Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
4 October, 2016
Editorial: 35
Fecha de publicación original: 3 septiembre, 1996

Date of publication: 3/9/1996. Editorial 035.

“The house shows the owner”

One of the most resounding gaps in the Declaration of Human Rights was that it did not include the telephone and television as basic rights for the modern individual. But the French Revolution couldn’t cover everything. It didn’t even mention the car, that paradigm of the freedom of the individual which any post-industrial legislator of a Magna Carta would not have left lower down than the third inalienable right. Fortunately, the bourgeoisie took careful note of this lack of foresight and put their trust in modern capitalism to make suitable reparation. Nowadays, every household blessed by the invisible hand of neo-liberalism has as many televisions and telephones as there are adults (and adolescents) in the family. The increase in cars is taking the same direction in the US (an amendment to the Constitution seems to protect the right to go everywhere on four wheels including the toilet), to the envy of other wealthy parts of the world with less legal coverage and wheels, such as Europe and Japan.

Will the same thing occur with Internet? Will the net be sufficiently ubiquitous in our homes to deal with all the possible demands on it –from the little ones who have just started nursery school to grandparents addicted to the “Grey-hairsNet”? (sooner or later someone will have to invent this essential equivalent of SeniorNet in Spanish). If Internet enters our home via television, as various television operators predict, at least there are already enough receivers to avoid the most predictable family squabbles over a juicy slice of screen-sharing time. Nevertheless, everything points to the fact that this will only be a transitory solution. It will take a long time before Internet via television contains the most outstanding features that the computer offers (power, diversity of functions, storage capacity, memory, processing speed, etc.). And a hybrid television-computer would send us back to the age of the Declaration of Human Rights: we would be back to zero kilometres with the obligation to buy as many apparatuses as there are voracious consumers in the family (and let’s not fool ourselves: the television-computer will not be a cheap item for many years to come).

If Internet is to enter the home –and it seems that this is an inevitable step towards the net developing its full social potential– for the moment the miracle seems to depend on the growth in the number of computers. A connected family is doomed to face bottlenecks dangerous to its collective health when, for example, father wants to go through his e-mail, the children want to play with the CD-ROM, learn to navigate on the Web or consult data bases to do their homework, and mother wants to communicate with the other members of FeminiNet (another net in search of a creator). The hitch is that buying a computer for every member of the family, at 2.000 USA$ a head raises the cost to at least a trip to Disneyland (no matter which part of the world the trip is made from and where the attraction park is) for a family of four for a week. And this is something which is not even within the reach of a significant number of households in wealthy countries.

It seems the solution will come not from apparatuses (computer or television-computer) but from cable. By the end of this year, a new technology developed by Wyse Technology, consisting of a combination of cables and gadgets which convert a PC into multiple computers all of them interconnected, will begin testing in the US. Each device, while not really a desk-top computer — although it has a colour screen, CD-ROM reader and gigabytes of memory all at the cost of 500 dollars — functions as a second, third, or fourth (up to ten for the moment) Windows terminal, all of them connected to one PC and sharing all its programs, including the connection to the Internet. The trick lies in the cable which incorporates the features of the brand new Network Computers (NC). Different things can be done at the same time from each terminal . And parents who are concerned about what their children are up to (and there are some), can always take a peek from the main computer at their kids activities as they navigate the Web. It’s what the physicists would call an elegant solution to a thorny problem.

Nevertheless, these new developments not only open the domestic door to the Internet, but, at the same time, “hierarchify”, in a discreet but powerful way, the net market, to a much greater extent than the much-vaunted and, until now, feared interventions of the big corporations and government. The cabled household represents the sharpest cutting edge of technological development not only of a country, but, above all, of those social sectors within it which have the greatest income and abundance of resources of all kinds. The NC applied to the domestic environment could light the way to a new and powerful market, which demands the development of its own applications to satisfy a multiplicity of family interests subject to a high income level. If this type of Home-Net flourishes, everything points to the fact that in the next few years the “American Family Way of Life” will have a profound effect on the content of the Internet. Above all, in the fields of education and recreation, the two sectors of major potential in the net. It’s a subject in which organisations concerned about the social dimension of Internet will have to invest a goodly portion of their inventiveness, in order to protect the cultural diversity of internaut communities.

Translation: Bridget King.