Douglas Rushkoff is organizing a one-day conference on October 20, 2011 in New York City called ContactCon to explore how to unlink social media from the corporations that provide, and increasingly, are positioning themselves to control it. I see this as an opportunity to explore the role that language plays in this and whether there is a role for Esperanto. Here is my first attempt to initiative a discussion around the topic: Beyond English: Language in a multipolar world.
In Nicholas Ostler's recent book English, the Last Lingua Franca, he observes that, while English is being learned more-and-more frequently as a second language, it is not replacing native languages. This means that each new generation will still grow up speaking one language, and needs to choose what other languages to learn. Currently, there is a huge economic imperative to learn English. In an increasingly multi-polar world, however, it may make more sense for people to choose other languages than English, such as Portuguese (to trade with Brazil) or Chinese (for trade with China).
Ostler argues that machine translation will obviate the need for a lingua franca and that English will decline and will not be replaced. This seems like an overly optimistic appraisal of machine translation to me. People have been believing that machine translation (like artificial intelligence) is just around the corner for a long time, but it doesn't look much closer now than it did 20 years ago. There is much greater accessibility to crude translators, but not something that could substitute seamlessly for a human being.
I wrote an essay recently for Libera Folio which you can read in English translation here: http://esperanto-usa.org/eo/node/2135
As an Esperanto speaker, I'm sensitive to the disrepute in which it stands for many people -- especially in the United States. But I question whether a world in which mastery of English is necessary for the apprehension of global culture could ever lead to social justice. The global elite speaks English, but most of the world never will. Do we accept that? Do we put our faith in the magic of technology? I'm interested in exploring these questions in an open-ended way via Contactcon.
I encourage other Esperanto speakers to sign up and attend the conference.