciated the affordances that technology or social media plays in our societies as they have been defined today. It may have seemed out of place at the inception but it became the “real meat of the matter” when they paid attention, contributed and went on to put into practice some of the lessons they had learned only moments later. The fact remained, that though they were engaged in discussions on issues of democracies and good governance, there were little avenues to practically implement some of these knowledge. No one could, for instance, change a political agenda by marching the street or speaking up for or against an open referendum, or print an op-ed in a national daily, impact on governments, change any parliamentary debate, issue, or challenge any societal ill doing – locked away at the resort, at that particular moment. But, with the application of social media, they seemed to unlock a certain type of activism and use such as knew no bounds and could not be restrained within the walls of the camp venue. It was as if they had discovered a means that gave them far reaching arms, beyond their small communities, societies and even countries. They bonded with youths and made pacts that would extend the struggles that they were going through beyond the borders of their countries. That would begin to put their own governments in check. The long arms of technology was at hand to extend the vibrant discussions that these youths were having to the worlds beyond the resort – societies and their challenges that their governments (some repressive, others, democratic but badly managed) were exhibiting during that week. The clashes in Uganda were being recorded and responded to – they twittered and blogged about them. So was the “#EnoughIsEnough” march by youths into the Nigerian parliament closely watched and supported by a group that was removed from the core of these actions by distance. Distance could not separate their voice though as they tweeted, blogged and socially participated in activism that led to some of these campaigns becoming some of the top most user generated content discussions (hash tags) on microblogging sites.

The media, especially social media has a reach that defies normal forms. The Internet, the underlying media (of infrastructure) is the carrier of content – social media (of applications) that can be applied with relevance to situations. In fact the affordance of social media goes beyond the social nature for which they were initial defined. While translating from the physical, face-to-face social relationships to an online space must have been the original intentions of the creators of social media networking platforms like facebook, twitter and flickr, their “action potential” goes beyond these to assembling like minded youths towards advancing a cause that they hold very dear and important to them and for general societal good.

It is not however, the affordances of media that I intend to highlight in this post. Nor the role that it plays in defining democracies, now and in the future. It is the discourse on the future of the Internet to the African youth that resonated more with me and I thought it would be useful to share some of this discussion with my class.

Scenarios have been used to describe any future state. It is not uncommon to hear “the best case” or “worse case scenario” as prefaces to certain decisions that need to be taken or made. The process of scenarios is critical, technical, intense, based on facts and information, historic while at the same time advancing of future trends. Scenarios are a depiction of the future based on carefully arranged and nicely aligned set of facts. Environmentalist and oil drilling companies decide to advance their causes because of the state of the scenario that they may have created based on the facts that may have in their possession. So the future scenario of immense heat wave in summer and extremely unbearable cold Winnipegy winters are future scenarios that may come from trends gleaned from data from the past. These warnings characterize global warming campaigns or the quest for green societies. Oil companies will prospect and drill based on the mouth watering future prospect of millions of barrels of oils. It wont be worth their while if the worse case scenario does not, in the least, cover their cost of operation with some mouth watering revenue. Futures scenarios are relevant for those seeking to preserve the future environment while at the same time equally important for those who may be putting fossil fuel into the hands of citizens.

Film makers use scenarios to project into the future and create pictures that get us all wondering what that future might actually look like. The early directors of these techniques were for franchises such as “Back to the Future, (1985)”[1] which depicted the use of time machines to project man (the characters) and our thinking (the audiences/viewers) into the future. Since then, there have been a barrage of sci fi movies such as Bruce Willis in the 5th Element, (1998)[2] or Surrogates (2009)[3], Will Smith’s, I robot (2004)[4], Robo Cop (Sylvester Stallone) , etc. Guy Maddin[5] may have used scenarios thinking to project into what Winnipeg was like in his movie, My Winnipeg. The frozen horse heads or other myths were, for instance, a “future” Madden must have projected “back” into. While he talked about it like history, it depicts a present and future Winnipeg that we cannot leave for the love of it. Madden must have retrogressively looked forward into the past.

