Recently I was honored with an invitation from President Sarkozy of France to attend the e-G8 Summit.
The e-G8 Summit precedes this years G8 Summit in Deauville on May 26 and 27. The purpose of the e-G8 is to inform the G8 leaders by gathering the world's top Internet and digital leaders in advance of the bigger event. Given the closed-door nature of the event and its relationship to the G8 Summit it's somewhat unsurprising that rumors about the nature of the meeting have been flying.
The e-G8 has the potential to be an important event and it is attracting a who's who in technology and government. The attendee list boasts heads of state as well as prominent media and technology figures like Rupert Murdoch, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Eric Schmidt of Google, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook; are all expected to attend.
But as Bobbie Johnson of Gigaom writes:
French outlet La Tribune is suggesting that many attendees are being asked to pay up for their chance to speak out. It says the event which promises to deeply influence government leaders from the worlds most powerful nations is, in fact, a very private affair? in which getting a seat at the table is easy if you can spare several hundred thousand dollars.?
I'm unaware of any such requirement. Indeed, a representative of the organizer, Publicis Groupe, responded to that post in the comments. In short, this assertion, as with many others swirling about the Internet, smell a little bit paranoid.
The thread of cynicism and borderline paranoia running through coverage of the event is likely created, in part, by the unusual policies of Sarkozy and France. These include extreme copyright laws, proposed taxes on Internet use, and opposition to net neutrality. The exclusivity of the event undoubtedly fuels skepticism.
While the elitism of the event is a bit of a turn off for me too, it doesn't make sense that you would get this many great minds in the same room simply to make money. And if you look at the agenda, while short on details, it most definitely doesn't reek of marketing and PR hype for a bunch of vendors.
With all the politicking, skepticism and controversy that typically surrounds the G8 Summit already in full tilt and seemingly directed at the e-G8 currently, it strikes me that the event is at risk of being written off as political theatre. However, I intend to pour myself into the event and hope to find a way to direct the conversation toward topics I care about.
The materials I've received thus far encourage me to believe the goals are altruistic. It is my hope that this is in fact the case.
Nova Spivack published the e-G8 agenda and fact sheet we received with our invitations. He also writes:
I am skeptical that it will be possible to reach any sort of agreement on such complex and controversial issues in a short timeframe, however, perhaps it will be possible for the delegates to come up with recommendations for Internet-related issues that require urgent attention from the G8 leaders, at least.
I too am unsure how attendees will have a meaningful impact given the short time, diversity of personalities and complexity of issues.
Earlier in my career I was involved in a lot of community and non profit work. Indeed, just last November I attended the White House Summit on Education.
Based on my experience I know this: technologists take for granted how difficult it is for people that haven't been steeped in technology to grok topics like net neutrality, patent and copyright reform, privacy and open standards. Many non-technologists assume our fervor for such concepts to be idealistic when, in fact, it is our ardent support of free markets and business that spur our passions for such concepts.
Bridging the knowledge gap between policy maker and technologist is undoubtedly the most significant challenge facing the e-G8. However, if we can make progress on just one or two key issues, it paves the way for a host of other improvements, many of which will help further all of our more selfish interests while also bettering society as a whole.
I have two goals for the e-G8. I want to influence the discourse so that we cover topics I am passionate about such as net neutrality, free speech, open standards, patent and copyright reform, narrowing the digital divide and privacy. Secondly, I intend to do my best to report my experiences to the public.
I want to open it up to you, the readers. What can I do on-site to answer questions for you? What can I do that will help us push the agenda of technologists and entrepreneurs?