Internet in the street

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
30 October, 2017
Editorial: 146
Fecha de publicación original: 15 diciembre, 1998

Last night, Monday 14 December, under a waning moon in the clear skies over Barcelona, a group of Internet sorcerer’s apprentices were called to their annual coven at ESADE. I took part in this ceremony, presided over by Alfons Cornella, as I have done in previous years, and we tried to figure out what surprises the Internet would hold for us next year. Alfons, who sometimes seems to move faster than information itself, has already sent us a brief resume of the meeting (message 390 in Extra-Net!), soon available in audiovisual including the complete talks by participants. This year I decided to be sure of the success of my predictions. So, instead of answering the question “Where is the Internet going?”, I changed this to “Where are we taking the Internet?” placing us incidentally where we belong: in the position of the those who make changes happen in the Net.

Some of the other participants pointed out that information systems in cyberspace are getting more complex and tend to constantly diversify. The result is that the growth of information, so often used as our safest prediction about the Internet, is now accompanied by the growth of its organisation, either in the form of portals, super-portals, little portals, or the structures that favour electronic commerce, training and a multiplicity of activities in a wide variety of fields. In other words, the Information Society is pushing the second part of its name, Information, to peak levels. What is missing is a similar development of the second part, namely Society.

It is this, I think, that will experience a notable boom among us in the year to come. One of the factors favouring this tendency will undoubtedly be the inauguration of the European Union’s Fifth Framework Programme, which will concentrate its efforts on facilitating the access of citizens to the Internet. Quite different to what is happening in the States, where Internet-2, which is already on the go, focuses mainly on the academic sector, as a logical continuation of the history and development of the Internet in that part of the world. So, in Europe, on the contrary, everything points to the fact that the objectives of Internet-2 will also include more emphasis on the creation of social structures which explain – in the epistemological sense – the existence of information systems themselves.

Therefore, this will be when we start to redefine (or define for the first time) activities in cyberspace in terms of their content and objectives. In short, the human relationships that we establish through the Net. The fact that we have moved a long way on the information side, has meant that the Internet has grown by our merely transposing into it activities and services that already exist in the real world. In other words, we have certified our existence on the Internet by, in a way, just putting posters there advertising ourselves and saying who we are and what we do. The question now is to “live” in the Net and that, as always, means creating social and political structures adapted to the digital world. We will have to research everything from what Net-universities will be like, to what the content of the new media will be or what activities belong to the Information Era alone because they cannot occur in any other way except within the Net. In other words, from being able to do more things because we have more computers as has been the case up to now, we must start to think about what we do, with whom, for what reason and by means of which social and political structures.

This will help us to demarcate the relationship between the global and the local much more clearly. We will see how typically local activities such as creating an urban fabric through community organisations, will become “something different” when they happen in the Net. They will come into contact with an environment where there is co-operation, innovation, shared experiences and cultural participation and although they occur in “backward” cities or “exclusion areas”, they will become the launching pads of the digital cities of the future and, by so doing, break the bonds of the Industrial Society and go on to explore and exploit the possibilities the Information Society has to offer. More information resources and knowledge will rapidly accumulate there, becoming richer and enabling users to substantially improve their quality of life.

Nevertheless, talking about social structures means we are talking about something very different to what we have had up to now on the Internet. At the meeting held at ESADE, all the speakers possessed their respective digital information system like a kind of ID card. Those in the audience were either users or belonged to groups somehow “initiated” in the ways of the Net. But we still represent a very small proportion of the population. In order for the two words “Information” and “Society” to make sense, especially the Society part of it, we need to emphasise the latter. It is essential that the majority of the population become users or, at least, participate in some way or another in the opportunities and possibilities that Net-Society has to offer. In order to reach that point, the authorities, regional and community organisations, universities and education centres and business itself, will have to shoulder phenomenal responsibility, so that the infrastructures of the Internet can be opened up and the Net can emerge as part of people’s daily life, whether they are connected or not.

This will not be an easy task. It will require a massive amount of imaginative and innovative energy. Nevertheless, it is not only possible, but absolutely fundamental. And it can and will be done. To ensure that these predictions are fulfilled in the short term, will take part in the Internet Fiesta that will be held all over Europe at the end of March. The idea is that people participate in activities organised in a decentralised way all over the continent. In Barcelona, we are going to call it “Internet in the Street”, or something like that. During these days, the public will be able not only to see how the Net works, but also use it themselves and participate in it. This could be done through street concerts broadcast via the Internet, opening up schools so that resources are used to design media where interests as diverse as those of the students, parents and local community organisations can be expressed, or the creation of communication networks for the elderly to explore the enormous possibilities of recovering and using the pool of knowledge and wisdom stored by those who have been forced to retire from active life simply because of their age.

So, we hope to take part in this “”unravelling” of the Net and enjoy with hitherto unconnected citizens the opportunity of proving that information systems on the Internet make sense if they go hand in hand with the new ways of conducting social and political affairs that are emerging in cyberspace. This, as I have said, is not a mere prediction, it is going to happen in 1999 and we hope that it is just the beginning of a new era in which the technological frontiers which cover the “flesh” of the human networks developing within them, become more transparent.

Translation; Bridget King.