The use of technology in these futures thinking is perhaps the only way that such scenarios can be arrived at. The world sees the role of technology as being an integral part of the future. More recent movies have resulted in the creation of cyborgs – man machines – with the emotions of men but the intelligence of computers (Surrogates, 2009). The criss cross of unintended consequences usually characterize these movies. The machines begin to develop certain tendencies that they were not initially designed to portray. The use of technology in these characters or even their use in creating graphical destructions of immense proportions, flying automobiles and robot propelled humans meandering through spaghetti like streets and roads hanging in vacuums; and floating homes with no known addresses or abyss like skyscrapers with the occasional plunge to the lower floors that seem to never end, makes us wander how much technology would influence our future, our thinking, our way of life and how we would relate with ourselves in this future. Technology has been able to allow us to expand and project our thinking way past our present.

In a similar fashion, social media has created opportunities for application developers to extend and project several “dormant” and otherwise plain platforms into more relevant tools. Social networks offers similar affordances. The opening of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) have allowed codes to be developed that have extended the use of the original intention of these tools. Take facebook for instance, there are thousands of applications that have been developed to extend the powers of the social networking platform. Programs ranging from “mafia wars” to health management applications have been created. And the possibilities continue to increase.

So when these youths thought about the affordances of these tools to extend the reach of their campaigns for better societies, it immediately sat with them and their causes. It was not long before they began applying some of them to their struggles.

But it is not these sci fi movies or the specific affordances of social media tools and their futures that interested these youths. Indeed they play some roles in defining how societies may be characterized in the future and the role that they will play in these societies. This is because some of the depictions of sci fi movies are far too extreme for our presently conscious minds to fathom. They, in actual fact do not incite some of our critical analysis but rather appeal to our fantasies and our hunger for entertainment. And social media, well, we use them as they evolve. However, futures scenarios thinking seemed to immediately catch a certain interest with them. And rightly so.

Futures scenarios thinking incites critical analysis. It demands a systematic step by step analysis of trends and an engaging process that should bring together the “future” as it should be seen through the eyes of different persons and through different contexts. Movies depict times that are usually well ahead of our abilities to reasonably project. 20 – 50 years are not uncommon future years to project in them. So we are left to the imagination of the script writer and the movie director and not to our common judgments or our systematic application of trends, facts and societal happenings to more realistic and reasonable futures which perhaps could only safely and more accurately be projected 5-10 years ahead.

The future of the Internet became a discussion that appealed to these youths and I will share with you what they thought it would be like by 2015. Five years seems to be a reasonable period to project into. We may not see flying cars by then but we may see an Internet that totally controls our lives. One that has become an extension of our daily existence. It will define how we relate to people. It may also define how we are governed. And it is best to know what that future will be like so we can take certain steps to avoid those aspects of it that may be detrimental to us while advancing the ones we think may be useful in shaping a common, free, open and democratic society of the future, if we can. That, usually, are the reasons for scenarios.

These youths thought there could be four possible scenarios in the African Internet future:

1.A fully government governed, 100% government regulated Internet society

2.A completely unregulated Internet

3.An Internet Commons scenario

4.An elitist, but liberalized, Internet scenario.

The themes seemed to tend towards governance and democracies and logically so as they all come from politically motivated backgrounds. What appeals to me mostly was the application of technology to these themes – the relevance of technology to the various futures, and the roles that youths will play in these spaces.

So, laid out in a spectrum, two extremes emerge; the “commons” being the best future scenario and the chaotic and “completely unregulated” Internet being the least wanted scenario. For the youths, it was not so much the impact that technology would have on their lives that was the most profound in the discussions that ensued but mostly the debate on why and how they cannot completely let go of their traditional lifestyle, societal values, integrity, culture, society to a fully dominated futures Internet scenarios. The debate split the house on that argument. It was interesting to see that the most exciting futures of the Internet should be one in which humans retain a certain level of control of its evolution. One in which they can determine how it works for them and in which, like a tap, they can shut off when it begins to work against them. They see the values it provides to governance and education but they would still like to retain books to read offline. They are conscious that an elitist Internet futures scenario may arise from an Internet that is currently out of the reach of millions of African youths. And though recognizing the Internet, and its affordance for communication and activism, transparency and accountability may not be the most far reaching tool for a commons society in five years.

So, why is this relevant? I think the African youth is not so different from the Canadian youth or any youth, globally. The same fears resonate with them. The fear that they may lose control of the future. The fear that they may have their lives governed by technology.







