In April 2011 (1) I read an article entitled With information technology, more and more young people become their own managers, about a Forum at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome devoted to “Youth Communication in the Social Media Age”. During that forum, says the article, Mr Pier Luigi Dal Pino noted that “computer technology comes to the rescue of the new young entrepreneurs who, more than any other previous generation, are now able to grasp its true value in terms of productivity and efficiency.” The consequence, said Dal Pino, is that in Italy ”we need to focus on young people as future digital entrepreneurs”.
So far, so good. It would be hard to disagree with such statements. Too bad that, in a forum devoted to these issues, an institution as important as a Pontifical University had only called Dal Pino, who is Managing Director for Institutional and Industrial Relations of Microsoft Italy, that is the same company that recently proposed (just to point out that proposals from the biggest guys don’t necessarily and automatically make sense):
- Computer health certificates to surf the Internet
- Taxing every citizen to fix Microsoft Windows problems
and that in general promotes file formats that create more addiction than innovation.
Another significant part, according to Zenith, of Dal Pino’s speech is the explanation of why there is little innovation: “the digital, highly innovative human capital is still highly untapped… There are many causes, primarily difficult access to credit, low orientation to patents, lack of protection for creativity and intellectual property and, last but not least, access to technology at early stages of business.”
There’s no question that getting venture capital these days is hard and in Italy is probably even harder than in other places. Everyone around here, from the president of Confindustria (the italian employers’ federation) to the last shop owner, will confirm that this is a huge problem. However, it is a general basic problem, which does not depend at all on the specific features of the industry object of that speech.
What’s more interesting here, both in general and considering who was denouncing these problems, are other causes cited, especially the lack of protection for creativity and intellectual property. The reality here is a little bigger and more diverse than what Microsoft probably said in that forum. Less than three months ago, for example, the Social Science Research Council of New York released one of the biggest and most important studies ever made about software, music and movie piracy, and on the effectiveness of heavy penalties for copyright infringement.
As far as patents are concerned, the Free Software Foundation Europe affirms that, in general, promoting software patents blocks innovation competition and, in particular, it could “reduce the Microsoft Antitrust suit to absurdity” The same foundation maintains a very complete site to explain why software patents are a bad idea in general for Europe.
Today, everyone, especially young people, communicates using the computer a lot, and Microsoft does a lot of important things in computing. Therefore, there’s indeed nothing wrong to invite one of its managers as a speaker in a Forum dedicated to youth and community in the era of social media. However, failing to give, by inviting representatives of other points of view, a more complete picture of certain topics is quite serious, or at least a wasted opportunity. Let’s hope that future events of the same type will have a more balanced coverage.
(1) this is the translation of the article I wrote in Italian in april 2011, as soon as I knew about the Forum.