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As discussed last week Google’s 2009 Zeitgeist conference was interesting and inspiring.  It was also in one particular respect for me, humbling.

The two days raised lots of questions for today and the future.  And there were far more questions than answers – about business, about media and about the future of the planet.

As far as the economy goes, Peter Mandelson introduced the concept of a W shaped recession.  So any initial recovery we see should be treated with suspicion.  Subsequently I’ve heard predictions about a 2 WWs shaped recession.  Surely that just means its going to continue for the long-term to be up and down a bit, and we’d better get used to it.  When asked whether he was against regulating the internet he replied questioning whether UK voters wanted one that was as unregulated as it is today.  Later the writer Aaron Sorkin said there would be no hope until the internet “is held to the same legal standards as publishers offline”.

The only man with any answers to the problems besetting the planet seemed to be Richard Branson.  With infectious enthusiasm he told the delegates about his solution to wars (A Council of Elders including Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton), a solution for carbon emissions (Biochar : www.biochar-international.org/ ) and rising sea levels due to ice caps melting (huge inland lakes in the desert).

But for me the humbling part of the conference came in the shape of Oscar Morales a panellist on the Citizen Politics session moderated by James Harding.  In early 2008 Morales organised a group on Facebook to protest against Farc – a Columbian terrorist organisation that reportedly kidnaps and murders and traffics arms and drugs.  Within weeks of his protest Morales had a huge following that culminated in millions marching as a civil protest against Farc in Colombia and in cities around the world in February 2008.  Morales, an engineer in his early thirties, brought millions together for a cause, and his achievement is all the more amazing when you consider internet penetration is only 30% in his country.

This shows the power of course of the internet to give a voice to the people.  It is however indisputedly true that the internet alone would not have given the profile it needed to the campaign.  It was given leverage and fame by newspapers, TV and radio channels – at first in Columbia, and then around the world.  As a communications case study, it clearly shows what the power of a cause can achieve online, and then how it can be enhanced in broadcast offline media.  As an achievement, it may make you question what you’ve done to change the world today, and what you could do.  You can of course see for yourself at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQWWK4tb9RU&feature=channel

As seen at Mediaweek.co.uk

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