The voices reach the pyramid

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
21 June, 2016
Editorial: 5
Fecha de publicación original: 6 febrero, 1996

Date of publication: 06/02/1996. Editorial 005.

He who keeps company with wolves, will learn to howl

A warning to the onlookers in the harbour and those about to embark: Internet does not, and will not, solve the problem of human happiness. I’m sorry but that’s just the way it is. This is one of the few things that we can say at the moment with any certainty about life on the Net and its unforeseeable evolution in the future. It’s necessary to make this clear because more and more people observing this phenomenon from the sidelines, perhaps because they are overwhelmed by the ubiquity of the Internet and its penetration into all facets of our daily life, are feeling it necessary to point this out. In other words, they won’t take the plunge because if the Net does not contribute to the greater sum of human happiness what is the attraction of delving into a computer to find out what your neighbour says?

The question of happiness, however, also seems to be gaining ground among some cybernauts who seem to see themselves in the role of surgeons: with a scalpel in their hands they watch cyberspace predisposed to cut out any ambiguous humours that might arise in the virtual body. For example, the Mexican sociologist Raúl Trejo, winner of the Fundesco prize for his book “The New Magic Carpet”, on receiving the award pointed out Internet’s incapacity to resolve once and for all our unceasing search for happiness. Well now, if happiness (what is happiness?) were the only governing criteria of our behaviour, it’s clear that things would have turned out very differently this century above all technology-wise. Very few people could say emphatically that they have reached the heights of pleasure through technological innovations — and if they do they are always suspected of having some kind of screw loose. We could ask those who have entered so emphatically in the happiness game what orgasmic sensations the telephone has produced in them. Unless they are hooked on “party-lines” (which is quite another problem), it’s almost certainly true to say that putting ones finger into holes and onto buttons made of bakelite (before) and plastic (now) several times a day does not exactly produce sublime pleasure. Nevertheless, this is what they do with an enthusiasm and assiduousness worthy of more gratifying activities.

One gets the impression that behind this shield of “happiness” lie greater fears, and not just the not being able to resolve our existential angst on the Internet. Fears connected with the future of our society , such as the fear — subtle or explicit — which life in the big cities inspires, the range of threats that hang over the heads of vast sections of the population, whole countries condemned to an irrevocable inferno, the abysmal discrepancy between the functioning of political systems and the aspirations of the citizens that uphold them and the ever sharper cutting edge of the power pyramid on a world scale.

Internet (and communications networks in general) grows, as an “infostructure”, within the mould of the global economy, it is subject to the laws and vicissitudes of the world market. Internet has been engendered by this economic system and therefore it has inherited its virtues and vices. The Net does not get a certificate of good behaviour just because things that we did before can be done better within it. Neither does it deserve to be burnt at the stake because it inevitably brings with it the ugliest face of capitalist society, such as organised crime, insecurity, corporate control, individual or collective manipulation or the dissemination of dangerous ideas (whatever this might mean).

Will Internet solve these problems merely by its existence? No, this is not the kind of happiness to be found in the Net. Which does not mean that everything that happens there is just the mere continuity of the real world in digital version. There are new aspects of life on the Net that are already shaking some of the most deep-seated concepts of our society. Perhaps this explains attacks on the Internet launched recently by some of the most powerful states in the world. Only this week, a quick survey of teletexts issued by the biggest press agencies showed interestingly that all the news which indicated that the Internet is a threat to the family, tradition and the state came from the U.S.A., Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan and China. Is the power pyramid sharpening its knives?

But, where does the threat really lie? Is Internet truly predisposed to defend “obvious” causes? What these attacks are aimed at are some of the ingredients of the networks which up to now were not only alien to the economic process but were energetically repressed, the most outstanding of which is interactivity. While it is true that the phenomenon of remote interaction among people surpasses its economic base it does not do so to the point of creating new and completely autonomous economic relations ruled by laws different to those in force at the moment. Where Internet marks a sharp difference is in opening new ground for the exchange of ideas of a kind which has not existed since the Industrial Revolution. It’s a space where the voices of those never before heard — or who did not dare to speak — can be raised. The fact that they do this in a chaotic and disorganised manner is not exactly the most serious problem. After all, we are making incursions into unknown territory for which we are not very well-prepared: talking to our neighbours in a place where distance, nationality, creed or colour are no constraint.

It will take time to understand what the best way to do this is, how to construct electronic neighbourhoods, where the agora that most interests us is to be found or how to inject a purpose into this new kind of relationship. When we get there — if we get there — we will still be trying to figure out what the devil happiness is. In the same way as we try now to find out what the end result of this extraordinary event in which millions of people are deciding to say what they think will be, knowing that others hear and respond to them. Those of the pyramid do not know the answer either. That’s why they are also howling.

Translation: Bridget King