Paris hosts Europe's largest digital convention, with this year's edition focused on the "social" and "mobile" Internet
Focused on LeWeb (via Flickr)
By Nicolas Rauline
PARIS - Silicon Valley is making its annual trek to Paris. For the seventh consecutive year, Géraldine Le Meur and her husband Loic Le Meur, a French-born San Francisco-based blogger and founder of Seesmic, are hosting ‘Le Web 2010," a Paris tech conference on Dec. 8th and 9th. This year's theme: platforms.
As always, top bosses -- like Renault's Carlos Ghosn, Stéphane Richard of France Télécom, and Foursquare's Dennis Crowley – will mingle with venture capitalists, angel investors and entrepreneurs from around the world to discuss and exchange ideas on the hottest tech trends. Here's a preview of what will be on everyone's lips and laptops at this year's Le Web, as France (ever so briefly) becomes the center of the digital world.
A More Mobile Internet…
A quarter of French Internet users now access the Web from their mobile devices, according to figures from the first half of 2010, compiled by Ipsos market researchers. In the first half of 2009, by comparison, just 14% of French web surfers did so from their phones. According to Cisco, mobile data traffic surpassed voice traffic for the first time in 2010, and is expected to double every year, until 2014. Research from Gartner shows that the mobile phone will become the primary means of Internet access by the year 2013. This projected increase in traffic, however, has raised concerns about the reliability of mobile networks.
… A More Cluttered Internet
The explosion of online video, in particular, threatens to saturate mobile networks. Cisco projects that by the year 2014, 66% of all data sent across mobile networks will consist of videos. Providers have already sounded the alarm, and are calling for new and more efficient ways to manage their networks. American operators have already promised to put an end to unlimited data plans. In France, the debate among regulators, telecom operators and Internet service providers rages on, but a consensus seems to be emerging.
…A Faster Internet
This year saw the advent of real-time Internet, led by Twitter. The microblogging site now has more than 175 million members, and could finish with more than 200 million by the end of 2010. (In January, it had just 75 million users.) And the mass of data sent across the network (including some 30 billion tweets since the company launched in 2006) is of particular interest to search engines, many of whom have signed agreements with Twitter, to integrate tweets into their search results. This also happens to be a major new source of income for Twitter.
…A More Social Internet
Alongside Twitter, the other big winner of 2010 is, of course, Facebook. This year, the social network's business model paid major dividends. According to ComScore, the site is expected to generate over a billion dollars in revenue, and it has already surpassed Google in the US, measured in both page views and average time spent on its platform.
…a More Closed Internet
It may seem paradoxical, but one of the biggest questions at this year's Le Web conference will revolve around the potential "death" of the Internet. The debate first took off thanks to an article from ‘Wired," and has recently regained steam, with an article in ‘Scientific American," written by Tim Berners-Lee—the man credited with inventing the Internet. In the piece, Berners-Lee vehemently defends the idea of an open and free Internet, which, in his opinion, is currently under threat from closed systems, including social networks and the cottage industry of apps development.
What About France?
Despite its rich business environment, few French companies have been able to compete with the American giants of the tech world. One entrepreneur blames the discrepancy on France's "administrative obstacle course," and a political regime that taxes start-ups before they even begin to generate revenue.
Venture capitalists, however, have managed to find channels of investment, and are now structured in different firms, including Isai, Kima Ventures, and Jaina Capital. Yet the funds they raise are still modest, compared with those raised overseas, and tend to focus on emerging projects. Some start-ups are even passed on to international companies: PriceMinister, an online auction site, which was bought by the Japanese firm Rakuten; and real estate listings giant Seloger, targeted for a takeover by Germany's Axel Springer. In a different way, Le Web itself reminds France that the Internet knows no borders.
Read the original story in French
The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.
Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.
Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."
Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.
Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.
Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.
Oppressive home situations
As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.
Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.
Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.
Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.
"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."
Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."
Lack of spaces
Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.
"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.
The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out
Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.
Lockdowns force coming out
According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.
"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.
Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.
"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.
The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling
In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.
"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."
Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.
Medical care is dismal
Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.
Isolation triggered my depression
"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.
What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.
During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.
As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."
Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.
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