Tim Berners-Lee in Amsterdam: On the World Wide Web and Social Development in Africa

On: October 20, 2009
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About Chris Castiglione
Chris is an alumni of Universiteit van Amsterdam and the New Media M.A. Currently, he is the co-founder of One Month (www.onemonth.com), and the host of the On Books (www.on-books.com) podcast.

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tim-berners-lee ccastigThe World Wide Web and Social Development Symposium at the VU University Amsterdam welcomed a variety of prominent speakers to discuss the problem: How can the Web contribute to the social and economic development in the world? The event culminated  with the VU granting Sir Tim Berners-Lee an honorary doctorate for his contribution to the development of the World Wide Web.

Much like a parent in awe of how quickly children tend to grow, Berners-Lee celebrated the 20th birthday of the WWW this year with a bit of pride, but mostly astonishment as to how much it has matured on its own. He reflected on the early years when he thought the Web would always be WYSIWYG and was surprised that so many people these days, even children, have learned to use HTML.

Berners-Lee likened the consistency of the Web to “something you pull out of the kitchen sink”, noting that “the Web has everything all tangled up together: lots of small things that fit tightly and connect to the big things.” Then in order to illustrate the size of the Web he continued, “There are more Web pages than neurons in my brain. The only difference is that while the neurons in my brain are going down, the amount of Web pages continue to go up.” He asserted that we have an extra responsibility to the Web because, unlike the brain, it was created by humans.

The questions that Berners-Lee received during the Q&A were certainly the same questions that he was being asked during the mid-90s when “cyberspace” went mainstream. Perhaps while in the midst of the creator they hoped to find more definitive answers to such worn-out questions…

  • As an Internet user, how do I know what is the truth on the Internet?
  • Is the Internet safe for kids, and what can I do to teach my kids?
  • Do you feel the Internet is invading our private lives?

In line with Berners-Lee’s call for “extra responsibility”, Steve Bratt and Stephane Boyera followed-up with a brief introduction to the newly created World Wide Web Foundation – set to launch later this year – which is “the next phase of fulfilling Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision: the Web as humanity connected by technology.” The Foundation’s mission is to advance the Web and to fill the gap that impedes 1 billion+ people around the world from authoring and accessing content.

Within this context the audience viewed a trailer for the upcoming documentary about Yacouba Sawadogo entitled The Man Who Stopped the Desert (Sawadogo was present on-stage, but due to a language barrier choose to “let the trailer speak for him”). The Man Who Stopped the Desert highlights Sawadogo’s triumph in restoring food and life to many areas around the Sahara desert that were once abandoned due to draught.

At the time Sawadogo began using traditional communication to spread his innovate agricultural techniques. But the important idea that emerged here at the symposium is: as more Africans can connect, author, communicate and share these types of innovation and technology – then others can learn, and all together they can help lift Africa out of poverty.

4 Responses to “Tim Berners-Lee in Amsterdam: On the World Wide Web and Social Development in Africa”
  • October 21, 2009 at 11:58 am

    What a glorious combination of two worlds! Both stories are unique, special and ambitious in themselves and it seems by getting the internet and human good can really create something very powerful. Look forward to hearing more on this topic. Is there any way of seeing this film?

  • October 22, 2009 at 2:11 am

    I agree with you Kate…I also wanted to know how I can found these films.. I’m curious to watch… Cheers

  • October 23, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    I found a trailer online:
    http://www.1080films.co.uk/trailer-manwho.htm

    But IMHO the trailer they showed at the VU was much better and explained the story clearer. I emailed Mark Dodd about it…and he said the movie is still being completed, but to check back at the end of this year.

  • October 25, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    I am getting suspicious of all this voluntarily attention paid to Africa (Negroponte, Berners-Lee, and many traditional media, RFI, for example). Africa has been (most of the time) involuntarily brought to the West’s agenda by activists and I have been reading how the ‘new technologies’ are enabling the people there since 2001 (through UN Development Reports). Has a lot changed (or will be changed in the near future) for the majority of people there? I doubt.

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