An Overcrowded “Elite”

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
5 July, 2016
Editorial: 9
Fecha de publicación original: 5 marzo, 1996

Date of publication: 05/03/1996. Editorial 009.

All the flowers are not in one garland

“Yes, this all sounds great, but in the end, who really controls the information on Internet? And how long will it be before the big corporations get control of it?” This is the inevitable question which stifles any attempt to forecast possible future developments of the networks, or rather of the information society. It’s a very relevant question if we measure the events of the virtual world by the same parameters we use for the real one. In the latter, even the most naive person is aware of the controlling power of the corporate elites manifested in a wide variety of ways, the control of information and knowledge being one of its most traditional tools. But the networks, and the Internet in particular, have stood all this on its head. Interactive information accessible to all at a relatively low cost has led to a questioning of the traditional power bases of the post-industrial society. From exclusive cathedrals of knowledge, anchored in very specific territories, we have moved to the wide open spaces of information and knowledge, spread throughout the frontier-less territory of the digital universe.

The corporate elites see this development as a disaster, something they didn’t anticipate and as control which is now slipping through their fingers. This has led them to make repeated and increasingly desperate efforts to bring the process back in check by imposing their own rules. Once again, they hope, they will ride interactive communication with the same ease as John Wayne did on his horse – reins pulled tight and spurs well-polished from crossing so many deserts. But disasters set off crises, and in crises many things are difficult to rein in. Social controls relax and relationships – both individual and institutional – become almost fluid. The first and most obvious outcome of a crisis is that everybody starts talking, everybody has an opinion, and everybody’s got an answer to every problem, whatever it might be. In these almost liquid stages, nobody is able to impose their own criteria, their prestige or their scale of values. One person’s word is worth as much as anybody else’s, no matter where they are from. Crises bred from disasters set words in motion and make all opinions equal. When this kind of situation is reached, one power source alone cannot impose itself. And anyone who tries to do so will be immediately challenged.

The birth pains of the information society have unleashed a crisis of major proportions and one which, to add fuel to the fire (as if any more were needed) is based on the free circulation of words and thinking. The power of electronic communication has taken the established power bases of corporations and governments by surprise. Suddenly the bomb which they themselves helped to make has exploded in their hands and, what is even worse, they see themselves forced to carry on increasing its explosive potential through the development of all the machinery necessary both to perfect it and to widen its sphere of action. And, needless to say, by doing this they bring into sharper contrast the confrontation between emerging economic forces, and the traditional ones which are struggling to overcome them. All of which adds to the general chaos and amplifies the crisis on an even larger scale. Within this framework, the traditional elite find that the environment in which they have always exercised their control over information and knowledge is now badly contaminated by new power centres which, from cyberspace, are challenging their established vision of the world. However, this is not coming about because internauts are deliberately setting themselves up in opposition to traditional powers, but instead because the facilities offered by planet Internet have been accepted by millions of people who, by interacting through the networks, create and recreate a tapestry of relationships that, by their mere existence, call into question the power of the classic elites.

These days, knowledge and information move along different channels from before, set in motion by new and massive social forces. And this is where the most interesting question emerges – if information is now the commodity most valued by the millions of users who have converted these networks into a vast library of human knowledge, and who have put this information within the reach of everyone, it seems that with one stroke of a pen they have swept away the very reason for the existence of these elites. From the point of view of the Internet, these so-called elites should be made up of the millions of cybernauts who have contributed to making the networks what they are. And if this is so, the greatest irony of the information society then becomes clear – the elite of the new era is born contradicting its own definition, because millions of people share what is most select and exclusive in it. Such an overcrowded “elite” is an intolerable threat to the hardcore that rules in the real world.

Translation: Bridget King