Isolated, but well-fed

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
6 June, 2017
Editorial: 103
Fecha de publicación original: 20 enero, 1998

There’s a scorpion under every stone

Last week I had a mystical experience, really I did, like those of Saint Theresa that make one exclaim, “I live without living in myself and I die because I am not dead”. The curious thing about this experience was that it happened because of the Internet, and it was collective, making a mockery of the idea that this medium leads to individual isolation and increasing loneliness from the warm and friendly world that existed before the modem. This all took place during a supper in El Racó de Can Fabes in Sant Celoni in Catalonia, one of the top three restaurants in Spain. In fact, calling what we partook of supper, is not to give it it’s due respect. It was more like wandering slowly through the most extraordinary art gallery you could imagine …… only to swallow it all up, bit by bit, picture by picture. As Artur Serra put it, “They have served Las Meninas to us on a plate and we’ve eaten it up”. What Santi Santamaria gets up to in the kitchen of El Racó is the closest anyone has got to going up to a heaven somewhere and raiding its shelves to bring its content down to an earthly table. The effect of his potato purée with grated truffles –to mention just one of the gems he delighted us with– could not even have been surpassed by a large dose of peyote. With every spoonful, one could not but render humble and admiring homage to the expert nose of the pig that had uncovered the blessed mushroom and led to its being served up on our plate. And as for the wine, it turned this tribal communion into a rite which plumbed subtle depths of tone.


Emilio Fernández – –

Between courses (because, while we ate a respectful silence fell as if by tacit consent), we all blessed the Internet which had brought us to a banquet which will remain indelibly inscribed on our memories. Because it was, indeed, the Internet that had called us away from our respective “isolations” and sat us down around Santi, so that he could unfold the properties of his magic culinary palette to us, while we talked about the extraordinary places the Information Society is leading us to. Thanks to Félix Simón, the organiser of this Dionysian get-together, special guests included the aforementioned Artur Serra (UPC), Jaume Roqué, director of information services at Barcelona’s Official Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Navigation, Manuel Sanromá, in charge of the citizen’s net TINET(Tarragona InterNet) and, it goes without saying, myself.

When it came to dessert (the only time that Santí stopped being hypocritical and said in a soft messianic voice, “This I tell you, is the best chocolate you have ever tasted”, a comment which contained more truth than all of the WWW put together), an interesting debate arose which carried on well into the early hours of the morning (washed down with a sublime Pedro Ximenez sherry): what type of society will the Internet give rise to? We had to make a titanic effort at this point to come down to earth from the heights of mystic experience and question the destiny of the Information Society which is all too frequently clothed in excessively shiny and promising robes. During the discussion, rich in subtle nuances and, at the same time, to the point, it became clear to us that we are still not able to distinguish the political system that such a society will adopt, some aspects of which are, nevertheless, being drawn up now without internauts able to clearly perceive how much of their future is in play.

Seen from this perspective, one of the most fundamental aspects is the relationship that will be established between the private sector, in particular the Internet service providers, and the public sector, if it finally decides to play an active role in the promotion and development of the Net Society. Recent attempts by industrialised countries, at a meeting in Washington, to modify the infrastructure of the Internet by “democratic means” and public consent, served as the implicit backdrop to the debate. Behind smokescreens of evident social weight and power, such as the fight against organised crime, pornography, the security of electronic commercial interaction, or the control of content adverse to dominant political interests in general, the rich countries are trying to create the necessary conditions for people to support the adoption of repressive measures and censorship, so that they participate one way or another in this process. Given this framework, it is not unthinkable that conditions arise which will lead us to endorsing the creation of political structures of a totalitarian nature in the name of the “common good”. Vinton Cerf, Vice-president of MCI and one of the creators of the Internet, believes that this, as well as attempts to intervene in the Net to control its content, will become more and more difficult. And he told this to the Justice Ministers of the 8 industrialised countries who met in the US capital.

Personally, I agree with him, but this is not necessarily the only possible future. We don’t know for sure what influences will be brought to bear when millions of citizens are living on the Internet. The Net, amongst other properties, functions as an organiser: of information, knowledge, activities, individuals, businesses, services, institutions, administrations and, of course, of political bodies. Faced with this “capacity” of interconnected computer networks in open, interactive environments, such as is the case of the Internet, governments, for the moment anyway, are reacting in (at least) two ways. On the one hand, as representatives of the Ancient Régime, they try to perpetuate the power system based on control, vertically articulated security and the control of information by the few to the detriment of the many (citizens). On the other hand, subjected as they are to economic globalisation, they are compelled to develop the fundamental network of the Information Society and participate in it just like any other player. Harmoniously combining both aspects, sometimes represented by the same people and administrations, is not an easy task. Nor is it certain that the “victory” of the second option will necessarily open the doors to democratic coexistence on the Net.

The reason for this, at first sight anyway, is obvious. Those in the latter option continue to subscribe to a concept of the world economy in which they will need to negotiate their relationship with the private sector which works directly in the Net i.e. telecommunications carrier, network access and content service providers, etc. The agreements they come to , although tempered by the activity of cyberspace citizens, could crystalise into different options, some of which could take on authoritarian forms although democratically accepted. Something of this nature was described by Aldous Huxley in his book “Brave New World”: it was society itself that had given its unconditional support to the social development of the technologies that ended up creating his utopian world (not very different from what is happening now with the debate about Dolly, human clones and their uses).

We have enough recent experience to explain these apparent “aberrations”. All technology always has several possible uses. It is we who have to decide how it is developed and applied. Given the history of this century we don’t exactly have much to be proud of. While, on the one hand, we have been able to use technology to raise the standard of well-being of one segment of the world’s population to levels which were unthinkable at the start of the Industrial Revolution, on the other, it doesn’t worry us that the very same technology is used to subjugate the rest of the planet’s inhabitants, either by depriving them of it or subjugating them through it. Is it possible that the Internet will be yet another instance of technological innovation turning into a nightmare although it began as a dream? Yes, it is.

Nevertheless, the way I see it, there is a difference in this case that allows us to exercise discretion as citizens and users. The Net can’t exist without us. In other words, the functioning of the Net increases in direct proportion to the number of users that add content to it and augment the volume of information available in the system. The idea of creating enclosed enclosures clashes with this frontier. Who is going to want to be in paying nets where the content is determined by the rules of a game imposed by a handful of corporations or governments without any possibility of integrating them into those that exist in open nets? During the discussion at El Racó de Can Fabes, some people maintained that perhaps many more people than we imagine are prepared to continue in a world fed by the type of information-spectacle which private nets of this kind will give rise to. Others were sceptical, although they didn’t discount this outcome. Eventually, some of them demanded the right to remain sceptical about the whole outcome and live outside of the Nets. These are, undoubtedly, some of the fundamental questions that we will have to resolve over the next few years. I hope I live to recount them and return, as many times as I can, to the wonderful cuisine of Mr Santamaria so that his culinary art may help us reflect on them.