My Winnipeg Revisited

Last week, I called an old time friend in New York whom I only knew within the context of my immediate past life. He was not aware that I have moved to Canada. When I told him I live in Winnipeg, he said, “Oh! Maddin’s sleepy city.” And he went on to talk about the movie, “My Winnipeg,” How he liked it and how he had told his son he had to go see it. He watched it twice and discussed it afterwards and I was interested in knowing what they thought about it. Why they had liked it. Why it was interesting to them and what motivated them to go see the movie in the first place, and him, a second time. I didn’t know my friend to be someone interested in “travel” genres, or documentaries such as Maddin had created. But his likeness of the movie was quite welcoming.

This was a week after I had seen it so our discussion was interesting as I could relate to aspects of the movie that struck a chord with him. I wanted to know whether the movie aroused some interest in him wanting to visit Winnipeg someday. He said it actually did. His response caught me off guard somewhat as the style of Maddin’s cinematography using old black and white photo technique; his depiction of Winnipeg as a sleepy city and of the chug chug of the train throughout the movie did not exactly paint a picture of the traditional flashy documentaries that would usually accompany a tv ad from the tourist board to attract tourists to its city. What also struck me was his remembrance of scenes within the movie that otherwise a casual viewer would not pay that much attention to. The scenes of the MTS center and the frozen horse heads. It made me realize that somehow, the non flashy nature of Maddin’s style left indelible marks on people’s memories. My Winnipeg is not a movie to be forgotten. The images remain for much longer.

It took me a while to secure the movie. I had visited my local library and requested for it. I was put on a wait list that eventually lasted one week instead of the one month that I was initially told. I realized that the movie was in high demand and quite a number of Winnipegers were fascinated by it. I had thought it was a movie that would remain on the shelf and would be immediately accessible to whomever would want it and at whatever time, just like most books in the library. But alas, My Winnipeg was in high demand. I was lucky to be next in line after just a week.

I watched it with a partner and wanted to know what impression it created in her. I specifically wanted to know if Winnipeg’s winter as depicted in the pictures were viscous enough to make her leave the city for another more weather friendly one giving her dis-affinity to the cold. She didn’t think the movie made her sleep nor did it want to make her ‘up and go’ at the next possible moment but rather provided her more knowledge as a recent immigrant to understand the city and its dwellers; why perhaps they behave the way they do; how that the city has its influence on them in some way, but mostly, a desire to stay. The winter was not negative a factor enough.

I personally wanted to watch My Winnipeg again and again simply because there are certain undertones that can only be gleaned after several watches. Hidden messages exists within the lines that Maddin described. Perhaps Maddin, in his depiction of a sleepy traveler wanted the viewer to see how much control the city had over its inhabitants. Perhaps he wanted us to see that our efforts for wanting to leave would always translate into an unflinching love and desire to remain. It is as if he was saying that you can dare how much you want, the city would always have its hold on you. The city controls you, the city overwhelms you. The city rules its inhabitants and makes them its subjects The city does its pleasing and its royal subjects must comply. Dare how much you want, to leave or otherwise, but your threats are just empty.

Maddin painted Winnipeg all black and gray with shades of white perhaps so you could conjure up the colors yourself. He teasingly told us to fill in the rest of the gap with our imagination. For you could only do that if you identified with the city itself. You could paint it in the colors that was most pleasant to you. That resonated with you and that would make you own the city by the colors you painted it (when in actual fact it owned you).

Maddem made it sleepy so you could stay awake in the city. In fact your wakefulness is your sleepy submission to the city’s controls. And because you do not have the strength to wrest your will back you give into the city’s desires and exclaim, “My Winnipeg!” You own it, it owns you. It is non other’s but mine. Mine in whose control I belong. Mine in whose hands I am helpless. Mine in whom, no matter how hard I tried, I could not wish it off my sleepy head but to succumb to its viscous icy embrace.

My Winnipeg made me love the city and drew me into it than pushed me off. The force of its embrace made me want to search more – the city’s history. A search that should lead me to loving it. Identifying with it and becoming a part of its sleepiness.

My Winnipeg.

On Globalism and National Identity

I, again, find it difficult to post something to the blog this week. Not for reasons of a lack of what to write but rather because there are just too many things to talk about. Ok, too many things to write about aspects of life, society, culture, technology, principles, policy, pride, national identity, globalism or globalisation, education, educational technologies, etc, etc. And worse off, in my dilemma to find significance in these myriad of topics, I have to find the connection between them – the thin strand of commonality that links them, so that they make sense to me.

