The Big North is marching on

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
19 December, 2017
Editorial: 160
Fecha de publicación original: 23 marzo, 1999

Everyone stretches their legs according to the length of their coverlet

Legend has it that Lautaro terrified the horses of the Spanish conquistadors’ by getting thousands of Mapuche Indians to stomp rhythmically with all their might on the ground thereby making the earth tremble. The moment the armoured men landed on the ground, the battle was over for them (or that’s how the legend goes). In Spain and in Latin America we have been hearing the rumbling of footsteps from American companies on the Internet. If rumours are anything to go by, they are about to swoop down on us in a veritable “Delta Force” operation. Rapid deployment, straight up onto the beaches and invasion. For the moment, only a few patrols have arrived so far, some well-known portals and promoters of services converted into “Spanish content” via translation. The fact is, that although still limited in terms of cyberspace demographics, the Spanish language has a big potential because of the large Spanish-speaking population. The question then, which we can no longer put off, is, what are we going to do about this? How are we to stimulate our own content creation in the face of the big names who would like to take over the Net? These were some of the questions that we were asked to respond to as participants at the Segunda Jornada Nacional “Argentina en la Era de la Información – En Pro de los Contenidos en Español”, (Argentina in the Information Age – In Favour of Spanish Content), held in Buenos Aires last week and organised by the AEI Foundation.

The day was divided into two parts, firstly it was the turn of the hardware and software companies and, secondly, the creators and or promoters of Spanish content. The division is more conceptual than real, because we were all under the same umbrella, despite the differences in our respective objectives. But when it comes to these crossroads, it is not always easy to decipher the strategies and interests of the different parties involved. Sales of machines and computer programmes do not necessarily go hand in hand with policies for the promotion of content on the Internet, although they both need each other. The joint presence of two such different sectors at meetings of this kind is due to, in my opinion, the fact that the traditional companies in the field of computers are much more visible (by tradition, corporate culture, industrial power and marketing capacity) than new companies devoted to endowing the Net with content.

Making sure they emerge and putting them where they need to be is one of the crucial tasks at hand. If we want to create a Spanish content industry, take full advantage of the opportunities which globalisation offers and form part of the Information Society with our own voice, we need to design the necessary framework to potentiate the most innovative sectors on the Net. Sometimes we forget that the Industrial Revolution wasn’t driven by British Petroleum, ICI, Thomson or Krupp, but tens of thousands of factories and a complex web of distribution networks which made products available in hundreds of neighbourhoods in European cities. Something similar is happening now. The Internet is making progress above all because of the content swarming around in its network of several million computers. And, a vast amount of that content is produced by millions of internauts, some of whom have even formed companies, and whose capacity for innovation and creation is “carpeting” the Net with its most attractive services.

It is in this melting pot that the future class of content entrepreneurs is being cooked up. These internauts are learning the basic processes of the new industry, although they don’t have the right training for it (there isn’t any available so far), nor the institutional or financial support a new industrial sector deserves. Despite this, the majority of these entrepreneurs have already changed their chip – learning new way of operating. They are learning to look for new raw material, discover mines of information, extract material, process it, package it and design communication flows to distribute it. What is more, they operate quite naturally in an economy based on bartering which is what drives the Net at this stage. Nevertheless, this way of going about things and the objective difficulties — bureaucratic, tax, space, urban, marketing and financial wrangling — which arise in all Spanish-speaking countries, when one tries to convert one’s work into part of a greater industrial process, mean that the exterior projection of these innovative forces remains quite discreet. America Online — not to mention Microsoft — have a much higher profile than Pepito Pérez, however much his pages form part of the torrential process of Spanish content generation.

Nevertheless, when the Net is viewed from this perspective, the panorama changes considerably. In Argentina, for example, according to the latest available figures, there are 300.000 internauts. But, what type of internauts are they? How many of them work for companies who let them navigate a little and use e-mail? Just how many of them belong to that sector of the population that create Spanish content, new innovative services, that go beyond the mere transposition of content from the real world into the virtual, who do research into the way the Net itself works either as part of a company or individually? This information reveals much more about the real extent of the Net’s social penetration, than simple quantitative numbers. And from this point of view, what the big hardware and software corporations have to say makes more sense. If their policies serve as leverage to give momentum to this dynamic sector of internauts, then their concern about Spanish content makes sense. If this is not so, then this is just another case of industrial policy embellishing their eternal justification for increasing their profits with fancy words.

Translation: Bridget King.