Democratizing Davos

Is nothing sacred from the digital democratizers? The Davos Conference (aka: The World Economic Forum), historically the private networking event (a so-called "closed session") of the rich, powerful and famous, has been invaded by the Web 2.0 crowd. Not content to be democratizing the internet, Web 2.0 idealists like Jeff Jarvis are introducing something called the "Davos Conversation" which will include live webcasts, blog posts etc etc from the event. The incorrigibly democratic Jarvis has even posted a video of himself (he resembles a genial, albeit half-starved chicken) on YouTube clucking on and on about his "Davos Conversation" project.

The radical democratizers even seen to have convinced Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum,. Schwab announced Davos 2007 in the name of something he called "horizontal networks":

"A changing power equation; power is moving from the center to the periphery; vertical command-and-control structures are eroding and are being replaced by horizontal networks of social communities and collaborative platforms."

Time magazine's YOU is now headlining at Davos. The closed session has been blown open to gaze of anyone with a broadband connection. Nosey parkers on the internet can now watch the historically closed panels live from their computers. We will all be able to post our comments in "real-time" to Davos participants like Angela Merkel, John McCain, King Abdullah of Jordan and Tony Blair. We can give them our view of the environment, of the Iraq War, of the global economy, on the afterlife and the pre-life. We can lecture Bill Gates about computers, Rupert Murdoch about media, Bono about celebrity, Mohammed El Baradei about atomic power and Gordon Brown about economics.

The problem, however, is that if Tony Blair, King Abdullah, John McCain, Angela Merkel et al know that we are watching them, then they will say what we want them to say (meaning that they will say nothing different from what they always say on television). The whole raison d'etre of Davos -- of powerful people getting together to talk in private about the world's problems -- will be undermined. By democratizing Davos, by turning it into an always-on event, the Web 2.0 crowd are transforming a historically important date on the calendar into a self-celebratory media circus. At Davos 2.0, everyone will feel great about their horizontal networks and nothing of any political sustance will get done.

Davos has become MyDavos. The Web 2.0 circus, Thomas De Zengotita's mediated world, has even  huckstered its way into the exclusive Swiss mountains. Is nothing sacred?

Those mountaineous French

Thomas Friedman’s latest book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, tells us that the defining characteristic of the new millennium is the flattening consequence of the digital revolution.

Friedman’s history is, indeed, brief. And it is wrong. Flat wrong.

The New York Times columnist travelled to India, Silicon Valley and China to research his book. But he forgot to go to France – where the mutinously mountainous auguries of the 21st century would have stared him in the face.

Big mistake, Tom. Instead of schlepping all the way to Bangalore, you should have reversed de Tocqueville’s journey. You could have worn Thomas Jefferson’s cloak, hung around Paris for a while, then come back to America with a more mountainous history of the 21st century.

Had Friedman gone to France he would have found a revolutionary nation united by its hostility to the cultural and economic consequences of globalization. Friedman would have observed a political class united in its hostility to American cultural power. Most of all, Friedman would have seen the French State – the symbolic fruit of the revolution of 1789 – shaping up to confront Apple Computer, which is fast acquiring the real economic power of the traditional European state.

In the 1789 French upheaval, the Montagnards were the radical Jacobins who sat in the so-called "Mountain" in the revolutionary assembly. Today’s copy of the Montagnards are those French lawmakers who, according to Apple Computer, are a peddling a “state-sponsored piracy.”

These lawmakers are threatening to essentially legalize digital piracy in France by making the punishment for illegal downloads a flat 38 euros (around $50). Thus, in exchange for the risk of paying a parking ticket fine, the French will be able to download Hollywood movies and music to their hearts content. So much for the traditional French respect for the “droit d’auteur.”

This could be the cultural variant of 9/11. This official state policy will be potentially more damaging to long-term US interests and culture than the destructive actions of a few crazy terrorists.

The same French lawmakers are also threatening to force Apple to open up their proprietary  iTunes store to other digital music players . The hilarious May 12 BusinessWeek headline “APPLE TO FRANCE: DROP DEAD” sums this one up perfectly.

New York Times Paris correspondent Thomas Crampton quotes one European software lobbyist who says this is: “clearly the worst software law in Europe.”

But this is more than just a bad law. It is an opening shot in the coming world war between localizing Montagnards and globalizing flatteners. And Thomas Friedman is missing it -- just like he missed Iraq and the original 9/11.