The bridge from Sega to Microsoft

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
6 February, 2017
Editorial: 69
Fecha de publicación original: 29 abril, 1997

Date of publication: 29/04/1997. Editorial 69.

Where there is gossiping, there is lying

90% claimed they know a foreign language (English in 94% of cases), 28% access Internet and 37% read a daily newspaper every day. These figures from a survey conducted by El Pais among university students were published last week. Well, we already know that surveys are one of the love stories that have disillusioned us most at the end of this century: they tend to say more than the numbers express and not enough about what we would really like to know. Nevertheless, taking this immanent secrecy of numbers into account, some of the above-mentioned results, and others that accompanied them, are quite illuminating about the cultural level of the interviewees. So, for example, when they were asked about living personalities they most admire at least 1% of the students mentioned the following people: Mother Teresa of Calcutta, King Juan Carlos, Indurain, Felipe Gonzalez, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nelson Mandela, Adolfo Suarez and Stephen Hawking. Bill Gates didn’t make the mark. A typical case, perhaps, of the disparity between media idolatry and the degree of penetration of the message? Or is it simply that these students represent the transition from Sega adolescence to Microsoft adulthood?

When asked six general knowledge questions, from the typical,”Who is the present President of the US?” to “Who formulated the theory of relativity?”, the only one about football, (“Who won the Spanish League Championship last year?), was the one that got the least correct answers. Is this another example of the vast gap in the “priorities of national interest” according to the rancid old definition made by those that govern us?

The survey tried to shed some light on how the students obtain information. It asked them about their newspaper-reading habits and, on the other hand, their use of computers to access the Internet. The first is a habitual question in these kind of samplings, but the second, logically enough, was making its first appearance in field studies of this kind among university students. For, this is the first time that the Internet is making an impression as a budding competitor to the traditional media when it comes to providing information and knowledge. Despite this fact, it is such a recent phenomenon that the authors of the survey didn’t make any attempt to cross-match their data. It is my impression that if they had done so, the results would have been seriously biased by the prejudices which still accompany analyses of the Net.

Set on examining how its business is going, El País paints an optimistic picture pointing out that 37% of those interviewed say that they read a newspaper (a figure which is up two points on those for 1995), although less than 21% of them actually buy one. On the other hand, (or maybe on the same hand) 36% of them spend two hours a day watching TV and 21% two hours or more. The other side of the coin, and the piece of data that I think is most significant, is the extent of their preparation for entering the Information era: 65% use computers as word processors, 31% of them for graphic design, 41% as a data bank and 28% for accessing Internet (despite the meagre facilities many universities offer students for navigating with their own e-mail address).

Data from these kind of surveys is always open to a thousand different interpretations, it all depends on the tastes of those conducting them. This is mine: we are getting closer and closer to the point where the decreasing number of people, among the future decision-makers of this country, who read newspapers, and those who are starting to use the Internet as their normal means of procuring information, are going to converge. The traditional media (and we don’t need a survey to tell us this, although it constantly comes out in them anyway) inform people less and less about what they want to know. More than anything else, they have lost their capacity for stimulating our curiosity, of giving us an intelligent view of world events which enriches us culturally and helps us work within it. On the other hand, the scenario which the Net proposes (we are all receivers and emitters of information) sets in motion a series of multiple and very complex information feedback processes which we accept more and more, as part of our day to day existence. In other words, we are moving towards the phase in which automatic cash points abounded and, despite their promise of “easy money” at the press of a button, we still went to the cashier in person for routine banking activities. Today, friends that I have consulted and the neighbourhood housewives that I meet in the market admit that they have not seen the faces of those on the other sides of the counter in the bank for a long time; credit cards have entangled us in the financial corner of cyberspace almost without our noticing it.

The survey among the university students paints a similar picture. We are in a period of transition towards “routine telematics”. But the road is lined with difficulties and obstacles. The leap into a state of “cash points of the information society” will not depend only on banks ( although they play an important role in the game), it will also depend on our capacity for generating content which becomes richer, more useful, and more diverse. If this process takes off –and there is nothing to assure us that this take off will arrive on time, in other words, before the counter-attacks that corporations, financial centres, and big shopping centres augur–, future surveys will have to find a formula for getting to the bottom of the complex process by which each person procures not just information, but also the ingredients needed to make decisions in a society definitively caught up in the communicative ebb and flow of cyberspace. This is a matter which the traditional media has not yet begun to address because they take it for granted that the intelligence of their readers must come close to the average intelligence of their present coverage of events. That is supposing a lot and. If it is true now, perhaps it will never be so again thanks to Internet.

Translation: Bridget King.