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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

2008 Google Zeitgeist Partner Forum

Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

"You know, I couldn’t help but notice when I was preparing for this conference:

If you Google “Jordan,” you get almost 184 million hits.

If you Google “United Kingdom,” you get 358 million hits.

If you Google “United States,” you get 795 million hits.

But if you Google “Google,” you get 1.9 billion hits.
Just in case any of us were wondering who really rules the world…!

Yet, amazingly, if this company was a person, it would still be a tween!

And even as it’s morphed from a scrappy start-up into a corporate powerhouse, it’s kept the irreverent, Googley spirit that set it apart from day one.

Take the dress code, for example. According to Eric, if you work at Google, “You have to wear something.”

Well to all the Googlers here today, let me tell you, your something looks great.

And to everyone -- thank you for making me feel so welcome at this gathering.

The Google Zeitgeist has been called the “best forward-thinking event in the corporate world.”

That’s not just because it has a way-cool name. It’s because of all of you.

You’re the ones who put the “now” in the knowledge economy… the “in” in the information age . . . and who’ve helped make “Nerdic” the fastest-growing dialect in Europe.

Now, you may think we don’t speak Nerdic in Jordan. But let me remind you: my husband is a huge Star Trek fan.
In fact, not only is he a fan, he once appeared on an episode of Star Trek Voyager… and his cameo, in a Starfleet uniform, has been immortalized on Wikipedia and the clips of YouTube.

With a nerd vibe like that running so strongly through our house, it’s not surprising some rubbed off on me!

I join you today not only as a netizen from Jordan and the Middle East… but – even more significant for our gathering – I join you as a vlogger.

Last month, I took the leap into 2.0 with a video blog on YouTube.

And the reason I decided to launch it is really the reason I’ve come here today.

In recent years, we’ve seen online platforms used as springboards for extraordinary good.

There’s Kiva, for example – whose founder, Matt Flannery, we’ll hear from this afternoon – which has made it possible for any Internet user to become an instant banker to the poor.

Or Facebook’s “Causes,” which tens of thousands of members download every day… in support of issues from breast cancer research to preventing child abuse.

In just one year, “Causes” has raised more than $2 million in donations.

And Kiva now sends a million dollars to the developing world every 12 days.

But what if outreach, conducted online, could raise cash and consciousness?

What if it could do for global peace what it’s doing for philanthropy?

What if we could leverage the Internet’s tremendous ability to bring people together… to bridge the gulf of perception and trust between the Muslim world and the West?

Because that is one of the social challenges I worry about the most.

Surveys show a great divide in how people from East and West see each other.

And too often, instead of reaching out, we’re turning away.
You’re an audience that appreciates math, so let me share with you some statistics.

When asked last year how much they knew about the opinions and beliefs of people who live in Muslim countries, 57 percent of Americans said “not much” or “not at all” – and that number has barely changed in five years.

Even sadder to me -- when asked what they admire most about the Muslim world, more than half of Americans answered “nothing” or “no opinion.”

Another poll last year asked people in five predominantly Muslim countries to review a series of character traits – words like “generous”… “selfish”… “tolerant”… “violent” -- and to say if they associated any of these traits – whether good or bad -- with Westerners.

With just a few exceptions, majorities or large percentages of every Muslim public surveyed associated Westerners with all the negative traits – and not even one of the positives.

As long as we’ve got our backs turned to each other, it’s hard to see eye to eye. But there’s reason for hope. Because for all the tensions, most people on both sides agree that the relationship between the Muslim and Western worlds is something important to them.

Not only that, but when people actually get to know one another personally, their preconceptions melt away and their attitudes towards one another improve.

And here’s the best part: A journey of a thousand miles can begin with a single click. With new technologies, we don’t have to leave home to make a friend half a world away.

For example, a media group called Soliya is using web-conferencing technology to bridge the gap between university students in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and the United States.

Using headsets and cameras, students meet online for real-time cross-cultural discussions… and work in teams to write about challenges affecting both East and West.

And you see the results in before and after surveys of participants, which show a dramatic rise in the percentage of students who felt they had a good understanding of people’s views on the other side.

