Review of The Second International Harvard Conference on Internet
and Society May 26-29, 1998 (Cybercon '98)
by Christopher Brien (1)
|Summer in the Northern Hemisphere is an ideal time to visit the
United States States of America. It was even more enjoyable this
year when the Second International Harvard Conference on Internet
and Society was being conducted in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (2)
The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School
was established in 1997 and organised Cybercon '98. The Center
is a research program founded to explore cyberspace, share in
its study, and help pioneer its development but this is not to
say that lawyers dominated the Conference (3). Cybercon '98 was a network of teaching and research faculty
at Harvard University and elsewhere. Students and entrepreneurs
were brought together.
The central theme of Cybercon '98 was the overwhelming need to
focus upon the 'hard' questions concerning the impact of the Net
upon Society. For example who's going to be included in these
technologies ? and what is the proper role of government ? Over
300 people participated from various disciplines. Five concurrent
sessions concerning education, law, technology/public policy,
community and business were maintained overfour days.
The first keynote speaker was Larry Ellison, Chairman and Chief
Executive Officer of Oracle Corporation. He noted that Universities'
deliver two products, an education and a degree. He also commented
that the Net may take some of the educating away from Universities.
According to Ellison 30 per cent of the motivation for people
to study at University is for knowledge, whilst the remaining
70 per cent is for making connections, packaging and branding
purposes. Ellison speculated that if a few well known Academics
at prestigious Institutions taught across the Net they would be
able to capture the whole education market. These ideas brought
spirited debate from the audience. Professor John Slater from
the University of Kent acknowledged that some pieces of courses
could be replaced by the Net. He also stated that conceptual knowledge
needed tutorial support and that you could not purchase this essential
element on the basis of a brand name. There was extensive discussion
concerning the role of technology in teaching and learning environments.
There was no consensus concerning the topic. This may be attributable
to the dynamic nature of the Net and different educational theories.
The dispute between Janet Reno, Attorney General for the United
States of America and Microsoft occupied a significant period
of time during Cybercon '98. Special sessions examined this topic
of anti-trust activities and monopolistic practices in detail.
Esther Dyson, Chairman of EDventure Holdings made the following
analogy concerning the problems associated with Microsoft and
its market tactics. She noted that personal computers are turning
into vending machines and that although the individual may own
the vending machine, the power lies in who decides what appears
on the user's screen.
United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was interviewed
at the Conference. He stated that the Supreme Court is very unlikely
to make detailed laws on the Net. He noted that the Court had
taken one Internet decision, declaring unconstitutional the 1994
Communications Decency Act as an infringement of free speech.
Many other legal issues were examined. Separate groups considered:
'Control over Framing, Linking, and Packaging: Who Deserves What
?', 'When Copy and Paste Don't Work: Implications of Trusted Systems'
and 'Internet Filtration: Rights to Listen, Rights to Speak, Rights
to Tune Out'.
Matt Drudge was present at the Conference. Through his web site
known as the Drudge Report he was the first to distribute the
allegations concerning President Clinton's misconduct. Drudge
stated that everyone could voice their opinions online and that
the only limit was your conscience. A detailed discussion then
ensured concerning the activities of journalists and the major
media outlets. Censoring the Net through the use filtering software
and legislation was also examined. The role of ethics concerning
online conduct was noted.
Other discussions included: 'Internet Telephony, Regulatory Policy
and Network Infrastructure', 'Balancing Freedom of Communications
with Public Values', and 'Electronic Commerce: Security, Privacy,
Payment and Authentication'.
Professor Charles Olgletree from Harvard University Law School
stated that although the Net is changing how people work the new
technology is facing the same old barriers involving race, class
and culture. This was the focus to the group discussing 'Barriers
to the Internet: Race, Class and Society'.
Professor Brian Smith from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
was able to distinguished the Net from other media. He noted that
you have people online wanting to hear stories about others and
that there were numerous communities online. This idea was further
explored in 'Civic Behavior and Cyberspace: Online and Out of
The notion of a 'Boston Commons Online' was explored by Professor
Charles Nesson, Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and
Society and Chairman of the Conference. Some of these thoughts
were later examined in the 'Our Online Town' discussion group.
Lou Gestner Jr., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of IBM effectively
clarified the impact of the Net upon business. He stated that
the Net is not a revolution in technology, the revolution is about
changes in institutional processes. Professor Steven Bradley from
Harvard University concluded that business operates on a faster
and shorter time cycle. Other discussion involved: the 'Role of
Venture Capital in Creating 'Winners' in the Information Economy',
'Building Strategic Intranets for Competitive Advantage, Winners
and Losers in the Age of the Internet' and 'Internet Entrepreneur
vs Captain of Industry: Can they Fight Fair'.
Overall the Conference examined how society interacts with the
Net. One message that was very clear at the end of the Conference
was that the Net challenges large organisations. It empowers individuals
and small groups. The most refreshing presentation at the Conference
was given by Kim Polese, President and Chief Executive Officer
of Marimba Inc. Polese discussed the unintended consequences of
President Neil Rudensteine of Harvard University when opening
the Conference mentioned that we need the benefit of one another's
knowledge, experience, judgment, skills and perhaps most of all
one another's imagination to understand the Net. This is an important
statement. The Net is fueled by ideas and not technology. Ideas
are derived from a diversity of experiences and different approaches.
Cybercon'98 achieved this purpose.
Above all it was evident at Cybercon '98 that Harvard as an educational
Institution is encouraging discussion and promoting activities
concerning the Net. The first Harvard Conference on Internet and
Society occurred in 1996 (4) and I look forward to participating in the Third Conference
to be held in 2000.
||Christopher Brien LL.M., LL.B. (Syd), B.A. (Macq), G.D.L.P.(UTS),
G.Cert.Ed.(JCU). Lecturer in Law, School of Financial Studies,
Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales 2678 Australia
||The Second International Harvard Conference on Internet and Society
May 26-29, 1998
||The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School
||O'Reilly & Associates (ed) The Harvard Conference on Internet
May 28-31, 1996 (O'Reilly & Associates, California, USA: 1997).
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