Insights and Impressions of the IFIP 9.4 Conference 2022

You know, I could have been in Lima (Peru). Slurping my fruit smoothie while relaxing on a sun bed. But due to the pandemic, travelling was and is still restricted. Therefore the IFIP 9.4 Conference was first postponed from 2021 until this year with the hopes of a face to face meeting. Different variants of the virus and uncertain developments led to it being held online and I managed to still slurp on my fruit smoothie in my own beach chair but in my not air-conditioned flat in Vienna while enjoying the keynotes, contributions, speeches and presentations of this year’s virtual conference.

The International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) has several technical committees. The working group 9.4 on the implications of information and digital technologies for development is dedicated to research and action on the social issues of sustainable development. This year’s conference topic was “Freedom and Social Inclusion in a Connected World”. 

Introduction and keynote speech

Professor Tim Unwin, with whom we at ICT4D.at had the pleasure to collaborate on various projects such as TEQtogether and DESC, gave the keynote speech. While warning the attendees that he might stir up some thought-provoking discussions, he intended to encourage us to think about the big issues and especially how we understand freedom, rights and responsibilities. His central argument was that we are all in danger of becoming enslaved by the digital barons and their knights. Our responsibility is to work to create ways through which people can break free from the “digital shackles with which they are bound.” Various forms of digital enslavement involve:

– Leasure time being exploited through the extension of the duration of labour

– addiction to the internet and especially social media

– gathering and analytics of user data

– governments enforcing the use of digital systems for government services, disregarding the population that is not connected and/or able to use digital media

– opportunities for mass-surveillance

Digital tech is now used primarily for economic growth. Those in power always used technology to their advantage to maintain their positions of power – why should now be different? Tim Unwin claims that digital barons maximise the exploitation of users of digital media and that freedom in the digital world is an illusion. You can find his insights here and the slides here

Global, local and everything in between

The programme of the conference contained various tracks – from digital platforms to government corruption, artificial intelligence, feminist and queer approaches, entrepreneurship for development etc. Besides the vast topic areas, the event was truly global, with participants from New Zealand, Nigeria, China, USA, Norway, Peru all continents were covered. 

The discourse focussing on inequalities and complexities of the digital world was already given by the circumstances of the conference itself. You were only able to participate if you had a working internet connection, which failed in several cases. Some of the presentations had to be postponed or held by other members of the team that were connected from a different place and device. My impression was also that the common finding of the research was that there are several approaches, but you have to be careful not to impose inputs from eurocentric contexts and to align with the life of those living in developing countries and/or communities. 37% of the world population never used the internet, while 96% of those reside in a so-called developing world. Data are never just a set of facts, but always very political. Governments and institutions make decisions and raise restrictions on what and how should something be done based on them. The technical aspects and the conceptualising are subject to the political and social environment, depending on factors such as morality, the point of power, interconnectivity, dependence… 

Personal impression

A very interesting topic for me personally was Katherine Wyers’ proposal to introduce a queer, trans-feminist, intersectional perspective in ICT4D research and practice. The phrase “to queer up the research” is forever embedded in my mind from now on. The ways how the binary system of software engineering can be disrupted are various.

The idea of “leaving no one behind” contains also the idea of economic inclusion. Hereby the focus of digital entrepreneurship moved away from just profit and shifted more to other values like the desire to promote local knowledge, the wish to become independent from external sources and strengthen local communities. There are different approaches to inclusion and some tensions arise when negotiations are necessary to balance the expectations of the funders (often international organisations with Eurocentric views) and the local ambitions, needs and preferences. To quote Andrea Jimenez and Christopher Fosters’ contribution loosely – inclusion needs a holistic way as a digital turn represents a continuation of some power and privilege structures, mirroring colonial histories and unbalanced representation in decision making.

Besides the interesting presentations, there was enough room to socialise due to round tables dedicated to certain topics and to speed networking, where you were connected to other people for a few minutes and then got switched to a new dialogue partner. All in all, it was a very informative conference for anyone interested in the topic of ICT4D.

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Insights and Impressions of the IFIP 9.4 Conference 2022
was published on 10.06.2022 by Sanja Cancar. It files under global
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ICT4D.at 2020 General Assembly

2020. The year, where everything is a little bit different than what it used to be. Due to the Corona virus, the idea for a physical meeting for the general assembly was abandoned. But gladly for us, especially in comparison to older pandemics that humanity has suffered from, our generation has an advantages – the technology to „meet“ at least virtually and catch a glimpse of each other’s homes.

On our call, on 12th of September, we remembered the projects and successes of the past year:

We also discussed ideas for our new website, legal requirements such as ICT4D.at’s budget 2020 and also held the election of our chair and vice-chair. Paul got reelected as our chair and we are very happy to have him lead our organization. Georg decided to step down from his role and I was elected as vice-chair. I would like to thank everyone again for their trust in me.

