Message: 54
Date: 12.1.97
From: <nicholas@media.mit.edu>
To: <lr@wired.com>


In February 1995, the European Commission hosted a G7 roundtable on the information society. Envoys ranging from heads of state to prominent industrialists debated the Global Information Infrastructure. The Japanese delegation included, among others, Isao Okawa, chair of Sega. His participation was quiet, but his return to Japan was not. He was determined to correct what he saw as a glaring omission: the people most affected by the coming information society - that is, children - were utterly unrepresented. He decided to change this.

Within eight months, Okawa conceived, funded, and implemented the first Junior Summit. For four days in Tokyo that October and November, 41 children from 12 nations convened for a milestone meeting at which adults found room only in the audience. The young people, 12 to 18 years old, addressed issues ranging from the environment and peace to communications; some participants were involved in using the Internet to compose music collaboratively and perform it live for the first time. The event was a resounding success.

Now, some two years later, Okawa is determined to see another such assembly take place in a broader international setting. To this end, MIT has been asked to host the second Junior Summit in 1998, under the direction of Media Lab professor Justine Cassell.

Agents of change
The second Junior Summit presents a chance to increase the number of countries at the table, to give the conference participants more time for discussion, and to let them disseminate their conclusions more widely. Children from every country in the world are invited to discuss the future of young people in the digital age. Of course, linking children around the world will not in itself solve the problems of world hunger, poverty, and repression. However, children together may make a step toward solving these problems and others that we adults are not child enough to recognize.

The simple act of uniting children will widen their perspectives on their own lives, and the lives of those who come after. It will deepen their understanding of their own problems, and the problems of those who are unlike them. It will lead to a better world, as children become empowered to seek solutions globally and implement them locally. For the adults around these children, this process of discovery can enlighten all efforts to make the information society everybody's society.

The second Junior Summit seeks to engage 200 children between the ages of 10 and 16 from around the world. Participants will be selected based on how well they can document - in their native language, through a video or photographic essay, through a piece of music, or through drawing or painting - the state of children in their community, with particular focus on how the digital revolution is affecting them. Those children who do not yet have anything to document with respect to the digital revolution are asked to give their vision of a global community. The 200 selected children will meet online for six months of debates, discussions, and the creation of artistic works.

Simply participating in the online forum will allow children to be agents of change in their communities - all of those who are chosen will be given computers and Internet connections, which will be set up in their local schools or community centers. After six months online, the participants will choose 60 delegates to represent them at the summit at MIT, where they will solidify their positions and, finally, present their arguments to world leaders. Following the summit, children will be matched with mentors from industry, government, and education who will help them launch local action projects to share the benefits and continue the momentum of the summit.

A better world
One topic on the table will be a proposal by five alumni of the first Junior Summit to start Nation.1 - a virtual nation for children, with its own voice, flag, and currency, but without borders or centralized government. This nation would apply for membership to the UN and make every effort to include children from developing nations. Here is an excerpt from Nation.1's first proclamation:

As a kid growing up with computers, you have ideas, you see possibilities, but they don't count, you're just a kid. Adults need kids, they just don't realize it. They can't relate to what kids have to offer, because they don't understand technology the way kids do. Kids have valuable perspectives, but the world offers no mechanism to voice their opinions. They have no representation in world politics and they have no influence in the decisions that govern their future.

So with the help of the second Junior Summit, a group of young, very wired individuals is going to bend, twist, and distort some barriers with the hope those barriers will come undone. We are going to create a country in cyberspace, not defined by geography or race, but by technology and age: Nation.1 - a country populated and run by kids.

Nation.1 is just beginning, and we are considering how to create digital political systems, how to deal with language barriers, how the technology behind the country will work. We passionately believe it's worth it, because uniting kids changes their perspective, widens their understanding, and leads to a better world.

Proposals like Nation.1 may seem outrageous, even unthinkable, compared with what we adults would have suggested. That's the way it should be: ultimately, the world must go past what adults believe will succeed. The global information society is ours only to dream - it will be up to these children to live it out.

If you are 10 to 16 and interested in the Junior Summit, check out www.jrsummit.net/, or write to Junior Summit, MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA 02139. For further information on Nation.1, email nation1@2b1.org or visit www.2b1.org/nation1/.

This column was cowritten with Justine Cassell (justine@media.mit.edu), professor in the Learning and Common Sense section of the MIT Media Lab and director of the Gesture and Narrative Language Group.

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[Copyright 1997, WIRED Ventures Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Issue 5.12, December 1997.]