Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
11 October, 2016
Editorial: 38
Fecha de publicación original: 24 septiembre, 1996

Date of publication: 24/09/1996. Editorial 038.

To each his own

There is a lot of rubbish in the Net. There is hardly any good information to be found. Most pages are like old fish bones, orange peels, leftovers, in short, material which is crying out to be tossed into the digital waste dump where it will decompose, and the sooner the better. Statements like these are becoming more and more frequent in debates on the Internet and its future. They are affirmations that pop up with a worrying spontaneity. Coming from internauts or “digital illiterates”, I am constantly astonished by the frivolity with which the majority of the material in the Net is hurriedly labelled DUW (Digital Urban Waste) just waiting for the rubbish lorries to pass and take them to the bit incinerator.

Basically, this is a debate about something as polysemic as the “quality of information”. What does quality mean in this case? Who owns the magic wand, which establishes the dividing line between what is worth it and what is not, not just for them but for the whole community of internauts? If one thinks of the information on display in a newsagent’s, bookshop or library, it is easy to understand the debate from the point of view of exclusively personal choice. But we have been forced into this corner by the evolution of neo-liberal politics itself and the famous “structural readjustment”. The Net has, to a large extent, blown this standpoint apart by collectivising the newsagent’s, the bookshop and the library (and many other things besides) and placing them in my computer in consecutive order, mixed up or synthesized by a simple click of the mouse.

Cats, for example, do not particularly interest me. I haven’t got any strong feelings either for or against them. Nevertheless, I am astounded by the vastness and wealth of the digital encyclopaedia which cat lovers have managed to produce on these felines. An encyclopaedia which is more and more compact, easier to navigate and better organized, and which corresponds, on the other hand, to the– apparently contradictory– general process of “compactation” of information and knowledge in the Net, while at the same time the range of “qualities” are expanding and becoming all the more varied and dense.

The uneasiness of those who never stop complaining about the junk which proliferates in the Net remains worrying. Are their fingers itching to get out their scalpels and chop out some bits for the good of the patient? Can they be so irritated by the noise produced by those from different cultural, social and economic backgrounds stating their points of view and interests, however trivial these may seem to their illuminated minds? It seems that, all of a sudden, either we have to be consummate Aristotles immediately constructing the “perfect digital polis” from the heights of the cyber-spatial Parthenon, or we pack up our computers and get on with something else. The curious thing is that those who are most vociferous in their concern about the commercial aspects that Internet is acquiring, are also the most intolerant of a Net which they describe as plagued with “eccentrics.”

This pontificating attitude about the quality of information and knowledge, and about people whose contributions are insignificant and banal, brings to mind a fascinating book that I have been reading recently, called, logically enough, Eccentrics and written by Dr. David Weeks (Villard, New York, not translated into Spanish yet). It is the first scientific study of human eccentricity. And, although in the case of the Net I do not think that we are just talking about eccentricities, I do think that some of the things Dr Weeks says are relevant. Above all when he writes: “Most of us have made peace with people who are of a different race or religion, with homosexuals, with the very short or very fat, but it is an uneasy peace, whether or not we admit it. There is something deep inside that yearns to be reassured that we are “right”, and those that are fundamentally different threaten that inner conservative streak. Eccentrics are specially troubling to us because they cannot be pigeon-holed.”

We are living in the era of standardization, homogeneity, unidirectional thinking. Everyone who tries to be different, to tell us strange (and “useless”) things, seems, at the very least, suspicious. Something in our minds has calcified and prevents us from perceiving the entertaining rebellion that they are perpetrating by deviating from the established norms of what makes up correct information and acceptable knowledge. One only needs to keep ones eyes open to be able to appreciate the wealth of colours on this communal palette with which thousands of people are “painting the digital cave”, to use the words of the organisers of the first World Expo on the Internet. It is these apparently haphazard brush-strokes which will finally shape the collective sense of the Net and not the oh so familiar lines, circles and geometric figures that make up the world of commercial exchange.

Translation: Bridget King.