First of all, allow us to speak about the internet without block capital I, as we don't speak anymore of Telephone, or Television, but simply of the telephone or of the television. It is not a trade mark, it is getting banalized and there is no more justification of reverencing Internet like a God!
I think that the internet looks today as any other real territory. It has a government in each country, it has an American ICANN institution, with regulations according to the use of domains - which should be enlarged and get international, probably under control of UNESCO. It has a cyber police, but also cyber criminality of many kinds. A large part of it is unknown from Googol (metadata and website which don't appear on the maps). So it is partly governed and partly like the Far West without a sheriff. More and more the internet goes under the law of the sociological gravity. Technically, it could be fully controlled and get transparent for those who want to control it (Big Brother), as it is difficult to erase your track as soon as you move into the cyberspace, send or receive a file, hack or pirate any music, film or software, Every gesture is inscribed in the history of the private computers and of the servers. This issue will be more and more in the future a big question mark in relation with democracy and the right to protect your private life. Unfortunately, today, the threats of terrorism justify more and more a cyber surveillance which is somehow salvage. We have to work hard to develop models of real democracy in the cyberspace, to allow a good equilibrium between liberty and regulations, new cyber laws to elaborate, including the normal real rights and sanctions. Internet is so recent with the Web, that it will need more years to establish its democracy. For the moment it is in-between Far West, a commercial mall, and cyber surveillance. Just born! A last word: it will for sure favor more and more democracy in the whole world.
What does the internet mean for humankind these days? Is it changing the attitude and formation processes of intellectual humankind? How far does the intellectual, professional, and human impact go?
Step by step, the internet will get banalized, even if it is still a privilege to have access in Cuba and many other countries. Internet is a revolution in itself. As a writer, as an academic, as a politician, as a journalist, as a businessman, as a scientist, it is getting impossible to compete with the others, to collaborate, to keep a professional status without internet. Not to speak of our private communications with so many members of our families, so many colleagues, so many friends: we are building an immense, nervous, active, powerful network locally and internationally. The internet is becoming an infrastructure of the information society, such as rivers, roads, trains, airplanes, etc. And now it is getting so cheap to use that the rates of the traditional voice telephone are dropping. Internet is transforming our cultures, our arts, our private lives, our democracies, the ways of developing education, economies, banking, criminality, etc. I have described in Digital Shock (McGill and Queen's University Press, Canada, 2006) these soft but radical changes, which I consider as important as the beginning of the era of fire in the primitive times, announcing an anthropological mutation of our species.
Are there the internet supporters and detractors? How would you define both opposing sides?
90% of the population in the world has no internet access. The digital devide is a big issue. The internet looks as an extension of the metropolitan cities and still don't reach the rural areas and the poor countries. As such it digs deeper for now on the gap between rich and poor countries, between inforichs and infopoors. But thanks to the satellite it will be more and more invasive. The humanitarian organizations should and will use it more and more as a developing tool for education, health, microeconomy, local communities, such as groups of African women, etc. The World Summits of the Information Society organized by the United Nations in Geneva and in Tunis have intended to sensibilize all of us to the power of Internet as a developing opportunity, even if it still needs basic infrastructures such as electricity and a minimum of education, literacy, etc. In India, the Simputer may become, within a few years, a basic computer with batteries, tactile screen, multilingual functions and internet satellite connection, allowing for one hundred dollars each to support many developing issues of this country and later on of any emerging country of the world. The quantity of the production will allow the prices of production to drop dramatically, as it happened with radios. We started with internet as a mass media only ten years ago. Think just of 50 years ahead. If the planet has not been destroyed meanwhile, it will become more and more a digital planet (Hyper Planet, vlb, Montreal, 2004).
For instance, the internet allows Cuba to escape its isolation and to connect with the whole world, broadcasting Cuban culture and ideas. The US blockade is not able to stop it.
In previous years you opened the morning newspapers or listened to the news at any time of the day and thought you were updated with whatever was going on in the world. That’s not the case nowadays. The internet offers now a plurality and a wide variety of information sources. So much so that it makes you feel misinformed. Is this a true feeling or is it just confusion due to the variety of sources? Is the internet kind of saying: you were misinformed before, or wrongly well informed, which makes it even worse?
We will learn more and more with time to navigate in the cyberlabyrinth and select our websites. Too much pluralism and a lack of credibility of much information is an excellent opportunity for education and more democracy. We should think of integrating the use of internet in school classes, like teaching reading and calculating. Of course, internet is a self media and a mass media at the same time, which favors cultural diversity but also a loss of authority of the information. This is an unknown situation, a challenge. But again, don't expect to have a maturity of the uses of internet within only ten years! We are, so to speak, immigrants in the cyberworld. We need to adapt ourselves. Therefore, we receive it as a digital shock, which we have to learn to master. But think of our children. In the developed countries, they are cybernatives, like fish in the water. The danger is more on the lack of critical distance and addiction. Because internet is like a drug, a psychotropic drug stimulating our desires, giving the illusion of escaping the real difficult world into games and entertainment, or offering role videogames with multi-users, in which they may think they are getting magically powerful.
No matter how hard you organize the sources and accesses, surfing the web gives the idea that the more you read and advance, the less you know. It is a feeling of uncertainty. You feel small, helpless, misinformed. You feel that you know nothing and that you are walking in the jungle. Is this a fact or just a myth? Can this feeling harm humankind?
A strong awareness of the human relativity of everything is very important. We have to adapt ourselves to the new technology, as we had to adapt to industrialization and urban life in the XIX century. It is stimulating but difficult. It needs from us to be able to master new challenges, to develop new cyber humanism, which I call hyperhumanism. But never forget that we should not oppose humanism to machinism. Machines are human, because they are invented by human beings for human users. There is a shock because it is sudden and radical, because it presents itself as a human mutation. But this is not the first human mutation since the time humanity stepped down from the trees and started to walk vertically and to develop a very sophisticated new brain. Human evolution is going ahead, with new needs for adaptation, big risks of destroying ourselves (this is brand new and calls for an evolution of our cerebral maturity and skills), as the gap between our instrumental digital power and our human wisdom is expanding. Our lives and destiny are getting more and more dangerous. The question is: will our human brain mutate quickly enough to allow us to master the next step, or shall we disappear like arrogant and imprudent sorcerers’ apprentices?
How can we dominate the internet? Is this possible? Is it going to get worse in the future?
I am pessimistic by prudence and optimistic by will. We all have to contribute to take responsibility into this evolution. Progress is not a natural social trend. It is a fragile human will and action. The sense of life is not given to us by god or by nature. We have to build it. There is no god in the plane to pilot the human plane. We have to fly it ourselves, with knowledge, wisdom, and energy. There is no written destiny of humankind. If there is no god, no natural wisdom and justice, we have to assume these difficult responsibilities as human beings. This is the vision I have suggested in my book: Nous serons des dieux (vlb, Montreal, 2006). The digital era is calling us to more responsibility, planetary ethics and hyper humanist commitment than ever.