Friday, April 21, 2006

Participating vicariously

I have spent a great part of the last three nights vicariously experiencing iblog2 and the Free Expression in Asian Cyberspace Conference from various blogs (mainly through links at MLQ'S blog). I salute the efforts of bloggers who are painstakingly documenting the proceedings and offering insights on the various papers being presented and the discussions that are happening.

As someone who started blogging only in September last year, and mainly as a means of personal expression (but who consequently and accidentally found himself at the maelstrom of a major public debate), I take special interest in these events. I fear that my alleged "mainstream" views will probably be an oddity at these events; but then again, I cling to the belief that the concept of free expression embraces everyone -pro or anti, or somewhere in between, despite the often exclusivist perspective of some people.

A friend I am conversing with online in YM as I write this post dismisses the discussions at these conferences as "theoretical intellectualizing of the overzealous." I take a divergent perspective. I think that these conferences are building roadmaps into the future and laying the foundation for the effective and ethical use of cyberspace as possibly the last frontier of free expression in the world. I read somewhere a comment (which I tried to find again so I can link, but failed) that said the discussions had a kind of "menacing tone" to them - as if participants have come to the table with a decidedly guarded stance. I do sense a certain vigilant stance in some of the papers (which is also understandable given that some participants from other countries did come to the Conference with horror stories to tell) but I think vigilance is a good thing to have for as long as it is tempered with reason and situated within a more sober context of reality.

I came across the slides of Melinda de Jesus' presentation at the Asian Conference (I hope to come across the actual transcript of her presentation). Awesome! I was particularly impressed at the way she was able to crystallize the implications of blogging on society in terms of its contributions to creating a more enlightened public "sphere" and in promoting the common good. These are indeed two critical issues facing bloggers out there. I personally believe that bloggers need to focus on creating consensus rather than conflict. Her presentation ends with the question that bloggers must ponder on: how does blogging fit into the larger scheme of human communication? It is a question that we must continuously ask ourselves.

For instance, I have been keenly observing the ongoing debate in the comments section of this blog among some regular readers. The debate used to be acrimonious (and tended to get personal in the past), but the debate has since become more rational and if I may be allowed to say it, more "tolerant" of the diversity of opinions. I think that some consensus is inevitable, even if it is only to "agree to disagree on some points" but what is heartwarming is that this has become possible mainly because people had the courage to stay in the communications process. Perhaps because the regular exchanges have somehow created a sense of "community" borne out of familiarity? (Of course it is also possible that people have also simply gotten tired, but I doubt it given the almost palpable strength of the convictions).

I look forward to reading more about the proceedings at these conferences.


It is in this light that I was rather taken aback by a post written by Manuel Buencamino which offers a rather cynical and unflattering view of the middle class entitled You snooze, You lose. There are phrases in the article that make oblique references to my letter (i.e. "sick and tired," angry "let's move on" letters, etc). I have consistently maintained that I do not speak for any class, and that the "middle class" appellation to my letter was made by others, not me. But this post is disturbing, to say the least, because Mr. Buencamino has rendered a sweeping indictment of the value of the middle class in Philippine politics and, possibly on society (however unintended it may have been).

Among other things, Mr. Buencamino says that "most of the middle is only good at whining about the lack of an alternative and rationalizing inaction." He follows this up with similar sweeping judgments, calling the middle class "self-emasculated" and asserting that "they have nothing except their balls and their brains and, as we have seen, many of them prefer not to use either."

Nitpickers can have a field day with many points of the article - (I can already see how others will point out how the middle class is propping up this country, how the middle class has been the fulcrum of many change efforts in history, etc) but since I do not have the time nor the inclination, I shall refrain from doing so. I choose to disagree on principle: generalizations are dangerous (yes, even this one - as Dumas wisely pointed out) because they create stereotypes that consequently breed hatred and intolerance, making sweeping judgments about people just because they do not share one's perspective smacks of prejudice, and mass-scale ostracism is not only divisive; it takes away focus from the real war that needs to be fought.

I think building consensus rather than conflict requires that we go beyond the name calling and the generalizations.


digitalfilipino said...

Thanks for sharing your insight. I agree that conferences like these, bringing people together, can help a lot in understanding people and their views on technology. Hope you can join iBlog2 next year!

Reg said...

After reading this blog and one of your most recent entries ("Blog Power"), I realized that blogging isn't only limited to the usual trash I read/write/whatever. Apparently, it really does have benefits. This pushed me to consider replacing my old blog with something much more, uh, useful...

One thing, though...I read this article in Newsweek about this phenomenon called CPA, or Continuous Partial Attention (you can Google the article, I think)...