Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Why I Decided to Come to India After All

I’m in the conference centre in Hyderabad, India for the 3rd Internet Governance Forum. A few days ago, I was certain I would not be here. Several people told me I was crazy to come considering recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai. I did cancel my travel plans that would have had me spending a day in Mumbai only a couple days after the initial terrorist attacks (and as it turns out while some terrorists were still holding out in the hotels).

So why did I decide to come to India? Good question – I had pretty much decided not to come but then my wife was extra supportive and encouraging me to go, even though she’s probably more worried than I am. Even though I hate it when terrorists’ tactics are proven effective by people canceling plans or avoiding places, I personally do not feel that I need to wade into these volatile environments. But this was an opportunity of a lifetime.

Earlier this year, the Internet Society held a competition for people around the world to attend as honourary ambassadors. I was one of thirteen people from around the world who were chosen to attend and were sponsored. This was a significant honour for me so I really didn’t want to pass it up. It’s not every day one gets invited to attend a United Nations conference after all.

One incentive to come was a chance to visit India. As one who loves history, culture, and architecture it sure was an excellent chance to travel to a place that I probably wouldn’t be able to swing on my budget and with my young daughter in toe. The 35+ hours to get here, door to door, was so painful that this alone makes it almost not worth it. My daughter would have lasted about 5 hours of this trip. I did get a few hours to check out Hyderabad and like everyone always says it is indeed a land of contrasts – the tech headquarters here (Microsoft, Google) are huge, impressive modern buildings (as is the hotel, Ista, that I’m staying at) but the poverty is front and center as seen by the many roadside tents where families live.

The main reason I wanted to come here is that I really believe in not only the goals of the Internet Governance Forum. The main themes of the conference (and which I’ll be elaborating in ensuing blog posts) are how to help reach the next billion people to help them come online (this encompasses bridging digital divide, a multilingual Net issues, and accessibility), promoting cyber security and trust, managing critical internet resources (Net neutrality figures prominently here), and emerging issues.

Website accessibility, the topic of my upcoming master’s thesis, is a topic of many of the workshops and seminars here. I’m eagerly looking forward to hearing from experts in this field and hopefully gaining some insight for my research.

Another big reason I decided to come is that I really wanted the opportunity to meet others who feel passionately about the Internet in general and these issues in specific. This conference brings people from all around the world; 1500 – 2000 people are anticipated. Toronto has a thriving web community, but most of the events center around the Net as a marketing tool, and I find events dealing with the social value of the Net to be lacking. Upon my return to Canada, I’m hoping to help revive the Canadian chapter of the Internet Society – so if you’re interested please let me know.

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