WSIS: Secret police, hunger and booze

The aftermath of a world summit


Mental divide

The cost of access is no laughing matter either. My hotel had an Internet link installed just for the conference. It was two or three days late, so I only got to try to use it today. It doesn't have a Wi-Fi box and it's not free either. In fact, it is ridiculously expensive.

And, reflecting this, the prices are displayed for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or one hour. It would strike the people here as insane that I may want to be on the Internet for longer than an hour. But at 15 dinars an hour - £7 - they may be right. A 15-minute cab ride here costs five dinars, a bottle of wine seven dinars, a meal at a good restaurant 20 dinars. The equivalent in England would be Internet access at £15 an hour.

Another indication of how used I've got to the internet and how the internet itself has moved on is that the people here just couldn't understand why I would want to attach my own laptop to the system. [I was caught pulling out the Ethernet cables and plugging them into my computer but whoever had installed the network knew what they were doing and I couldn't immediately bypass the security.]

After a brief attempted explanation of username and passwords, bookmarks and complex URLs, I gave up and said I just wanted to use a machine in English. The woman went to Google.com and - with some pride at her knowledge - told me: "Look, all in English".

Here, to my mind, was a pure example of the digital divide in action. It wasn't so much the technology, or even the price, but the fact that it was nigh on impossible to explain the complex ways in which internet access had become so indelible and important in my life. In terms of technology, I am already two laps ahead of her for no reason other than the fact I have had access to this stuff for much longer.

Another reality check

No sooner had I reflected on this than I was again thrown into another world. I very unhappily dragged myself up the steps to the hotel restaurant resigned to the fact that I was too hungry to be choosy, and discovered it was shut.

So I decided to take a stroll up the beach until I hit another hotel that hopefully would be somewhat better than mine and serve food to its guests. I did exactly that, experiencing the surreal world that a tourist resort out of season always inhabits and settled down in a huge room of laid tables, by myself, for lunch.

There must have been a few Summit participants stay here, but there were gone now. I was surprised then to hear a series of English voices come in behind me. I can't put my finger on what it was but I immediately knew who and what they were. There are the new brand of social grouping that no-one has yet to fully exploit - the travelling pensioners. Loads of em. All English and all complaining about the foreign food ("well you've got to expect it in Tunis, haven't you?").

They didn't come in a group but of course they had all met each other, sharing, as old people of the same nationality always do, tiny snippets of information about themselves every time they stroll past each other.

Now I know these people. They come from the exact same culture and country as me. We could talk for hours and never need to explain any point. And yet I know they have no interest in the internet. Or the World Summit. Or politicial supression. Or even unconnected villages in Africa. And yet here we all are, munching away, sharing the same room on the North African coastline in November 2005 wondering what to do with the rest of the day.


Kieren McCarthy will continue to ramble on about other stuff other than the World Summit in future at www.kierenmccarthy.co.uk.


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