So I will try to start with globalism (noun, the attitude or policy of placing the interests of the entire world above those of individual nations or globalisation; verb, to extend to other or all parts of the globe; make worldwide) and link it to national pride and identity.

In 1960, when the Nigerian founding fathers gained independence from the British, a new national anthem was needed. One arrived from a combination of lyrics taken from the five best entries in a national competition. The first two lines of the new anthem (1960-1978) says,

Nigeria we hail thee,
Our own dear native land.

The second line of that anthem is similar, has the same number of syllables and almost ends with the same words as the first two lines of the Canadian anthem.

O Canada!
Our home and native land!

What is common to Estonia, Turkmenistan, Lithuania, Zimbabwe and Haiti? The reference to “native land” in all their anthems. Estonian (My Native Land, My Pride and Joy); what was called, the Black National Anthem (Lift Every Voice and Sing) has a reference to standing true to “our native land”; The Turkmenistan anthem has a line – “Native land, sovereign state”; The Lithuanian anthem – “working for the good of their native land and for all mankind”; the third verse of the Zimbabwean anthem beseeches God to bless our “native land” and so does the last line of the Haitian Anthem – pledging allegiance to the land and willing to die for it.

Besides the fact that some of these nations (Canada, Nigeria, Zimbabwean) may once have been under British colony and rule, these common references may highlight plagiarism in today’s context (D. Hlinka) but had nothing to do with it one or two centuries back. In fact, references or similarities in anthems may have been used as linkages, identity and relationships to colonial heritages so much that arguments for plagiarism or ownership of rights as today’s copyright laws demand were downplayed in the face of patriotism or identity to a higher power, colony or tradition. So, “God Save the Queen”, may no longer be used in most of these countries but the existence of lines that link these pasts to date, in these anthems may still remain an indication of such allegiance. What we sometimes fail to remember is that lines such as these moved from one country to another perhaps without the use of technology as we knew it – in their audio visual sense (the use of radio and TV) but technology did however play a part in the globalization of national pride and identity as defined by the anthems that characterized these nations. The ships, books, warring vessels and colonial tendencies enhanced by technology did play a role in how these words found their ways into widely dispersed national anthems.

So when Michael Buble started his performance by singing “Maple Leaf Forever” at the closing ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics, he ended it by singing the last lines of O’ Canada invariably linking centuries, times, identities, stereotypes, national pride, global influences, etc.

What was most fascinating during the presentation was the respect to time. It started at 7.30pm CET and ended promptly at 10pm CET. With all the chaos in between, the timing was still perfect. There were several points of failure in the entire production and one that stood out to me was the little “puck” skating in the midst of the giant hockey players. He could have tripped or delayed the production by a minute or two but everything remained perfectly timed. Perhaps David Atkins, the director of the production must receive credit for this but timing was important especially if this production was to be viewed by the global community represented at the games and separated by several time zones. Technology had to be respected and technology had to be used with respect to bring an exciting viewing experience to the global audience of the games.

Buble, sang a version of the song with a reference to lands; “Our land of peace, where proudly flies, The Maple Leaf forever.” Perhaps the common thread that linked all of these, from the time of colonial era signified by the 1812 version that referenced the queen to Buble’s (actually Radian’s,) 1997 version, Maple Leaf Forever is not just a reference to a flag flying in the sky but to one in which more significant value exists than meets the ordinary eye.

Limitations and Exceptions of Copyright to Education (and Technology)

I struggled quite a bit this week on what to post on my blog because there seems to be lots of interesting topics to talk about, research on, and offer up a discuss that should elicit further knowledge or research. It was hard to settle on something. But I have decided to look at Copyright laws from a rather lighter side hoping that it would be written in a simplified form by striping the heavy legal language and jargons and such as will bring further knowledge to myself and my class.

So, I have chosen a topic which is difficult and has been making the rounds on the tables of negotiators of global treaties and conventions. I thought a little bit of history might provide some better context.

