Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
7 November, 2017
Fecha de publicación original: 29 diciembre, 1998
Better lose the saddle than the horse
Although dates don’t really mean that much, when the end of the year comes round it’s almost obligatory to spend a few minutes reflecting, if not predicting, what the New Year, 1999, will bring. We already dedicated one editorial on this subject in December. So, I think it would be more interesting now to talk about what still needs to be considered in this incipient process of reflection on what is going on in this Net that is making its presence felt all over the place. This is a moment of wild digital activity in personal and business spheres — despite efforts by Telefónica and other operators to make our lives, in both areas, more difficult. Nowadays, it seems that no national, regional or local government is worthy of the name if they don’t have an Information Society commission. Only a year ago, yes, just a year ago, this would have seemed like an objective more fitting to the next century. Like so many other things, it’s already happening. However, quite another thing is what’s going to come of it.
There are similar questions too that would have seemed insurmountable a few months ago. In the first place, there was the notorious threat of information saturation. It was a problem, it still is and will continue to be so more and more. But, as I have said many times before, this excess of information offers extraordinary opportunities for journalistic work, either by professionals in the field or those who have adopted it. There are more and more of the latter at work, but if digital information suffers from the same syndrome as our universe, in other words that it is not only expanding but does so as a result of a mysterious acceleration, it would be only too facile to predict that there will be work and, at the same time, new problems for everyone. One thing follows the other.
This, perhaps, explains the upsurge of initiatives such as portals which are trying to solve the problem of information surplus, and, simultaneously, profit from it. Over the last few months, portals have surged ahead almost as much as science, at a quite astounding rate. The mega-sites supported by the resources of a general type at their disposal — like Yahoo! and its spin-offs – are seeing the increase of little gateways which are becoming more segmented, sectorial, more devoted to subjects close to their promoters hearts. These days, even the most absent-minded of us are gatekeepers. All that is needed is to work out the old directory, dress it up with a good (or mediocre) selection of news and hey presto! there’s a gateway to watch. It is another way of ordering information and structuring things so we can find our way through the jungle of bits. The jungle, after all, has always got its name from those that haven’t explored it. As far as Tarzan was concerned, for example, it was his home and he knew all its inhabitants by name and, sometimes, even surname. We haven’t got on such familiar terms with cyberspace yet, but if sufficient new media appear we are moving in that direction.
Will this be enough? Of course it won’t. The Internet has given rise to a new dilemma. Things tend to happen simultaneously in it. In the case of the Information Society, both information and society have arisen at the same time. And, as always happens, the latter has moved at a faster pace than the former. Nevertheless, the communications media do not precede the formation of human communities, but arise as a consequence of it. This, it seems to me, is where the weak point in the whole thing lies. There are loads of new media proliferating in the fields of digital information, but not that many in human relationships that promote, generate and demand that information. Social structures in cyberspace have a framework of dubious solidity, they are closer to a flan than to a good beef steak. The unfinished business is, I think, citizen networks, net community organisations that should point the way to the digital cities of the future. These networks — the citizen nets– have not even begun to negotiate the space belonging to them with the people themselves or with the administration. Particularly, with the former.
The creation of services by networked citizens for networked citizens is an objective which is still tainted by the shadow of local administrations, who, it seems, think they are the only legitimate suppliers of these services. We need to think about how exactly things stand, not just as far as the content and characteristics of these services is concerned, but also as far as the opportunities they provide regarding the social, economic and political relations of new urban life. Many of these administrations claim that the key to success lies in promoting competition between companies operating within the citizen network framework, but before they blink they are giving in to the temptation of taking charge of procuring the activities that these companies should supply.
The new media cannot stand back and watch this discussion which inevitably affects them. If they do, no matter how much they work in cyberspace, they will be driven to transferring work methods belonging to the industrial age into the digital environment, even if their “leit motiv” is the processing of information. Unless they establish an intimate and direct relationship with the digital community they supposedly serve, information will in the end become an end in itself. Processing a lot of information doesn’t bring one closer to the information society. At the most one is closer to information. In order to get closer to the new society which they are so convinced they are part of, it is necessary that their content, as well as the way it is acquired and disseminated, becomes a dynamic exercise in the construction of human networks which has no like in the physical world. Not because they wouldn’t want to try, but because they couldn’t do it even if they tried. They wouldn’t have the resources, the possibilities or the opportunities for creating the social framework which would justify their existence. For this reason — but not just this reason — in my opinion one can only comprehend the fate of the new media in cyberspace in relation to the citizens’ networks they should be serving and vice versa. In this mutual relationship it makes sense to talk about digital communication as a specific product of the Information Society.
Translation: Bridget King.