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Dialogue between Abeer Abu Ghaith and Vít Šisler

50 Minds for the Next 50. Imagining Heritage in the Digital Dimension Session

Abeer Abu Ghaith

Technology entrepreneur and social activist

Vít Šisler

Researcher, writer, game designer and assistant professor of new media studies at Charles University in Prague

Vision for the Next 50

In the Next 50… We empower women to employ digital technologies such as 3D modelling and NFTs for heritage protection. Protocols respecting different cultural values are established to build synergies between heritage, cultural values and digitalization.

In the Next 50… The disconnect between contemporary culture and heritage is narrowed. The video game is recognized as a storytelling tool to learn and share different cultures and heritage.


The dialogue between Abeer Abu Ghaith and Vít Šisler centred around respecting different cultural values, and the ways they are shared and transferred. Ghaith emphasized the importance of having protocols to protect different values and heritage, adding that we must also acknowledge and digitally empower women who can actively engage in heritage activities. Šisler spoke of how the storytelling function of digital mediums can help to understand different perspectives. He noted that the boundary between the digital and heritage is disappearing. We should therefore understand both the potential and the limitations of digital media to benefit heritage.


Based on your experience and work, how can online-based networks of professionals be mobilized in favour of heritage?

Online networks allow a lot of women and young people to take part and be engaged in heritage. For example at MENA Alliances we are trying to translate and localize content for businesses and even for libraries. Localization is different from translation. It involves localizing content that takes into consideration values for the community and respects their culture, which is very important to any culture. The other thing we do is to help women engage in heritage activities, such as making traditional clothes, and we publish their content online.

We are also working with blockchain companies that use non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to protect their heritage and arts. For example, we took part in an important project with Google to enhance the voice recognition of Arabic dialects. We have almost 16 different Arabic dialects and each one is spelled in a different way, despite the fact that we use the same language. This is a subject in which we engage women and young people, encouraging them to use and enhance voice recognition and to engage to protect the Arabic dialects of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

What role can women, and particularly youth, play in favour of protecting and promoting heritage using the power of technology?

I think it is very important, especially for people like us who are living in conflict zones, to protect heritage and culture. It is very important to engage the community in protecting heritage by using, for example, social media.

You may have heard that in the last year we have had the Gaza War, which has created a lot of dialogue and engaged those affected in writing their stories. By using social media we are now more engaged as a community in telling their stories, which is something that we didn't have in previous years. Using new technology, like NFTs, will also help us protect our heritage, especially in the MENA region, a place with many conflicts. Iraq has been mentioned and how, in previous years, a lot of heritage was sent to Britain or to France for protection. But now I think we can copy our heritage using 3D modelling, or we can protect them using NFTs or digital tools. But we should also enable women to use this technology to protect our heritage. It is very important to enable people to be part of this heritage and to protect it.

History is about stories, and stories are often written by the victor, especially in conflict zones. So how can we ensure that we are using technology to tell a story that is not biased by any party, especially in areas like conflict zones?

That's a great question. In fact, our company actually designs games which are based on the real stories of people who lived through Nazi occupation and the Second World War. When developing the games, we tried, as historians, to include the voices and the perspectives of people who are typically marginalized, for example, the experiences of women, civilians and children, who are not typically represented, especially in gaming media. Video games typically present a very technical, military perspective. What's missing is the broader context and the civilian perspective. This is why storytelling can help explore a story differently. This is really powerful because it can really enable you to see certain conflicts from different personal and intimate perspectives, beyond the historical facts.

As a school of new media, do you feel there is a widening gap between contemporary culture and heritage?

It’s a complex question. I wouldn't say there is a gap between contemporary culture and heritage. I would say that today the boundary between digital and the non-digital is disappearing. The digital environment has become a simple, normal part of our everyday life in the non-digital environment, and it is key for us to understand the benefits and limitations of these media and environments. We can see on the one hand greater empowerment in digital media and contemporary digital culture in global and local initiatives, protecting heritage and enabling the organization and building of community. This is really important as these necessary changes join with efforts at the global, national and local level, which is a very positive development. But on the other hand, there are quite a number of important challenges that we face with regard to contemporary digital culture, particularly in our increasingly fragmented society, which we see on social media. You can see increasing polarization on the political level.

Another challenge is of course environmental. Digital media is also production. Its use has its own environmental impact, especially in countries where minerals are mined or where these technologies are produced, or simply by just using digital technology. I think this will have a profound impact on our future. We are still learning how to deal with these two tendencies and the ways of balancing the two.

My next question is: What is the relationship between heritage, cultural values and digital technology?

Values are different between cultures, which in turn have their own heritage. We need to ensure that we don’t forget about cultural values when we digitalize our heritage and transform it.

I believe that having protocols to protect heritage and the way our values are transferred through heritage is important and should be respectful of different cultures. UNESCO and UN organizations can help with establishing this protocol. But we need to ensure that we are respectful of different cultures, even if we don’t agree with some of them.

For example, as a woman in an Arab country, one of our values is having families. A lot of time is dedicated to them and creating strong relationships. With COVID, for example, many jobs have become remote and that means engaging between work and home, letting the outside world into your home. For example, when we have a meeting, we usually don't use the camera because we don’t wear a hijab when we’re at home, things like that. This is something that other cultures often don't understand. But this is our culture, and we shouldn’t forget that we must be respectful of different cultures even if it doesn't make sense to others. We need to reflect on that when using technology to ensure that there is no bias. There should be some kind of relationship between heritage, values and digitalization, and we need to ensure that we are transforming our values in the right way.

Where do you see the value at the intersection between the digital and the heritage? What would be your position on that aspect?

I agree with you. From my perspective as a designer of serial games, particularly games which tell a story, I think storytelling and sharing stories is a really important human need. I would even say that it is something which makes us human. Values are transmitted through stories and narratives, and games are actually a place of encounter with others, with other places and other histories, and for learning from different perspectives. Digital media can help with understanding, learning and respecting other cultures and values.

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