Conferencing via Second Life

Conferencing via Second LifeI was invited to represent the Brazilian Ministry of Culture in the conference panel “Making the Local Global: Virtual Worlds, Migration, and Linguistic Diaspora” of an event called ‘Interdependence Day‘ in Mexico City. I’ve met a fine man called Joshua Fouts (Director, USC Center on Public Diplomacy) at the iSummit in Rio last year, and he was really excited about connecting the work we do at the cultural hotspots with virtual worlds. We’ve been exchanging messages since then, but I kept telling him that Second Life’s platform needed some developments in order to be included in our program. Still, they wanted to hear about what we’ve been doing in Brazil in terms of using technology to outreach and enhance cultural bridges.

I managed to make a video containing a message from Minister Gilberto Gil on the panel’s theme, and prepared myself to go to Mexico. But then, I was given the wrong information about the need for a Brazilian to have a visa in order to visit Mexico, and so I was stopped in São Paulo and was not permitted to fly to Mexico City. The solution at hand was to participate in the panel through Second Life, and it worked out pretty well as you can see below.

Here goes my speech in the Panel, introducing Gil’s message:

I would like to thank you for the opportunity of being here. Especially because of the different meanings of the word ‘HERE’ within this particular panel.

I would like to thank Mr. Joshua Fouts from the University of Southern California, who is our moderator here and who also has been calling our attention, at the Ministry of Culture in Brazil, to the many possibilities of the virtual worlds.

I would like also to thank Mr. Benjamin Barber for the creation of this event, the Interdependence Day, and for the invitation to come to Mexico and join you in this discussion.

As some of you may know, I’ve gone through some problems that prevented me from being among you physically. But then, what a great opportunity to explore how virtual worlds can help us to be together, even when the limitations of the real world keep holding us apart.

I see my main role here as providing a context for the message of Mr. Gilberto Gil, the Minister of Culture of Brazil, and also to bring some developing world perspectives on this revolution brought about by digital possibilities.

Minister Gilberto Gil has worked hard to build a program for Digital Culture, which seeks to stimulate projects that make use of open source digital technologies, especially for the local development of cultural groups and communities.

This experience began to take place about four years ago, from the efforts of many people and activists. It basically consists of technical experimentation, made available to the population of several regions of Brazil, through the effective adoption of open source digital multimedia production tools by the Pontos de Cultura (Cultural Hotspots).

It is not a coincidence that the experience at the Cultural Hotspots was the theme of the very first conversation I had with Joshua Fouts, about a year ago. He was already trying to connect what we were doing in Brazil with the possibilities of the virtual worlds.

Since then, we’ve maintained an open dialog exploring scenarios where our shared effort could bring the experience of the virtual worlds closer to the crowds from the Cultural Hotspots — a whole new class of entrants into the information society.

We can’t say that we’ve achieved great progress. In fact, I believe that some important technical and conceptual issues of the virtual worlds, especially ones related with centralized control and open source concepts, are only now being properly addressed. I’ve been reading and hearing much good news from the sector recently, and it gives me the impression that we may now have the conditions to start working together.

And it is Gilberto Gil once again who comes to liberate us from our locked-in approaches. As an artist, Gil clearly sees the virtual world’s infinite possibilities for personal and private expression and development. But as a minister, as the one responsible for opening these new opportunities to ALL Brazilians, his mission is to carry forth the principles that will guarantee broad access and local appropriation of these new tools.

I would like to tell you that Minister Gilberto Gil is at this very hour visiting the small town of Piraí* in Rio de Janeiro state. Pirai became one of the seven finalists for the title of “intelligent city”, granted by the Intelligent Community Forum. Piraí has by now turned into a national icon for the digital activism related with broadband public infrastructure.

The peculiar thing about Pirai, this small town, is that a broad collaborative arrangement started in 2004 — the mayor, the state university, the public schools, and the state agency of information technology came up with a very intelligent solution to provide public broadband Internet access to the whole city.

The project is based on a mix of technologies and institutional arrangements that could hardly be imagined in a federal bureaucracy or from a desk of a ministry in Brasilia. But it is perfectly adapted to the local circumstances and has provided broadband access to all of its citizens.

Different architectures for different territories with different identities, and a public backbone to stress our interdependence. This is the message Gilberto Gil is highlighting with his visit to the city of Piraí. And somehow the visit is very connected with the issue we brought here to this panel on Virtual Worlds: open concepts, open technologies and business models are key to any project relying on the power of the network. We could even add something to the panel’s title: From Global to Local. As we follow Gil’s ability to see things from multiple perspectives we could also say: AND From Local to Global.

Here, Gilberto Gil’s message to the panel “Making the Local Global: Virtual Worlds, Migration, and Linguistic Diaspora” in Mexico City, September 10th 2007.

As a special bonus
, below goes one of Gilberto Gil’s last songs, BroadBand String, which has everything to do with what we are saying and doing right now at the Brazilian Ministry of Culture.

Special thanks goes to Lou Gold for his precious help with the English versions.

The event has generated some interesting feedback on the web: