Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
13 June, 2017
Fecha de publicación original: 10 febrero, 1998
A lame father produces a one-armed son
From the 4 to the 7 February Barcelona hosted the conference “Telematics: Advancing the Information Society“, which included the Telematics Application Programme (TAP) and “The Information Market and Industry and Language Processing“. 1,500 experts from all over Europe attended the conference, presenting more than a hundred projects on topics as widespread as education, libraries, local administration, transport, health, the handicapped and the elderly, urban and rural areas, the environment, as well as linguistic, information and telematic engineering. Despite the obvious importance of the meeting, its social repercussions did not come up to expectations, both in the media or even within the cybernaut community. The silence, in the case of the latter, is all the more worrying because the conference directly affects us as was made patently obvious by what commissioner Martin Bangemann himself said about some of them casting a glance to the past, others promising a different future. If we read between the lines of his argument, as well as some changes of orientation detectable in Barcelona, we can deduce where the Information Society in Europe is heading, some of its present shortcomings, where its potential in the immediate future lies and the role we can play in the development of the Net.
Bangemann rightly sang the praises of the large amount of telematic applications that the European programme has achieved so far. The TAP has a budget of 898 million ecus, approximately 7% of the total Fourth Framework Programme budget which comes to an end this year. The Commisioner, nevertheless, admitted that Europe is lagging behind (compared with the US) in the use of the Internet, because many of these applications are not designed to work on the Net, but in closed environments. This admission casts a long shadow over the role that industry and European society can play in a system of open and public networks, like the Internet. To correct this glaring mistake, the European Commission is tilting the Fifth Framework Programme towards the Information Society. This is all very well, but everything depends on where the emphasis is placed. In Barcelona Bangemann said that the three cornerstones of this new society are infrastructure, hardware and software. But, what about content? Where does that leave the creators, the authors of the content? What are we going to do, or stop doing, if the emphasis –and the money– are granted to the “hard” part of technology?
The Commissioner complained that financial institutions were not decisively investing their money in the kind of development that puts the archetypal products of the Information Society on the market. We were under the impression that those products were precisely information and communications systems. The application of one criteria or another (infrastructure or info-structure) is of key importance, because it is on this, that not only the products market depends, but also, and more importantly, the labour market itself. It’s the difference between enhancing a knowledge engineer in the sense of someone who is a technical expert in systems and, on the other hand, a digital communicator who is an expert in information flow management on the basis of, amongst other applications, electronic publications.
This discrepancy is apparently resolved in one of the subtle, but fundamental, changes introduced by the DG XIII/E and should prevail in the Fifth Framework Programme. This DG has renamed the information engineering unit with the more appropriate concept of interactive electronic publication. This means, therefore, that the professional profile of the people who are going to work in this sphere should be a matter of research, as well as the knowledge and experience that will allow them to do their job and the type of environment necessary for them to proliferate in and “contaminate” the Information Society’s own applications. In order for there to be solid advances, the Commission should alter the present orientation of its financial investment towards projects involving the creators and authors of content. Up until now, most European programmes have depended to a large extent on the capacity for manoeuvre of big business, corporations and local administrations, despite the fact that the language they are couched in is peppered with calls for “the need to fulfil the needs of citizens”. This criteria of rewarding big business and organisations makes sense to a certain extent, within the policy of present programmes based on closed electronic environments which need heavy investments in infrastructure, expensive machinery and programmes, and “hard” and “soft” engineering. However, this is not what is really happening on the Internet.
Within the Net, there are thousands of small companies and it is they who are enriching the system globally, but they are struggling to survive on meagre, if not impossible, budgets. They do not have enough experience to lobby or find “information brokers” to put them in contact with other partners in the Community, condemning them to being the losers in this game. This is reflected in the poor quality of the programmes and their content and as a result of the European Internet. If the Fifth Framework Programme really intends to develop the Information Society, it must take the composition of that society into account, where powerful corporations live only a click away from small businesses. But the latter is objectively much closer to the needs of the citizen and it is here that programmes dedicated to constructing “Telecities” or citizen networks are really thriving. We look forward to Bangemann’s next statement.
Translation: Bridget King.