Monday, May 25, 2009

The Florence Agreement and the Great Global Digital Divide

I was with  Manolo Quezon and NGO organizer Gang Badoy on the Explainer ANC talk show (which has moved to 6:00 PM and 10:30 PM Monday evenings). Our topic was the corruption scandal in the British Parliament, but after the show we got to talk about the lifting of the Great Book Blockade of 2009, which both MLQ and Gang were instrumental in breaking -- along with tens of thousands who demonstrated the power of social networking on the Web to advance an advocacy such as the elimination of a book tax.  By concentrating a rising crescendo of legal,  moral and intellectual criticism on the policy, it would seem the President has been obliged to rescind the duties slapped on books by the Bureau of Customs.  

Although there is much reason to celebrate the success of the pushback on the book tax  there seems to me some grand unfinished business that suggests itself right in the Preamble of the Florence Agreement:


The contracting States, 

Considering that the free exchange of ideas and knowledge and, in general, the widest possible dissemination of the diverse forms of self-expression used by civilizations are vitally important both for intellectual progress and international understanding, and consequently for the maintenance of world peace; 

Considering that this interchange is accomplished primarily by means of books, publications and educational, scientific and cultural materials;

The presumptive consideration in the second paragraph in the Preamble of the Florence Agreement above is clearly no longer as true today in the 21st Century world as it was 1950 when it was signed by the member states of the United Nations.  

If in 1950, the nations of the world recognized the importance of books as "vitally important" to human progress and world peace, today in 2009, that vital importance still applies to books, but also to much more than just books.   

It is to my mind no small irony that the vast majority of those who put their shoulders to the millstones of Facebook and Twitter and blogged the Great Book Blockade of 2009 to its destruction, are not themselves on the wrong side of what has come to be called the Great Global Digital Divide.

What I think is needed is a modernization of the Florence Agreement that will promote policies and actions, including taxation and investments by governments, that will bridge the Great Global Digital Divide.    The material in Appendix C (Visual and auditory materials of an educational, scientific or cultural character) of the Florence Agreement seems like a good place to start. 

It's easy to forget that the Internet had not yet even been invented when the Florence Agreement was signed in 1950.  And that despite their well-known benefits, books, newspapers, magazines and other materials printed on paper constitute half the municipal solid waste streams of most big cities and are a big contributor to the problem of global warming.   The production and use of paper and printing at present levels is ecologically and economically unsustainabl, and ought not be supported or encouraged by taxation policies  once suitable alternatives are in place.

Getting to those alternatives is more than a matter of having a well-read public.   It is a matter of survival for the nation in the present Age of Information.

No comments: