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Geeks and Samba

29 January 2005

Windows doesn't dance. Bill Gates is Afriad of Brazil. A Government Minister who is "proud to be a hacker". So went this morning's packed congregation in the church of Open Source Software, Creative Commons, and Free Digital Lovin'. Zone A, the modestly titled Autonomous Thought, Reappropriation and Socialisation of Knowledge and Technology, hosted a luminous gathering of information age prophets: Manuel Castells, Gilberto Gil, John-Perry Barlow, Lawrence Lessig and others. Their drive for more open technology has increasingly made common cause with the saner elements of the anti-corporate movement who want reform of copyright law and greater freedom of expression.

What relevance this to the WSF? Barlow explained: "Brazil currently spends more on software licences than it does on erradicating hunger". The country's embracing of open source software was just one of the reasons why this Grateful Dead Lyricist proclaimed "Gil is my Hero". He also told the less-than-likely tale of Bill Gates fleeing at the sight of an oncoming President Lula, over at Davos; such was the terror that the free-spirited Brazilians "with music in your genetic code" struck into the heart of Microsoft. (I wonder if Simon Zadek can confirm or deny?). Gil seemed pleased at this image: "I am a Minister" he said, "I am a musician. But above all I am a Hacker". And he hoped to see any number of "French Revolutions in the 21st Century", in trade, software and the acceptance of diversity. In amongst the fluff all the panelists seemed to agree that Brazil was a technology icon for the developing world. They didn't explain why anyone would want to be a geek in a country with beaches, sun and samba. But lead by their Minister of cool, and all happily licensed under creative commons, it was left to one of the questioners to wonder what good all this would be if one in ten Brazilians can't read? The audience was left to wonder how terrified Bill might be when they all can.

This afternoon, on my penultimate day here, i'm off to the movies to watch a a film about Lula, and a film about Brazilian metal workers. And i'm going to think some more about why this event, for all its aesthetic appeal, is such an intellectual bust. More later.

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