Even more significantly, when asked if they felt they had a lot in common with their counterparts, the percentage of students who strongly agreed rose from less than half to more than 70 percent for Middle Eastern students… and surged to almost 80 percent for their European and American peers.

So I got thinking about how we could scale up this kind of digital dialogue…and that’s how the launch of my YouTube channel came about.

My goal was to try to dismantle the negative stereotypes about my region that undermine so much trust between the Arab world and the West.

Now I have to admit, I really didn’t know what to expect. But as the hits rolled in… 1,000…. 10,000…. 100,000… and then a million…even my kids, who can be tough critics, were cheering, “Mama’s gone viral!”

But of course, it isn’t about me at all. It’s the Yous who bring YouTube to life. The pulse of this conversation comes from many beating hearts.

And many of the thousands of comments reveal the kind of misperceptions that are out there.

Like: “In Arab countries can you choose your religion or is it required that you be Muslim?”

Or: “Are you forced to wear a veil? Do you have to stay home and not work or drive?”

But most also reflect real curiosity about Arab culture and Islam – and a genuine desire to repair the breach, one virtual handshake at a time.

Most of all, I’ve been moved by video responses from around the world.

Like the Dutch chess expert, who has a vlog of his own, but who encouraged his subscribers to watch mine – explaining that tensions in Holland make clear how badly our publics need dialogue.

Or the South African boy who talked about how his stereotypes of Arabs had been shattered when he spent some time in Abu Dhabi and got a taste of Arab culture first-hand.

Or the American girl who spoke about the diversity of the Arab world – pointing out that not all Arabs are Muslims, any more than all Muslims are Arab.

Or the young Jordanian, who has launched a new blog for young Arabs to connect with one another, because he believes that changing our image abroad has to begin by working together at home.

Seeing their faces, and hearing their voices, with all their varied accents and outlooks, reminds us that people are too diverse to be lumped together or labeled. In a very real way, these young people are public ambassadors for understanding – and their words are reaching an audience our foreign ministries probably don’t.

Now of course, there were a number of more light-hearted commentaries as well.

DookDawg214 – I hate to break it to you, but I’m not Michael Jordan’s wife.

And GeorgianBayShores – I’m very sorry to hear that when you eat falafel, you get more in your nose than in your mouth. My advice to you is: try shwarma!

Well, as you can see, I have my work cut out for me over the next 12 weeks. So far I’ve posted 5 videos on topics from women to terrorism and Islam and more. And I’m trying to meet the high standards of openness the Net generation demands. I’m sure the YouTubers will be quick to let me know if they think that I’m just feeding them a line.
Many of you have been fortunate enough to experience my side of the Middle East…the warm hospitality, the peace-loving people, the stunning landscapes…the side that your algorithms might not prioritize. So, I’d like you to join in the conversation because we need more voices. I don’t think I need to tell you how to upload a video response, but I’d like to tell you why you might want to.

There is a hunger out there. It’s a hunger for dialogue… a hunger for respect… a hunger for mutual enlightenment.

And the world needs your help.

In part, we need help just to get more Arab voices on the Web. Last year, Internet use in the Middle East and Africa grew faster than anywhere else in the world – yet we’re still just a tiny bit – or byte -- of the global digital audience.

But even more, the world needs your ingenuity in creating new means for connection… and devising new networks for cross-cultural understanding that no one else has even imagined.

Think about it – Google’s engineers spend 20 percent of their time on innovation. With that, you created Google News and Gmail. And your Google Labs are constantly working to churn out more innovative ideas.

The Google search engine is a mathematical marvel of thousands of interlocking formulas.

But just imagine if each of you in this room gave even 2 percent of your talent to amplify the impact of the simple equation, “people = people.” Maybe that’s one for a global “Fixit” grouplet?!

In a world where stereotypes are assumed to be the norm, would two twenty-something kids working out of their parents’ basement ever have had the chance to turn a research project into a worldwide synonym for fun, innovation and success?

We must make sure that the same chances are there for the Pages and Brins of the Arab world…that they have the same opportunities of walking out of garage doors into global boardrooms…and that executives don’t shut those doors because they think they know what to expect from the Middle East.

You can help empower the Google generation– not only in the online world, but in the one world we call home.

Thank you very much."