Father proposes and…

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
21 February, 2017
Editorial: 74
Fecha de publicación original: 3 junio, 1997

Date of publication 3/06/1997. Editorial 74.

Mourning is less painful when there is bread to be eaten
(Don Quixote, xiii, part II)

The new generation of web media products are just coming out of their incubators and some of them have already got strong little legs . They are known as “push” technology, a term which is bound to win itself a place in the sun in any of the versions of digital language. “Push”, as anyone who is connected should already know, is the ability to deliver information that internauts want directly to their electronic devices, as well as that which they didn’t know existed and, consequently, supposedly had no desire for, but which becomes absolutely essential to them when they do receive it. Analysing the implications of “push” has already generated a substantial flow of bits. Led by Pointcast –the screen-saver that displays information previously extracted from a server and stored in the user’s hard disc–, the numbers of these technologies have been swelling their ranks in recent months. Some of them, despite the obvious differences, are starting to look more and more like television. Others still leave internauts with a repertoire of opportunities for using their own initiative. All this is taking place within the private reserve of powerful broadcasters implacably in search of an information-consuming audience. The more defined the profiles of this audience are, the greater the guarantee of success. And since, in cyberspace, these profiles are defined by the audience ratings of each particular “push”, they are starting to look more and more like those that proliferate around a television set.

It looks like the Net is starting, little by little, to write a new chapter in its precocious and vertiginous development: that of the “baby-media-corporations” which, within a few years, look set to become the main protagonists in the new media environment which the Internet has given birth to. Free for the moment from any significant counter-tendencies which limit their proliferation, their dispersion points to the reproduction of a communications map that is all too familiar, although it may be dominated by new actors and new companies. Technology, as has been the case in other instances, is beginning to impose its laws. The technological capacity to broadcast information by groups who are highly qualified to do so and whose ability to attract finance is enormous and innovative, and who are on the hunt for the type of consumers who would not mind the idea of becoming private, unpaid managers for the company that offers them digital paradise, is a cocktail so irresistible that even The Economist is beginning to give in. Basically this process concerns an old seed in search of a new field to grow: information is more powerful (and valuable) the greater the division between its producers and consumers is. So, will this seed germinate?

This is one of the questions, indirectly dealt with, in the last number of this British magazine (it would be advisable to download it before it disappears into the digital archives). The Economist is one of the most influential publications in “decision-making” circles, and up to now one of the most sceptical as regards the Internet’s possibilities, a subject to which it has devoted many an article. The compass has begun to swing in the direction of the advantages of the Net, significantly, not when electronic commerce is beginning to become a reality (for years it has been obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes in their head — and they have many pairs of eyes pointed in this direction — that the mere solving of minor security problems would be the trigger for making commerce take off in an environment so natural to it as a 24-hour interconnected world market), but instead this commerce, dominated by “push” technology, is putting the power of communication back into the hands of certain “individual” information distribution centres as part of a package which includes leisure, work, money-making opportunities, and, of course, custom-made buying. One doesn’t have to be very astute to imagine the enormous impact these hypermedia, hyper-content, hyper-populated and, of course, hyper-safe, broadcasters will have.

Will this mean the death of the WWW as we have known it over the last few years? The arguments for and against are as ephemeral as projections of population numbers in the Internet during the next ten years. Nevertheless, the definitive result of present tendencies will gravitate to a large extent around a factor that is usually side-stepped, almost to the point of negligence: the urgent need for the development of simple and accessible tools for publishing in the web (or whatever substitutes it) in order to make internauts the owners of their own voices. In an interesting interview in Time magazine (19/5/97), Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the WWW, puts hits the nail on the head when he says, “[Our] idea was to work with others. The web was conceived as a creative tool”, cooperative, in which anybody could put a message or send hypertext documents to, for example, their colleagues at work, friends, family, etc. Nevertheless, he goes on to say, a hierarchical structure has begun to predominate because there comes a moment when someone has to “put” the information in the Net thereby converting the rest of us into consumers. Robert Cailliau, who worked with Berners-Lee on the Web project at the CERN, doesn’t mince his words either when he says, with the sadness of the father of a creature going stray, that this development signifies “an absolute disaster for the web”.

It is possible that their criticism is so vociferous because they brought the creature into the world and it has turned into a frog before their very eyes. They can’t find a way of getting back the prince that it held inside it. But they know that the magic kiss can only come from editors of web pages as simple as word processors and which can be put onto the Internet as easily as a file can be printed out. This will radically increase the broadcasting capacity of millions of internauts who are navigating on the tail wind of e-mail, distribution lists and other virtual forums, while they allow dealers from the “push” temple to fence off the web with digital wiring. In this venture, the prophets of “push” rely on the open complicity of the telephone corporations, as well as other economic and political powers. In the world they foresee, what is important is not the number of browsers and their mutual compatibility, but rather the tariffs which will determine what services one can access, under what circumstances and why. One of the first sectors which will suffer badly from this change of orientation will be education. However, when one looks at the “push” services which have appeared on the Internet so far, it is obvious that this is not one of their fundamental concerns