After a while one is capable of recognizing not only the people of his origin, but also the ones of his profession. Here, at the LBF, I can recognize 95 percent of the faces, although I’ve never seen them before.
I bought today my first Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable. It’s fascinating.
In the early days of the Internet majority of my friends was so overwhelmed by the opportunity to hop from site to site, from country to country, from continent to continent (we’ll have to wait for the ‘planet to planet’ part) that nobody was paying much attention to the fact that the newly found ‘unity’ was based exclusively on the new L atina Lingua , English. Only a handful of other languages, strong enough to resist, were an umbrella wide enough for significant patches of the URL map to emerge. Even these languages (such as French, German, Spanish…) were not completely immune to the lightning-fast charge of English through Web. The new technologies, previously unknown, kept appearing overnight and evolving so fast that the non-English media could not cope with the speed, and had to simply take over the signifier together with the signified concept.
This all is about to change very fast now. As the BBC reports below, the first non-Latin URLs are now introduced. What this means is that, for example, the Arabs do not have to type in the Latin URL for the site of their favourite newspaper, but can do it in Arabic. So can the Chinese readers for their Chinese sites, etc. This makes it practically impossible for the English-speaking users to access such sites. If you are using a Mac, you have the needed fonts on your machine, but who would bother trying to do it — except professional readers, such as research experts and spies.
I am rather ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I am against the dominance of any one language and/or culture. On the other hand, it was nice for a few years (almost twenty, realistically) to believe that the world could really come to a better place through improved understanding. Some seed that has already been planted will probably remain: NGOs from different continents and within different language spheres will likely continue to work together, some interest groups (geeks, terrorists, peaceniks, criminals, evangelists of all kinds — you name it) will keep talking because they have to or want to. However, the beauty of stumbling upon something interesting from another culture will at least partially be lost.
And, imagine the Web in another 20 years from today: it is easy to see how the trend of diversification will grow. There will be large areas of cultures foreign to your own (whichever it is), and — to make things worse — due to a different set of signs pretty much inaccessible to you.
How will we remember this first period of the Internet?
As the era of hope, probably. And as the decades that at the same time helped the English language and endangered it. Visit any chat, or any discussion group, and you will know what I mean: the language pretending to be English, on those sites, is so heavily distorted that it is not even a ‘lost in translation’ situation. It is more a ‘never found in English’ phenomenon.
Look, even I was encouraged enough to start writing in English. What an utter catastrophe.
Below is the link that says almost all in its title (there are more details on the landing page): New York Times is about to announce they will start charging for the access to their site. It seems that we are entering a dangerous zone regarding the world media. You have heard already that Rupert Murdoch has already decided to charge for the access to his publications, and they are many, and they are important. Some of the British newspapers are toying with the same idea, but are waiting to see how it will go for Murdoch. What all this means?
We live in times when Twitter is a significant means of information for a large number of people, and it is also a perfect metaphor for the way we are consuming our information today: give me a story in 140 characters, give me the news in a SMS form, tell me about the Apocalypse in short. I know that you will bullshit me, so at last don’t waste my time while doing that. On the one hand, we need that speed. On the other, that is a channel that should be consumed only in times of crisis, not on a daily basis, not as a main source of information.
Amateurs do not produce good information, period. If someone believes that a good blog, or a thousand good blogs, or a million great blogs can replace a source such as the Times, or the Wall Street Journal, they are delusional. If someone really believes that a million monkeys typing for a million years can produce Shakespeare—I wish them to get all their education, news and entertainment from that same workshop.
We need professional journalists, writers, editors. Now it seems that their product on the Internet will get behind a pay wall. Junkies like me will pay to enter, but there are hundreds of thousands of smart young people, or smart old people, who would love to be able to get the Times content, but won’t be able to pay for it (take the name of the newspaper here only as a symbol; I’m not crying for NYT!). What they will have to do is get their info from unreliable sources, get their news from Twitter, learn about life from Facebook. This, of course, will guarantee an increased number of those who will be prime targets for easy manipulation of all sorts: religious, political, sexual—you name it.
In case you stopped buying printed news and are reading the Internet versions exclusively, you are probably getting about 20 percent of the content, and you are missing the best commentaries and in-depth articles. In short, you are missing the vitamins and are being fed on burgers. But those burgers are still filling the empty stomachs on rainy days, and arm you with enough knowledge to protect you from malicious politicians, insurance companies, multinationals, pharmaceuticals. Or if not protect you, then at least give you some chance to fight. You did not get the whole picture, but those 20 percent of the pixels were enough to create a sketch. In the future, it will be one percent or a hundred percent.
Essentially, this business model already exists on the Inernet. Go to RapidShare site and try downloading something. You will be served with two options: free and paid. In the paid version, your download is coming from ultra-fast servers and it is really flying; once you click the ‘free’ button, you are exposed to a humiliating torture consisting of (combined) a waiting period, a choked server, pauses in downloading, denied access, etc. If they could find you, they would probably slap you, too. And very soon, you learn: when you pay, you get a powerful tool; when it’s free, it’s only a plastic toy.
Suddenly, state-funded institutions like BBC or CBC become very important. Suddenly, countries that have strong, healthy institutions of this kind, like the UK and Canada, find themselves more influential on the international scene than before. And my prediction is that this is the only chance we’ve got: that the new state-funded behemoths will start to pop-up. I simply don’t see how Putin can live without RBC.