The Eternal Hangover

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
8 August, 2017
Editorial: 121
Fecha de publicación original: 26 mayo, 1998

He who milks a cow without feeding it, bleeds it dry and kills it

Although I am still seriously affected by the physical and spiritual hangover the I International Congress of Electronic Publication left me with and longing for a few days’ rest after the pre- and post-congressional frenzy– the days of the congress were wildly enjoyable and flew past far too quickly — I am also trying to iron out some of the conclusions we came to at Maig’98, particularly the creation of a Centre (European? International? World?) for electronic publication and would, thus, like to highlight some ideas for debate which, as Cassius Clay said (before he became known Ali), will fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee. I think that the congress in Barcelona has brought some very significant subjects under discussion which should help in our understanding of what is going on in the Net. As I said in my closing speech at the end of Maig’98, sometimes we discuss things on the basis of recognisable parameters which are not necessarily related either to what is going on, nor to what is happening to us, and, sometimes, not even to what we are actually doing.

400 people at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday (a beautiful Barcelona spring Sunday, not to be sniffed at, although on the latter there were “only” around 120 of us) is proof of the dynamism of the electronic publication sector in the broadest sense of the word. And that goes as much for its content, its tools, its leading protagonists as well as the social and economic sector that it covers. The International Directory of Electronic Publication should make this obvious, but the Congress itself clearly demonstrated the vigour of this emergent new sector on the Internet. The question now is not that the Net works as a platform for communication, but to create a “layer” where new communications media can develop. Applications directly related to content and not to the workings of the Internet are beginning to make their appearance. The Congress itself worked, in this sense, not only as a congress of conclusions, but as a congress of content and everyone took the proof of this home with them in the form of the book of proceedings they received. Much of the work in this book demonstrated the range and wealth of the electronic publications repertory, as well as the doctrinal content it is starting to generate.

The second aspect of the Congress worth mentioning is that it was faithful to the idea of electronic publications on the Net. Previously, every time electronic publications were mentioned it was as if we had to bow to the online versions of the large media and that we could only talk about them in relation to these versions. The Congress swept this obsession away at one fell swoop. The traditional media –never more aptly so-named than now– hardly made their presence felt and when they did speak, the basis of their discussion had more to do with electronic publications of the kind under discussion in the seminars and workshops than with the bowing and scraping traditionally due to the power of these media on the Internet. It seems to me that this is crucial because it indicates a change of tune as far as communication flows in cyberspace are concerned and the creation of specific areas for these flows to meet in, free from the mythomania so typical amongst the large opinion makers. I believe that this is the first step towards reflecting on how different cultures will operate on the Internet and the role that electronic publications will play in this sense.

The Aula Abierta was a very good synthesis of all this. Unfortunately, the dynamics of the debate absorbed us in such a way that we were not able to pay it all the attention it deserved. Nevertheless, it was there, in front of small audiences (as so often happens on the Net), that wonderful electronic publications projects were presented, the true offspring of imagination and a boundless innovative spirit. Most of them cobbled together with just a few digital bits and pieces, but nevertheless admirably solid in construction. The authors and their audience got involved in an exchange of opinions and shared experiences which, frequently, went beyond the bounds of what was happening in the congressional debates. It was here that the real business people of the Internet made their appearance, those that don’t yet earn any money from the sweat of their bits but who, by virtue of their efforts, courage and innovation, are making the emergence of this new communications sector a reality. From these pages I implore Silvia Llombart to tell the readers of all about what happened in that room those days.

And that leads me to another point that has not been sufficiently highlighted so far. Out of the 10 workshop coordinators, five of them were women. And the Congress organisers were, with few exceptions, all women. Without them, Maig’98 would simply not have taken place. And I am not referring to their enormous capacity for taking the Congress to the UPC and turning it into that astounding miraculous event which made even the ducks in the pond seem to want to share in the joy of the occasion. I refer also to the skill and wisdom with which they used the resources of the Internet to stimulate discussion, dig speakers out from the digital depths, keep the communication flows open even during the most awkward moments and, in addition, manage to give the whole business that special touch that only women can when things are getting rough (nevermind when they are going well). While statistics still say that women are a minority in the Internet, that they only use it for this or that, that their relationship to technology is like this or like that, we have witnessed how naturally they have unfolded a universal vision of extraordinary richness and have put it to use with a perception that many of us seasoned internauts would really like to have. I am certain that there are many lessons to be learned from them.

These are some of the conclusions that, at a flash, the Barcelona Congress has left us with. I am sure that they are sufficiently solid to support far-reaching projects, the short-term objective of which is the establishing of an Open Centre for Electronic Publication, networked with similar places in Europe and open to Latin America. The three pillars on which this should be erected have been mentioned in these hasty lines: training, research and company creation and orientation, all of them within the perspective of developing content technology as experienced during the amalgamation of the online and “real” phase of Maig’98.

This is just the beginning. I am certain that Barcelona inspired more ideas and projects and we would like to get to know them and put them to work.

Translation: Bridget King.