Copyright has a history dating back to the 15th century. In 1662 a licensing act was established to register licensed books. Its intent was to regulate books and monitor their writings (UK). That act lasted up until 1681 when it was repealed [1]. In 1710, the Statute of Anne was enacted which gave considerable powers to copyright holders. An infringer was fined one ‘peny’ “for every sheet which shall be found in his, her, or their Custody, either Printed or Printing, Published.”[2] This, in essence made copyright a crime and a granted a fixed term of 14 years to owners of copyrighted works, 120 years for works that were already created prior to this law.

In 1886, the International Copyright Act also known as the Berne Convention [3] was instituted. This was an improvement and a codification of existing copyright laws and the beginning of international treaties seeking signatories from various countries. The plethora of protection covered by the Berne convention ranged from cinematographic works, works of architecture, to dramatic and musical works, and broadcasting rights. While the convention was initially ratified by these two countries, it was conceived for a global ascension of countries. Currently, there are a total of 164 countries that are signatories to the Berne Convention. Eight countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, United Kingdon) were part of the initial signatories on December 5, 1887. Canada (April 10, 1928) and the United States (March 1, 1989) came in much later [4].

The Canadian Copyright Act, current to January 25, 2010 defines copyright, “in relation to a work, [as] the sole right to produce or reproduce the work or any substantial part thereof in any material form whatever, to perform the work or any substantial part thereof in public or, if the work is unpublished, to publish the work or any substantial part thereof…”[5]. It covers literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works; computer programs, and broadcast.

Civil society organizations such as the EFF[6], educations bodies[7] and certain individuals[8] claim these laws are limiting, restrict innovation and access, and benefits only certain persons other than the actual rights holders. Consumer International claims copyright is not only a business issue but also a consumer issue[9]. Some of these interventions have questioned existing copyright laws resulting in alternatives to copyright and concessions on some of these provisions. Some outcomes include initiatives such as creative commons [10], access to knowledge[11], and limitations and exceptions provisions for the scholarly (education), visually impaired and archivist. The summary of this movement, is that copyright is restrictive and reduces access to knowledge works and materials. And that there should be certain exceptions and limitations to some works for the purposes of education, research, archiving and preservation, and for visually impaired persons.

The Canadian copyright law allows for certain fair dealings provisions. Section 29 of the Copyright Act (R.S., 1985, c. C-42) allows for use of copyrighted materials in research and private study, criticisms and review purposes, and for news reporting.

Perhaps, of more importance to us in class, is the application of this to technology. Copyright infringements are linked to the ‘unlawful’ hosting of copyrighted materials online. The Digital Milennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is an extension of the US copyright law to the digital/online space. This act has a provision that enforces a “notice take down” (NTD) clause which requires that infringing content on any given website must be taken down as soon as the Internet service provider has been informed of such content. Google[12] and creative commons[13] comply with the DMCA (and the NTD clause). An interesting project that has arisen from this is the Chilling Effects Clearing House[14] which maintains a database of all notice take downs, while at the same time ensuring the fairness of the infringement process. A key component of the DMCA is the DRM clause which controls access to digital copyrighted works and also criminalizes circumventions of these works. The Open Rights Groups (ORG) thinks this is an infringements of their rights and speaks out against this (see,

However, there are claims that DRMs may not be the most appropriate means of protecting copyright. In fact, the ORG claims victory over its consistent campaign against DRM when Apple and Amazon decided to drop their restrictions[15].

So, I will tie this all together. Copyright has been an age old discussion that initially protected arts and literary works but is currently extended to the Internet, to music, culture, and digital products. An international organization such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) currently manages and hosts negotiations around global treaties and conventions on intellectual property and copyright which countries such as Canada and the US are signatories to. These countries have existing fair use provisions but they are not completely responsive to certain needs. Consumer and citizen organizations have been interested in the fairness of such legal provisions and it is important that such fairness extends to education, visually impaired persons and for the purposes or archiving. The push continues to extend limitations and exceptions to copyrighted works in these areas and WIPO[16] is still coordinating these global debates.

[6] [7], aca2k is an academic research body probing the relationship between copyright and access to knowledge. It is a project funded by the Canadian IDRC.

Literacy as defined by new media

Media literacy encompasses many aspects yet it is defined by two words that do not, at face value, quite do justice to its real meaning. The media has existed for quite some time and perhaps a description of the history of media might do justice to this blog post. I will however spare the reader the pain. Nevertheless, I will dwell quite a bit on the subject of literacy postulating that a better understanding of the word may give us certain glimpses into understanding the media and hopeful the term “media literacy.”

