Gold, in the year 2000

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
12 September, 2016
Editorial: 30
Fecha de publicación original: 30 julio, 1996

Date of publication: 30/7/1996. Editorial 030.

A rolling stone gathers no moss

Vinton Cerf maintains –and he is not alone in this– that Internet is causing a veritable gold rush, a wild race for the gold stored in the virtual treasure chest of cyberspace. Just as they did in the last century in various parts of the planet (California, Russia, Australia), today’s miners are excavating digital seams or sieving millions of bits in search of this vile metal. The effort, investment and journeys involved are considerable. Even though we might not have to strap on a blanket and head for the hills accompanied by a mule weighed down with pots and pans, the search for the most promising bend in the river means we have to scrutinise every connected corner of the planet in case a little nugget–bit–of gold should turn up.

Cerf, one of those responsible for the development of the TCP/IP protocols, thanks to which you are now reading this page, points out that during the gold rush provoked by Internet, the same thing will occur as in the last century: it will not be the miners who will strike it rich, but those who sell them picks and shovels, the bankers and the builders of roads and cities. In other words, there are two basic activities: setting up infrastructures and then giving them content so that people can move around, markets can take off and life can spring up. Cerf goes unashamedly for the first option, that of the pick and shovel dealer. It’s no coincidence that he is vice-president of MCI for Internet, the first corporation in the world in the cable sector. The most celebrated engineer in cyberspace does not, of course, believe that we are on the brink of a communications collapse as a result of the rapid growth of the Internet, nor that the much-lamented slow speed of connections will drive potential “miners” away. His company, among others, will deal with these trifles and build motorways and roads, all over the place. Of course they will be toll roads (or, at least that was his message at Inet-96, held in Montreal last month).

What remains are the banks and neighbourhoods, the cities, the transport system and human activity, in other words, the content. So, here we are back on the topic of the previous edition of language as industry and the industry of language, that is to say, the representation and cultural presence of a language in the new space created by telematic networks. The globalisation of communications which Internet proposes is nothing less than the playing out of a tremendous tension between, on the one hand, the natural tendency to occupy all the virtual regions that the net opens up, and, on the other, the aspiration of these regions to exist while maintaining their idiosyncratic presence. Or to put it more plainly, we don’t need anybody to tell us what we already know best, or tell us so much about their own affairs that we don’t have enough time to worry about ours. To a great extent, the outcome of the future of the cyberspace community will depend on how this confrontation is resolved. For that very reason, it is extremely important that Spain –and other countries with a culture sustained by their own language– creates the basis of an industry in Spanish and rooted in its own content.

Seen from cyberspace, the European controversy over the penetration and colonisation of the US film industry looks like a school yard fight between kids of different ages conveniently watched over by the teachers. Most European national film industries admit right off that they are defeated by the colossus of the US, and that the only solution is to set up an exceptional regime, a kind of state of siege in which the only means of survival would depend on ration cards, or in other words, market quotas decided beforehand. Meantime, within Internet, a similar state of affairs is beginning to occur. Neither the political class, nor the industrial sectors, are reacting to what one can already guess will be a repetition of what has happened in the film industry. The latest survey conducted by the consulting firm Forrester indicates that no-one will make any money placing content in Internet until, at least, the year 2000. According to this field study, the number of people using the Net does not yet represent the critical mass necessary for the cyberspace industry to take off economically. By the end of the century, things will have changed, according to Forrester, not only because the population of Internet will have increased considerably, but also because this growth will be stimulated by the offers that will consolidate over the next four years. That, then, is the time we have to prepare a vigorous sector to supply knowledge and information in Spanish which will not be “vampirised” at the very start by big US corporations.

I loathe the idea that in four years’ time I will be writing an edition of confirming that the best services in Spanish on the Internet are coming from Texas or Wisconsin, where detailed information can be found on the latest vintage of Rioja and whether it is the best choice to accompany “chili con carne” (I know I’m exaggerating, but, what the hell, we are exposed to worse things on TV and the movies and then we go out and consume them at the first fast food place we come across).