The uninformed Information Society

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
30 May, 2017
Editorial: 101
Fecha de publicación original: 6 enero, 1998

It’s the same eight or eighty, as long as all the eights are tens

The year has begun and there’s nothing new from the front line: the use of the Internet in Spain is constantly increasing according to the Estudio General de Medios (EGM). During the last few months of the year, the Net was visited by 200.000 people more than in April and May 1997. In total, the EGM estimates that the Spanish internaut community is made up of more than 1,100,000 inhabitants with a spiralling birthrate. They just don’t stop reproducing. To sum up: we are contributing our quota to the expansion of the Net just like every other Tom, Dick and Harry.

The statistics could shoot up even more spectacularly over the next few months with the arrival of the data plug to homes and businesses thanks to cable. The Internet will then become an ubiquitous system used for everything from debating the best ways of extracting essential aromas from coffee beans to sending an e-mail to the washing machine to make it wash if it’s a sunny day. We are on the verge of the automatic cash point syndrome, that dim and distant past when we all peered suspiciously at those unwieldy contraptions when they first appeared in the foyers of banks. It’s hard to remember the exact feelings they caused us then, so long ago (at least five years ago, more or less). These days we slip our cards into the first slot we come across with a promiscuity inappropriate in this AIDS age. In no time at all, much more than double the number of present internauts will use the Internet with the same familiarity and in the same routine fashion for all sorts of hitherto unimagined aspects of daily life. In fact, they will even live in and from the Net. This, of course, is not worrying. What is worrying is the desert of information policies in which we move given this is a sector with a population of great social significance and of this size, a quantity which in fields other than digital interactive communication would have politicians stampeding after them to gather up new “faithful”.

The only official words on the subject that we hear are either the active or implicit interventions concerning the big telephone corporation’ strategies, or repeated threats to ensure that we behave properly in cyberspace. Along the way, a few vague promises have been made, such as the digital Eden promised by the Minister of Education, Esperanza Aguirre, designed and oriented towards, the education sector but lacking any coherent support structure or communication policy. Something similar is happening, of course, in the field of the new service industries dedicated to the management of information and knowledge. The chronic lack of an industrial framework on which the development of technological innovation can rely, or the formulation of industrial development policies (now perishing on the wheels of liberalism), is highlighted even more at a time when we are reaching a certain critical mass which requires orientation, structural support, specific financial support and policies which prepare the country for competing in an economy based on goods and products generated by the management of information and knowledge.

There isn’t even any field work being done to enable us to find out exactly who these connected people are, how much social, business or political influence they have, what the predominating features of their behaviour are or some kind of projection of their value system. Nor do we know up to what point the increasing use of the Net and the shaping of a business world around them influences the personal and collective perceptions of users and, consequently, what would be a suitable political framework to express them in. In short: as the EGM survey itself clearly indicates, the only thing we really know is that there are more and more of us, and that the penetration of “connectivity and interactivity” is steadily increasing, but we have no map (moral, social, economic, political, financial) which enables us to distinguish the characteristics of this human contingent. Resorting to clichés is not enough – if not useless– such as “they consult this or that newspaper more often, or they send so many e-mails to their mothers”. What we are talking about here is a sector that is going to have a leading role in the fundamental transition at the end of this century: the change from an industrial to an information society. A difficult transition, indeed, if what we are lacking is precisely information about what this sector is doing, how they are doing it and with what perspective on the future.

Translation: Bridget King.