The definition of literacy resonated with me during Dr. Denis Hlynka’s seminar on media literacy. Literacy is defined as the ability to read and write or the ability to encode and decode. It is the latter for which I am most concerned. For the ability to read and write may not be sufficient enough to represent the word literacy. I may write with a great degree of ambiguity, lack of understanding, or scribbles which may make no sense but may be written in standard roman or latin text and arabic numerals. I have written, in ‘known’ characters, therefore I may be counted among the literates. I may be able to read what I write or even be able to translate it from one language to another but yet it may hold no meaning to me or bring any import to my state. Not that the words in themselves hold no meaning but I am unable to imbibe their meaning. I have written and read but the essence of those acts may be devoid of the action themselves – the essense of the reading itself. The world and its standard may consider me literate for my ability to read and write but not necessarily my ability to extract meaning from my writings or the ability to comprehend my readings.

Yet, global standards consider me literate. Because literacy, according to the world, is the ability to read and write.

This is a fundamental flaw of media literacy in the sense that the said word conveys totally different meanings to the listener from those originally intended by the author. Indeed, words, speeches and text may hold several composite factors, for instance, context, which brings the words alive and convey not just the meaning of the words but the original import, circumstance, and conditions surrounding the words which the author intentionally wove into the literal text. Such texts becomes alive and it is said to be living. They breath their very existence and are ageless. When a reader reads a text and strips it of these important elements, and yet they are considered literate but lose the exact essence of the text they have read then a flaw is propagated. And its a global one. One that wrongly defines literacy.

So I will strip a text of its context and talk about its context alone. For in my opinion, it is the understanding of the context of the text that brings the essence of the text to life. If you understand the essence of the text then you are literate.

I will describe the essence of a text as the original meaning intended by the author, the gut of the text – the inner most being of the text itself. The heart of the text or literally, the part that gives the text its breath of life. When a text is made alive, it elicits a certain response from the reader. A response for change, an action to move. The essence of a text could be likened to the charisma of the text or those of the author – as Heidegger would describe causa efficiens. The feeling we receive, to arise to action from an authoritative and eloquent speaker is the impartation of the essense of the text to, on and in us. It is different from the feeling of watching a news item, or reading the sports section of a newspaper with a triggerless outcome. A live text will constantly remain in our minds, will prick our conscience, and cause us to respond.

If the essence of a text can be conveyed without a literal representation, then a living text could be heard and not necessarily read. And thus literacy may not be tantamount to reading afterall but to a comprehension of the text through hearing. If we accept that meaning or essense could be imparted without reading (although reading is one and not the only way by which we can gain an understanding of a text) then literacy may and should not be defined in terms of reading alone. Thus it is the second definition of literacy that nearly appeals to me – the ability to encode and decode. For decoding refers to a process of understanding the hidden message within a medium. Media literacy is therefore a decoding of a text to the comprehension of the recipient of the same.

Encoding and decoding are words that can be used to replace the ability to speak and to understand a language other than yours, or to learn a new skill and apply it in a new way, or to learn music without a music degree. This new understanding sits well with traditional knowledge of medicine, or of wisdom, or of kinship handed down tacitly from generation to generation. This knowledge so passed down may not have been documented in literal terms but this fact does not make the custodian of these cultures, traditions and knowledge any less literate than one who may have read the literal text (if they were written down) and yet may not comprehend its essence. The learned fellow may not be any more literate than the custodian of this knowledge or culture.

Today, multimedia has began to define a new way of encoding and decoding knowledge. It does not anymore have to remain within the confines of written text and thus challenges the traditional mis-conception of knowledge or literacy as a thing within the domain of writers. If I can speak into a device, and that device can encode my knowledge into a form that can be searched, retrieved, or transcribed, all the actions that we can apply on traditional text and through which we have defined the standards of literacy above, then I am considered a knowledge creator and a literate person. Also, if I can photograph elements and through these process generate search-able knowledge then I am considered a literate person. In all of these, I many not have to have written a word of text and yet I am considered a literate person. Modern media thus questions the traditional definition of literary and in turn media literacy.

