Internet touted as global catalyst
INET '95 speakers laud Internet's ability to empower through information exchange
HONOLULU (07/13/95) -- The Internet, long seen as a rebel's weapon for democratic movements, continues to serve as a tool for groups seeking empowerment through the exchange of information.
Individuals and organizations at July's INET '95 conference in Honolulu explained their varied uses for the global network. Those uses included driving economic and political change in Eastern Europe, fostering US interest in Japan, sending medical and legal information to China, and keeping French expatriates in touch.
More than 1,500 people from 115 countries attended INET '95, which was sponsored by the Internet Society (http://www.isoc.org/). Internet Society members also chose Larry Landweber, vice president of the University of Wisconsin, to succeed Vinton Cerf, a senior vice president at MCI, as Internet Society president. INET '95 also covered Internet security and promoting computer use by women in developing countries.
Eastern Europe was well represented at the conference, with several speakers giving updates on Internet usage. Throughout the 1980s, the Internet helped Russians communicate with people outside the Iron Curtain, according to Martin Vystavil of the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Today, the Internet is still used for critical communications and is necessary to ensure continued reform and economic and political progress, Vystavil said. The Internet is ideal for such activity because of its lack of central administration, free access and international scope.
Internet services are accessible in Slovakia now through the Slovak Academic Network (SANET), which feeds 11 cities and 14,000 users. In addition, the Computing Center at the Slovak Academy of Sciences is making the Internet accessible to other organizations and commercial institutions through the LOGOS project, which publishes on the World Wide Web an electronic multimedia journal called "Slovakia online" ( http://www.savba.sk/logos/list-e.html).
There is a strong correlation between Internet access and democracy, though connectivity does not necessarily result in democracy, according to Christopher Kedzie, a doctoral fellow at the RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, Calif., who is researching the effects of information revolution technologies in international affairs. Kedzie founded organizations in the Ukraine and Uzbekistan that used the Internet to support economic and political reform in the republics of the former Soviet Union.
"We're not claiming we're headed toward utopia," he said. "But there is something about this technology that is enabling to those promoting democratic reform."
(See the sidebar for summaries of Internet use in developing countries.)
A Bridge to Asia
Other INET '95 speakers outlined their strategies to use the Internet to promote interest in specific countries. Japan Window (http://jw.nttam.com) was designed to provide useful information on Japan to US corporate, academic and government organizations in both English and Japanese. Launched in March, the project is a collaboration of Stanford University's US-Japan Technology Management Center and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT).
Researchers running the Web site hope to do more than just bridge the two countries, according to Burton Lee, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering at Stanford and a project organizer. They also want to explore new technologies such as machine translation, desktop videoconferencing and bilingual searching; to educate Japanese information providers on Internet- based publishing and US users on multilingual Web capabilities; and to better understand copyright issues, he said.
Meanwhile, scholars in Beijing are benefiting from a project sponsored by Bridge to Asia, based in Oakland, Calif. The group was formed in 1987 to send books to China and countries in Southeast Asia, where library shelves are typically bare, said president Jeff Smith. Today, the nonprofit organization has assembled resources and groups of experts in the fields of law and medicine to respond to questions and requests for information.
The project is being expanded to cover the areas of science and technology, management, economics, environmental science, education and agriculture. Smith also is seeking funding to create eight "information transfer stations" in the US linked via the Internet to companion stations in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Manila, Hanoi, Phnom Penh, Bangkok and Jakarta.
A key element is the presence of "cybrarians" who not only know where to get the information quickly, but how to send it electronically. "If there are not support services, then the people who are information- isolated are going to stay that way," Smith said in an interview.
The French embassy in Washington, D.C., three years ago took up the task of disseminating information about France over the Internet. Its Frognet (email@example.com), originally targeted at French researchers in the US, today is a popular Web site for language students and other francophiles, according to Bruno Oudet, a professor at the University of Grenoble who is on temporary assignment to French embassy.
Frognet, a name derived from French Researchers Organization, features Frognews, with summaries of news about France and the world; Frogjobs, a listing of jobs aimed at engineers and scientists looking for work in France; Frogmag, a monthly electronic magazine; and an open forum called Frenchtalk.
Next year, INET will take place in Montreal June 25-28. -- By Elinor Mills, IDG News Service
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