The “Internet spirit”

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
28 June, 2016
Editorial: 8
Fecha de publicación original: 27 febrero, 1996

Date of publication: 27/02/1996. Editorial 008.

He who is given a choice is given an understanding

More than once a month I am asked to give a seminar on Internet and its possibilities. Since mid-1995 I have encountered people from a wide spectrum of professions, from my fellow journalists — on the whole a technophobic bunch perhaps because of the way computers have flooded newsrooms sweeping away overnight the way they used to work, which in hindsight they associate now with a certain bohemian spirit– to doctors, students, university and school teachers, publishers, designers, entrepreneurs, service suppliers of different types and even a lay religious order. My audience, as you can see, is varied. The same does not apply to the subject under discussion. In the first place, everybody obviously wants to know what Internet is (including fundamental existential questions such as who is behind the Net, Clinton, Gates, the CIA, AT&T, the Fortune 500, God or all of them rolled together?). When time is running out and the session is about to end, the subject turns to more down-to-earth and “less significant” questions, such as how they can use the Internet, who is connected, how much it costs and what its advantages are.

This, I should add, is the most interesting part of the seminars because at this point in the talks 1,001 questions are raised which will determine how each person takes advantage of the Net should they begin to use it. If I kept note (and I am doing so) of all the worries and doubts that come up at this point in the discussions I would have a fascinating FAQ list. In the first place, it would be an accurate barometer of what “digital illiteracy” means and the liturgy of prejudice that goes hand-in-hand with it. But, in the second place, and more importantly, it would enable us to keep a register of what exactly is happening in Internet: the speed at which solutions appear for its own deficiencies. I would call this the “Internet spirit”. As they navigate through cyberspace, the inhabitants of the Internet have developed a modus operandi in which their neurons are on constant alert in the mode “hot pursuit of problems” so that they can proceed immediately to look for solutions. This behaviour, it seems to me, is a fact as fundamental, or more so, than others so frequently cited, for example that a new web is launched every 4 seconds, that 700 new WWW servers appear every day or that the population of the Net doubles every nine months.

When I get home after each seminar, I have the corresponding list of “inconveniences and doubts” the audience brought up –and on the Internet there are thousands or as many as you could wish to find if you want to nitpick– and I use them as a guide for assessing how the Net is evolving. Invariably, at the next conference, I am able to explain that dozens of new solutions that have been found or that someone — individual, organisation, company, service supplier etc. — is in the process of resolving many of the difficulties that were raised. For example: the massive volume of information on the Internet, that great obstacle which inexplicably terrifies proto-internauts, is presented in a more structured fashion with each passing day, is easier to search, more personalised, while, at the same time, maintaining that anarchic fragrance that characterises the Net. The operating systems and power of the search engines are constantly being refined and increased. Multi-lingual translators are beginning to help those who, justifiably, want to publish in their own language on the Net. And, in the short term, a profound change on the WWW is inevitable: instead of having to consult a remote server where information is stored, users will be able to send a request for what they need and the server will send back a personalized reply. These are but a few of the solutions to the most common concerns expressed by future users. Thousands of problems, difficulties, real digital abysses, have been transcended along the way and in less than two years of “Internet spirit” they have been relegated to the still non-existent museum of the information society.

It is difficult for those who are not connected to understand –and almost as difficult to explain to them– the mysterious mechanism which keeps this spirit alive and is the Internet’s most note-worthy trait. This is above all because, in our daily lives, experience tells us that usually the opposite occurs. When we come up against real problems at work, within the family or in social relations, the effort required to find people willing to look for and implement solutions is so great that we often prefer the easy way out, and take a short cut to conceal the lack of any spirit of collaboration thereby only aggravating the problem in the end. In the world of interactive communication in cyberspace, for some reason, exactly the opposite happens. And the explanation cannot be put down to the usual “economic factors”, which add a much more attractive dimension to this collaborative effort.

Translation: Bridget King