Causes and Effects According to Heidegger

Hiedegger’s Questioning Concerning Technology starts off with an understanding of essence and ends with a profound statement, “For questioning is the piety of thought.” Between these two milestones of that discuss lie nuggets; wealth, the quest for truth, essence and being; democracy, social and environmental justice; a few mention of technology itself, but Heidegger manages to ensure that the discuss is not drawn to technology in of itself but its essence. It is important to highlight that Hiedegger uses analogies to describe his philosophies and age old tradition of using the known to peer into the immediate unknown; hydroelectric power plants, the windmill, bridges, and of course the ultimate chalice in its chaliceness. It was as if he was using concepts that his audience understood and asking them to see beyond their understanding of the same to discover what the essence of every day things could further reveal. Thus, Hiedegger starts with the questioning of their own understanding – their understanding of technology. He starts his questioning from two points; essence and truth and arrives at a discuss that puts aside the mere definition of technology as a means to an end and as a human activity to a discuss that focuses on the essense of technology itself. For it is in understanding the essence of a thing that that thing is revealed to us. And the revealing of the thing is only but a small aspect of its essence that requires further questioning. Thus, questioning does not stop as seeking essence leads to more revealing.

Hiedegger starts by stating that the existing definitions of technology as instrumental and anthropological is limiting and enframing. He would go on to argue that enframing is “the extreme danger” to technology’s essence, and that it can block all “appearing of truth.” But we understand technology today purely from its enframing. This or that tool can be used for this or that thing. An ipod is for listening to music or the mobile phone is for talking only or that tool is not appropriate as an educational technology. Or this, or that… So much that we do not see the further use of the ipod or mobile phone for other uses.

Hiedegger goes on to argue that it is the instrumental definition of technology (and I reckon, our enframing of it) that allows us the freedom to classify technology as old or new. Hence, he would discuss the difference between the windmill and the hydroelectric power plant. Old vs. new technology. In our day, we will discuss the pencil vs. the word processor; Youtube and on demand TV vs traditional unidirectional broadcast models; or the chalkboard vs. the slide projector. At one point in time, what we now use, we questioned their essence only to accept them as educational technologies much later when we knew we would miss the train if we did otherwise. The enframing of technology allowing us the freedom to classify technology makes us see technology as a means to an end and not a process. If we could only see the pencil as belonging in the era of Youtube and facebook, perhaps we will question its essence such as would lead us into the “bringing forth” of an electronic stylus or a finger enabled 6th sense pointing device which in actual fact is an extension of the pencil; which in actual fact came from the early man drawing in the sand with the tip of his finger. Hiedegger questions enframing and enframing is limiting. For us to bring forth better things and to use technology for our good we must cast enframing aside.

We must also critically look at causes and effects. For causes and effects are linear and linearity is also an enframing. If this, then that. This goes before that and that only. Hiedegger uses the analogy of the chalice to argue that the four (materialis, formulis, finalis, efficiens) causes may be limiting and that the application of the four causes to the definition of technology limits technology’s essence and that the definition of technology as defined by the four causes makes it obscure. Hiedegger argues that cause efficiens, the import of the creator of the chalice erodes cause finalis (the purpose for which the chalice is created). For cause finalis is an end in itself and defining technology with an end is limiting. It is as if to say, if we have the fisherman, we do not need the fish.

Hiedegger goes on to argue that causa efficiens comes from the verb “to fall”, cadere, which has nothing to do with post aristocratic’s bringing forth but rather, an indebtedness to its matter (hyle), its shape (eidos), its circumscribing (telos), and the logos, who is responsible for the bringing forth of the substance. In every day terms, this translates to our what, why, how, when, who where of the substance in question. If in our quest of questioning the essence of technology we could iteratively answer those questions, then we are an iterative step closer each time to finding its essence, the truth about its bringing forth and the means of making it better for humans.

Crisis in American Media and its impact on the Global scale

Crisis in American Media and its impact on the Global scale [1] [2]

There is a crisis in the American media landscape. It is a local crisis that has global implications but the crisis levels may be different across geographic locations. Major media institutions are closing their foreign bureaus and calling home their foreign correspondents. Local newspapers are declining or completely disappearing from the newsstands. Community radios are heavily impacted by the financial crisis. Print and broadcasts media are in crisis.

