The Andalucian Cortijo*

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
20 December, 2016
Editorial: 58
Fecha de publicación original: 11 febrero, 1997

Date of publication: 11/02/1997. Editorial 58.

You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

Just in case there is someone out there who still doesn’t know, William Henry Gates III, Bill to his friends, visited Spain last week. He was that guy with the glasses who appeared in a couple of pictures standing next to me, the one on the right. Although he didn’t say anything new at the packed press conference he gave in Madrid (why should he, one cannot be expected to reinvent the world every day), he did let it drop, this time with greater emphasis than on previous occasions, that one of the reasons for his unexpected visit to Spain (the company spokesperson denied the visit was on right up to the last minute) was that he’s very interested in Infovia. Making more specific reference to this he said, “The agreement we have with Telefonica is a model of the (ideal) kind of agreement we would like to have with other telephone companies”. The owner of Microsoft, without going into further detail (I suppose these will be unveiled in due course when the time comes for him to inform us) told us that his company is taking Telefonica’s projects to other countries.

Thus Gates joined the ever-growing chorus of praise for Infovia. When one talks to content development companies from other countries, particularly in the US, but also in Europe, they drool at the mere mention of Telefonica’s invention. Not to mention the reaction of banks, leading electronic’s businesses, or the police. At the meeting about cybercrime held in Barcelona at the end of November last year, amongst the things on which agreement was reached in the sessions with police from various countries (the US, Great Britain, France, and our own), the one that stood out above all the rest was Infovia. This was the system of the future: a secure, closed net where one always knows exactly who is who, where they go and where they come from, what they do and, if absolutely necessary, why. It’s strange, isn’t it? For all of these people, security is synonymous with knowing all there is to know about what others are up to, in other words, a state of total insecurity for the latter. I remember the first commissioner for data protection in Germany saying on the TV programme La Clave, when it was still chaired by Balbín, pipe in hand, (at least, the early 80’s): “The less we know about our neighbours, the more democratic things are. And vice-versa.” Today we know nothing of what has happened to this gentleman, but lots about the cannibalism of personal data practised by public and private administrations in the name of the improved management of things (res) public and private.

This is what should make tens of thousands of internauts pull a face every time that the little bottle is opened and they are given a dose of Infovia. It goes without saying that Telefonica is to be congratulated for the tremendously positive aspects of the system. Thanks to Infovia the Spanish internaut population is increasing at a vertiginous rate, although the majority, the vast majority, use it fundamentally to connect and move on immediately to the Internet. Charging the same telephone rate no matter where calls comes from within national territory has got rid of one of the greatest obstacles, which PTT themselves had erected with their tariff policies, to the expansion of Internet services. So, nobody denies that Telefonica has brought us these benefits, except perhaps that their rates could be cheaper, flat or whatever. In addition, whether the connections go well, quite well or badly is of concern to users, but does not effect the heart of the matter. In the end, technological advances are like production on Andalusian cortijos –they could always be improved.

The basic question is another one, or, perhaps, exactly that – the similarity between Infovia and an Andalusian cortijo. Its structure — or architecture — reflects in excess the hierarchical organisation in the landowners’ geography. Its a closed environment, in which only the voices of representatives from the old technological oligarchy hold any sway (Microsoft, financial institutions, police, PTT, states etc.), those who are safe and sound within the perimeter of the enclosure. “At last we have got a place within which we can trade, buy and sell, barter and frolic around financially without any fear of having our accumulated wealth taken away from us!”. If this was the only objective of cyberspace, Telefonica’s invention would be destined to conquer the highest peaks. Little by little it is beginning to spread through Latin America. And Gates is not just another gateway for launching it in other parts of the world. The golden boy announced that he has a programme ready capable of negotiating millions of daily transactions through the Internet. But, resolving the problem of security, is vital he said. And the rest of the gang agree with him: they never stop shouting to the four winds that the question of security in Internet is still very far off, while at the same time handing over their credit cards to waiters who bring them back ten minutes later without a word being said. While they dream of turning Infovia — and similar systems — into standard features of the Internet, they haven’t the time to worry about such minor details of daily life. The question, nevertheless, will start to acquire an undeniable importance. The future of the Internet depends, amongst many other things, on what have been called “small payments”, transactions of very little value which, nevertheless, over time, are what will sustain business initiatives and the activities which develop in cyberspace. And, insidious and omnipresent harangues about security in this case, will have fertile ground in which to act. It would not be at all surprising that, before we know what’s happening, the debate between those for an “open architecture” or those for an “enclosed architecture” in cyberspace, with their corresponding corporate support in the case of the latter, turns into a life and death battle between those who want the Internet — or whatever takes its place — to remain free and open for the activities of its citizens and those that favour the necessary installation of gates if the objective of all this is that the “market” functions properly. In other words, between the Information Society and the Market Society (why does that dilemma sound so familiar?). Historically, agrarian reforms have occurred in response to the consolidation of the power of big landowners. This is, perhaps, the first time that we have the opportunity to make an agrarian reform before they close the gates of the cortijo in our faces.

*Cortijo: A large andalusian farm run on feudal-like lines.

Translation: Bridget King