A video dialogue program for young women in the USA and Muslim countries
March 19th, 2007 at 9:53 pm
Posted by Zia in Sessions

Due to school vacations both here and in Gabes, our next (and final!) session will not be for another couple of weeks. In the meantime, enjoy some new videos: I’ve updated the site with clips from our most recent session on technology. Videos from sessions 9 and 10 coming soon.

March 10th, 2007 at 9:41 pm
Posted by Zia in Sessions

Our topic this past week was the use of new technology; ironically, it was the only week when we had problems getting our two videoconferencing systems to work together. However, after a few tries, we managed to get the session underway and ended up with a great conversation.

Pervasiveness of new technology. The women in Gabes said that everyone there uses the Internet; in our group of participants, there was consensus that most people used it every day, or at least every other day. Most of our participants read content in English, although they said people will read French or Arabic sites if they are less comfortable with English. In addition to the Internet, cell phones have become almost ubiquitous in Tunisia: it’s the preferred means of communication for most people there. The US, participants also talked about the fact that they relied on these two technologies extensively.
Isolation of technology. We also talked about technology being isolating. While it can connect you to many other people, it also prevents you from interacting with others in person as you might have done before. A US participant said she had to make an active point of not using the Internet too much for fear of missing out on other parts of her life. One participant in Gabes said she’d practically lost her father to the Internet – he’d gone online to the exclusion of the family. One of the US participants also pointed out it was a bit strange to be living New York City where there was so much going on, yet many people found their excitement online instead of in person. There was concern that technology would never replace human interactions, so there has to be a conscious effort not to lose out on those other interactions as a result of over-use of technology.
Internet as news source. One of the US participants asked what sources the Tunisian participants used for news online. In addition to Al-Arabiya and other popular Arabic news sites, one of the participants in Gabes said she reads the BBC and CNN to see what they’re saying, and to get different perspectives so she can determine the veracity of a story. Neither the Tunisians nor American participants said they relied on non-professional news sites (eg blogs) for information on current events.
Internet as networking platform. We also talked a bit about the use of the Internet for social networking purposes. While those in Gabes enjoyed it for communication applications, there was less interest in using it for social networking purposes (eg MySpace). The US participants used it a bit more, but still did not find that to be one of their major motivations in going online. 

March 7th, 2007 at 11:58 am
Posted by Zia in Uncategorized

We have just two more videoconferences to go - tomorrow’s session will address the use of new technology.

Video clips of this upcoming session (as well as of our last two) will indeed be coming, most likely over the next week.

March 2nd, 2007 at 8:51 pm
Posted by Zia in Sessions

Our 10th session yesterday dealt with environmental issues. 

Most pressing environmental issues. We started by talking about what we considered to be the most important environmental issues. The New York participants said here in the US, global warming was currently the topic on everyone’s minds. A participant in the US mentioned “An Inconvenient Truth” (which one of the participants in Gabes had seen featured on Oprah!), saying it had helped raise awareness of the issue. The Tunisian participants said there, too, global warming was an issue. Discussion then shifted to a question of who was responsible for global warming, and how different nations should approach the problem given that only a handful of nations were responsible for the majority of the world’s greenhouse gases.

Raising awareness. We also talked about how to raise awareness of environmental issues. The Tunisian participants talked about an educational campaign in Tunisia that was targeted at younger schoolchildren to make them aware of issues at an early age. Additionally, they said there had been other awareness campaigns such as proper waste disposal messages launched in recent years. In the US, there was discussion about the fact that campaigns were reaching a far broader audience now than in the past: whereas not long ago, environmental causes tended to appeal to more of a niche audience, today they’d become much more mainstream. We also talked about the use of celebrities to raise awareness of issues: there was debate over whether it was a good or bad thing that well-known individuals were now almost required for an issue to gain traction on a global basis.   

Local environmental problems. Later we got into a conversation about local environmental issues in Tunisia and in the US. In Gabes, participants mentioned a chemical plant which had brought many jobs to the region, but had a strong negative impact on the environment. In the US, one of the participants from West Virginia talked about the coal mining problems in her state, and how the coal companies were attempting to improve their images by donating to worthy causes while continuing to pollute. Both sides agreed that it was easy to over-simplify the problem, but agreed that environmental considerations had to be taken into account in addition to the new jobs created. 

Solving the problem. Finally, we talked a bit about how to help address some of the major environmental problems that exist today. After a discussion on a variety of topics, including air pollution, one of the participants in Gabes said that so many of the solutions to the problems were prohibitively expensive, we needed to step up and try to help devise more cost-effective technology. A participant in the US mentioned Richard Branson’s recent announcement that he’d award $25 million to anyone who could devise a way to remove a billion tons of carbon dioxide a year from the atmosphere. Everyone agreed the new generation was likely to be more cognizant of the need to care for both local and global environment - we still have a long way to go to resolve today’s environmental problems, but awareness is definitely increasing both in Tunisia and the US.