For a largely geographic country and a widely distributed population such as the US, this crisis has grave implications. One of this implication is the challenge of having a national newspaper. Technology would and could facilitate the distribution mechanism for newspapers across the country, but technology may not be the solution to problems of context, culture, locally relevant news and ownership.

The US operates a federal system. This means that decisions are implemented at a state or local level. If the information channels are not available or they break down due to financial implications, as they currently are, then the result is a seriously diminished capacity of citizens to use their rights to inform decision making at the national and local levels. Conversely, the citizens fall into an info drought as the flow of information from the nation to local or state is equally affected.

The break down of information flows and the collapse of the media may not be attributable only to the financial crisis but a ferocious and constant blow that social networking and new media forms continually exert on the media landscape. Are we seeing the end of the newspaper (or traditional media) era? Is the newspaper dead?

The newspapers and its institutionalized infrastructure defined a foundation of professional journalism. Broadcast media extended the same. The ethics of unbiased investigative reporting of large media outlets becomes a challenge with the recent supreme court rulings unbanning political spending by corporations. This leaves room for large media institutions to become partisan. Is this the solution to the crisis?

In the meantime, jobs have been lost, and much more.

Local media, ie. Local newspapers and TV have been the primary sources of providing local news. The news departments used to be the profit center of any media institution. This has changed. Local media suffers from an onslaught of pressure from cable companies completely eroding locally relevant news. The media institution is consolidating, resulting in no locally owned or operated media institutions except for a few local radios that may be ailing.

On the other hand, large media institutions like MSNBC and CNN may be thriving but may also be suffering economic loses as a result of fervent competition between themselves and against their own (CNN vs. Headline News) plus, there is the Fox News effect.

The newspapers have also suffered from the Internet. The Internet has killed newspaper advertisement and has challenged traditional financial models. Craig’s List and Google have defined new ways of online advertisement that have stripped revenue from these media institutions. The newspaper will not survive today without advertisement revenue. And in response to this onslaught, the traditional newspapers lifted the ad model, priced it according to its paper version and placed it on the Internet hoping it would generate the same response. A case of old wine in new wineskin. Google redefined advertising, innovatively introducing “click throughs” rather than impressions that the traditional ad models were crafted after. Ad supported journalism is different requiring a re-definition of business models.

The public media is not spared the rod.

While this crisis has hit large media, there is a mushrooning of citizen journalism. Community blogs sprout to fill the gaps of local news. A DIY mentality to news gathering and production. The citizens have taken the bull by the horn by providing for themselves a solution to the crisis. News production has become cheap, decentralized and local. Micro-blogging such as tweeter produce instant news summaries, flickr and other online photo galleries fill in the gap for photo journalism. The birth of citizen journalism is announced and social media is exploited to fill in the gap left by large conglomerates for local news productions. We have seen these numerous times lately, the recent Haitian earthquake and the Iranian crisis where citizens blogged, twittered and flickred images even before large media could parachute their foreign correspondents where they once had bureaus. Citizen media is instant, realtime and may cover areas where mainstream media may not be interested.

Will mainstream media support this onslaught? What are some immediate solutions?

Media would need to adjust to new paradigms. Besides the possibility of public funds (in trickles) to support local, traditional media, there may be need for participatory media. A new form that allows interaction between traditional and citizen media. A volunteer model needs to be built into traditional media. Media needs to embrace open technologies models such as would encourage participation. Listeners could themselves become journalists in reporting local news. The reporter would become a part of a network of informed citizens. Participatory media will improve accountability and democracy.

But one challenge still remains, who will take the info from off the news grid and place them on the grid. Who will do the investigative journalism bit if media takes after the participatory citizen models? How can citizens uncover stories against people with deep pockets and large monies? Are institutions still needed to fulfill the fundamental role of news. Or should the formal institutional model challenged by citizens give way to more citizen decentralized institutional models?

The news industry may require wild experimentation, allow trial and error business, reporting, aggregating, distributing and content dissemination models, celebrate failure, and encourage innovation. This may be the solution in the current murky storm of a media landscape plagued by a financial crisis, social media and user generated content.

[1] From an Open Society Institute panel discussion on “The Future of American Journalism”, held, in New York, January 27-30, 2010.

[2] In lieu of missing my weeklySeminar in Educational Technologies, I have made this posting in agreement with Dr. Hlinka’s recommendation.