Total Connection

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
11 April, 2018
Editorial: 191
Fecha de publicación original: 30 noviembre, 1999

The devil laughs when the hungry feed the well-fed

The titillating idea of “network computers”, launched three years ago by a small group of companies in competition with Microsoft, was immediately quashed, amongst others, by Bill Gates’ company. Now Mr. Seattle himself has deigned to descend into the arena of computer fairs to declare that the project was not such a bad idea after all and that they will be taking up the challenge with their own “Web Companion”, a machine designed to fulfil specific tasks when one connects to the Net. Over the last two weeks, almost every microelectronic corporation worth its salt has come up with its own gadget of this kind. Some days ago, Samsung demonstrated its own gadget in London. It is a pocketbook-sized folder with a brightly coloured screen, capable of surfing the Net and using files saved online. These gadgets signal a new era in our relationship with information. Instead of having to go out and look for it, it will come to us like a little lap dog. The only drawback is a serious one: we might lose all control over our own information.

Systems that save us the always laborious task of searching for information are proliferating on the Internet. Information now comes to the users, sniffs around, recognises them and sticks to them like a limpet, weaving around them a subtle web of data adapted to the particular circumstances. There are more and more places on the Net for detecting internauts and once done, they then begin to offer local information as well as that which the user habitually consumes. If we add to these the growing number of online “agendas” on offer or other personal files of this type that can be kept online, what is taking shape, little by little, is a personalised information environment capable of “going out to find us” when we log on.

The incipient marriage of the Internet and the cell phone will consecrate this new tendency and firmly establish it at the centre of the Information Society. Armed with this powerful pocket remote control, or a gadget of the “web companion” kind or any other capable of offering stored information on the Net for that matter, a unique and unprecedented experience will follow bringing us closer to what will, undoubtedly, become the “leitmotiv” of the next century: total connection.

New equipment, such as that presented at Comdex, the annual international computer fair in Las Vegas, will turn what is just a trickle at the moment into a roaring flood: transferring what we now store on personal computers –the reason for their existence — onto the Net. NC will use programmes from servers where we will also store our work, documents, data bases, etc. In this way, when we log on, the Net “will detect” us (as cell phones already do) and immediately offer us a menu with the information tagged with our name on it although it might be scattered throughout hundreds of different servers. For us, it will be just like opening our personal computer.

This paradisical situation, as always, has its good and its bad side and its corresponding serpent. The apple it offers is a tantalising one: someone to simply and directly manage the huge amount of information we normally have to handle (or we think we handle). The punishment? Losing control of it. What we are talking about here is not the invasion of privacy or giving personal information away to strangers. It means that a group of software and hardware telecommunications operators, in the interests of making surfing the Internet easier, will assign us as much “net memory” as we need to store our information, and they will offer us (or rent us) the programmes necessary for processing it. But, they will be the custodians of this memory.

It is clear that that this is an unstoppable tendency based on making Net resources more efficient, a simplification of the tasks necessary for moving information and a multiplicity of electronic gadgets of the personal consumption type. The use of this new apparatus capable of “tapping into” the Net from anywhere and in any situation and opening a passage up to our information is like putting a stick of dynamite into the hard discs of present PC’s. It demolishes this barrier, which has acted as the omnipresent indicator of digital literacy, taking a vast sector of the public by the scruff of the neck and shoving them face to face with the Information Society. At the same time, however, it leads the way to the terrible dependency of each individual on a handful of corporations that control these “personalised information storerooms” on the Net. And nobody has said anything yet about who has the rights over what is deposited there and under what conditions they will be protected from the prying eyes of others and the supervising power of those companies who have already made it sufficiently clear that their main objective on the Internet is to obtain “masses of faithful users”. Now they have the opportunity to obtain “masses of information that makes users faithful”. That’s the other side of the total connection coin.

Translation: Bridget King