Virtual 2020 General Assembly

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ICT4D.at 2020 General Assembly
was published on 28.09.2020 by Sanja Cancar. It files under global
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Fight for your home

We were on time! I swear! We even arrived way ahead of time. But nonetheless, we were not prepared for the masses that would follow the call of the Viennese chamber of labour and the weekly newspaper “Falter” for the so called “Wiener Stadtgespräch” (Vienna city talk) of Shoshana Zuboff.

Even with a valid registration, we were not able to enter the packed hall were the speech and interview took place. Gladly, there was a live stream of the conversation right next to it across the corridor and we were able to follow the discussion live. And what a bliss that was.

The Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff coined the term “surveillance capitalism”. In her work she calls upon political and public action against the overwhelming power of surveillance that internet giants like Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc. accumulate.

In her captivating speech she stressed the importance of our democracy, our freedom and our society, which she compared to our home and our home being on fire right now. If the planet is on fire like Greta Thurnberg says, it is fair to call our society our home and the current state that it is in – “on fire”.

We are on the brink of the transition to an information civilization. How we want to shape our future is still in our hands – but we have to fight for it.

Find more information here:

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Fight for your home
was published on 22.11.2019 by Sanja Cancar. It files under global
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The Whitsun Dialogues: Digital Europe. No borders, no limits?

Source: http://www.pfingstdialog-steiermark.at/en/

In the beginning of June at the picturesque Seggau Castle in Austria over 400 experts, academics and professionals attended the “Geist & Gegenwart” Whitsun Dialogue to talk about digital Europe. Our partner organization “European Youth Award” was also invited within the scholarship programme.

The various presentations, panel discussions and workshops dealt with a broad range of topics and tried to address the most pressing questions of our times – how to deal with ethical, philosophical, democratic, economic, social… achievements in times of digitalization. Does the idea of a boundless society threaten our humanistic ideal? Can Europe compete with the American monopolistic private companies and how to loosen our dependency on them? Will we be able to use the countless opportunities digitalization and artificial intelligence offer us in a responsible way?

The prestigious event started on the first day, 5th of June, with interactive workshops for the scholars. As you can imagine a broad range of interdisciplinary and international exchange of experience and knowledge happened. My personal highlight was a presentation by the digital pioneer Tim Cole, who compared the big four (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) and their market dominating, seemingly endless power to the four horsemen of the apocalypse. His call for action included everybody, because “if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem“.

The second day began with forums about Europe’s competitiveness and artificial intelligence, followed by workshops about current and future developments:

  • Mobility of the future
  • Digitalisation in healthcare
  • Security in a digital Europe
  • Information and manipulation in the democratic discourse
  • Culture and media – digital and analogue worlds
  • Transformation of job profiles and the economy
  • Digitalisation in production – killing jobs or safeguarding employment locations?
  • Trust in technology

Charlotte Stix, an expert on artificial intelligence, emphasised the necessity for ethical principles and a global perspective since AI and digitalisation know no national borders.

“The concept of Europe entails addressing and preserving fundamental rights and values. These should also influence the digitalisation of our world and the development of artificial intelligence (AI). If that happens, Europe can develop into a leading force: AI with people at the centre.”

Source: http://www.pfingstdialog-steiermark.at/en/charlotte-stix-01-2/

The evening was crowned by a interview of Peter Sloterdijk, who basically stated that we live in the “best of all times” and that people tend to confuse potential risks with real dangers. He gave valuable insights, but ended on a slightly controversial note at the end where he stated that the rising of anti-semitism was due to alarmism. In protest several people left the room. You could argue that his claim for the need of discussion and nowadays “non-willingness” to debate were proven to be right, but I also recommend to read the reaction by the Jewish newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine.

The last day was finished with keynote speeches about the ethics of the digital discourse (and by a last jump in to the pool at the hotel).

Overall my impression is mixed. While a „high-caliber interdisciplinary and international sharing of experience“ with „new insights and perspectives, knowledge“ was promised, I would have welcomed more diversity on the stage – especially with that topic in mind. The event was driven by a kind of technic and future pessimistic view, bearing a lot of fears and possible threats. Only a minority of the speakers shared an inspiring atmosphere when they focused on the chances, hopes and necessities.

You could see there was a big “digital divide” between the old and the young – or to be more accurate the “old worldviews” vs. the “new worldviews”. That is probably the reason why I enjoyed the first day the most where the students and young academics debated in interactive workshops.

Also the topic of ethics in digital era is crucial, the catholic church representing those values not so much. Again – a more diverse approach would have been much appreciated.

The event turned out to be a great networking opportunity though. We even got to meet the Regional Governor of Styria Hermann Schützenhofer:

The prestigious biennially event is hosted by the Styrian Government in cooperation with the Diocese Graz-Seckau and the Club Alpbach Styria.

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The Whitsun Dialogues: Digital Europe. No borders, no limits?
was published on 23.07.2019 by Sanja Cancar. It files under Europe
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