Posted from the U.S.
A Jan. 5th posting on the World Economic Forum's weblog discusses "Guidelines for Blogging on Forumblog.org".
They discuss a number of policies, including:
"Protect others-Please be mindful that you may be privilege to private information and opinions at the Annual Meeting in Davos. If a session is off the record, please respect that. And please do not quote people without their permission – particularly if they are under the impression that their remarks are private or off the record."
"On- and off-the-record policy for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2006 - All sessions in the Congress Hall, and in addition Sanada 1 & 2 of the Congress Centre, are on the record and you may attribute panellists’ remarks to their owners. All other sessions in the Congress Centre are off the record. You can report on the tenor of the debate, but you must not quote participants directly. If, however, you receive their subsequent permission you may quote them. All of the private sessions are “off-the-record meetings” and are not to be blogged."
What is interesting about the policies in general is that to a degree they are at odds with the Forum's overall posture to encourage all the attendees to blog away. With several thousand people in attendance, the number of blog postings generated could quickly scale into the tens of thousands (if all take to it in earnest) with links to the blogs potentially growing exponentially. These policies would appear to be unenforceable - which is maybe a good thing.
The Forum may be acting out a delicate Kabuki dance, trying to balance the privacy and elitism subscribed to by many of its members with the practical reality that information in today's world is hard to control (so why bother trying to control it). The policies offer the appearence of discretion, while the raw nature of blogging simply runs right over anything in the way of data flowing freely.
The Forum also needs to worry about new blogging outlets such as audio and video - many new mobile phones can record video and enable the video clip to e-mail stream across high-speed networks in seconds. What would Easongate have been like if I had one of those cool phones in my hands last year? I could have been streaming every word live to my blog in video format - and so could have anyone in the audience.
The frightening prospect for the priviliged elite is that there really is no safe harbor anymore to have those quiet, backroom discussions. The kind of discussions where important matters that the common man should not know (because you don't want them to hear about the things that will be done to them) are being discussed.
Every citizen could (we're not quite there yet) have the equivalent of a mini-CNN in their hands with a mobile-blogging video equipped phone. Every person could become the equivalent of an annoying paparazzi or investigative reporter. The cost of empowering the average citizen into a mini-CNN? A few hundred dollars. This stuff is cheap, fast, of decent quality, and it is showing up everywhere and is landing in almost everyone's hands.
In one year the world has changed significantly - and I do find the WEF's overall posture to be very encouraging and healthy. However, they should not be suprised if all sorts of suprising information flows out into the web - if not this year, then very soon. The president of Russia (as a hypothetical example) may find himself joking at the bar with Bill Gates and perhaps a famous writer - and the next morning the bartender has posted their entire discussion on the internet, with video clips from his phone landing on numerous global news stations. One day they may still be at the bar watching the tv - watching themselves telling an off-color joke (from just a few minutes past) on the ole' telly, wondering how the heck they all just ended up on Fox News .
Does this mean that everyone should become very tight-lipped and a bore? I hope not - but everyone should think before they speak (a novel idea) and consider that the whole world may be watching (because they may be).
What's interesting about this phenomena is that most of the major world religions present concepts of G-d seeing and hearing all of one's actions - and that everything one says and does is being recorded for presentation on judgement day. Well, we're not quite at that level, but we're getting close to the day where some significant portion of everyone's actions and words will be recorded and posted somewhere for all to see - and judgement for one's actions and words may come swiftly.
These are interesting times. I still believe that the blogstorms of 2005 were only small feeder bands indicating much larger storms to come. The networked, collective human mind is probably not a stable, predictable thing - who knows where it goes. The richer the data we feed it, and the greater the speeds at which we can feed it, the greater the probability for unexpected chaos. What is It? It is becoming the living world of our minds' thoughts, taking a life outside of our minds and floating around in webspace. It's a bit creepy.
I'm not sure that the world is ready yet for so many streams of raw freedom of speech. Maybe it is - either way, we're going to find out soon.
Some WEF 2006 predictions:
- Newbie bloggers try to force a juicy blog story.
- Lots of "Holy cow I just saw ____".
- Very few postings from the people we really care about.
- Bono (or Bono types) jumping headfirst into blogging.
- Lots of very boring posts (ex: The economic impact of gazelles eating corn crops in Uganda).
- Mainstream media types treading cautiously - but dipping their feet in to be trendy.
- Possibly some interesting amateur paparazzi photos of drunken famous people in compromising positions (if you're famous, don't drink).
- Maybe 1-2 real tidbits of something interesting - with hungry A list bloggers waiting, salivating for these morsels.
- Bush bashing blogs - it's a cheap shot - but it's there. I even did one (he's such an easy target that you feel bad afterwards).
- The downfall of America blogs - as an American, I'm in no rush to see this or agree with them, but they will come.
- The rise of China blogging - yes, China is a big deal.
- The "holy crap Iran has nukes" blogs - hey, if you're at the WEF meeting, do something about those guys (not the bloggers, the Iranians who want nukes!).
A last word of caution: be careful what you write, and what you write about. The internet's memory is strong. It is a funny medium. I truly had no idea that blogging into the ether would end up with being in the NY Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, and many other global media outlets. This is the first time I have ever felt the "butterfly effect" for real - up close and personal. Wikipedia states:
"Edward Lorenz first analyzed the effect in a 1963 paper for the New York Academy of Sciences. According to the paper, "One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one flap of a seagull's wings could change the course of weather forever." Later speeches and papers by Lorenz used the more poetic butterfly, possibly inspired by the diagram generated by the Lorenz attractor, which looks like a butterfly; other theories propose that the phrase's basis is to be found in fiction (Ray Bradbury's 1952 story "A Sound of Thunder"), but there is no proof available that Lorenz was swayed by literary precedent. The idea is now often stated something to the effect of, “a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo could cause tornadoes in California.”
Let's put it this way: Davos is a great place for a butterfly to flap its wings.