By Frank Moher
PARIS – It is a curious thing, to host the lions of the digital world in a series of tents in a public park. But that is what French President Nicolas Sarkozy did this week in Paris, for the so-called eG8 forum, a prelude to the G8 forum 173 km to the north-west, in Deauville. The police were out in full force along rue Rivoli, the hectic thoroughfare adjoining les Jardins de Tuilleries, as one might expect for an event commingling billionaires and high-level politicians. I watched a motorcyclist inadvertently bombard a roped-off side street, defended by a cordon of police, and thought he was lucky to escape with his life, as opposed to the scolding he got.
But the digs thrown up for the conference were decidedly déclassé. Were the usual likely venues in Paris all booked-up? Or was Sarkozy signalling to the mostly American attendees – the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Eric Schmidt, and John Perry Barlow, formerly lyricist for the Grateful Dead and more recently co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation — that they oughtn’t get all up in that – that he and the other real world leaders would decide how the internet should be developed, while the digirati need only learn their place as electronic street performers?
In any event, Canada was as absent from the conference as you might expect. The subject was intellectual property, and, while we produce our fair share, we are not in any significant way a player in its distribution — not like the Americans and the Europeans (represented on the dais by Bertelsmann and Universal Music France). So there’s no point in feeling snubbed; we aren’t important enough to be snubbed.
But our lack of profile and influence in l’age d’internet doesn’t bode well for our economic fortunes in a world where silicon is increasingly the international currency. The lack of Canadian start-ups that might turn into players, the failing fortunes of our one major hardware manufacturer, RIM, and the Conservative government’s disinterest in creativity, the driving force behind all the achievements and innovations in technology represented onstage at the eG8, suggest we will remain largely hewers of wood, drawers of water, and processors of tar sands.
By the way, Parisian police apparently dealt with protests with a novel approach: simply not tolerating protests. Students of irony will note that this takes some of the power out of the G8 leaders’ endorsement of the “Arab Spring,” comprised as it is of nothing but protests. Meantime, a few thousand dissidents were tolerated last week in the city of Le Havre, across the river from Deauville. There, when property violence broke out, of the same sort seen along Yonge Street during the G20 last year, the protestors took care of it.
Nice job. Note to Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair: That’s how it’s done.