HAVANA TIMES — Back in the distant ‘90s — the romantic era of the Internet — those of us who worked at Havana’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) were among the first Cuban “non-computer specialists” to learn about the functioning of the World Wide Web.
The excellent computer experts at the center gave us a course on the Internet; they even set up a model of it there at CIGB.
Back then, I was surprised how the network was organized, particularly the newly released WWW, a decentralized hypertextual matrix. What I found strange and yet exciting was how the Internet wasn’t owned by anyone (though its components were). It existed as a kind of independent territory, where everyone (those with the resources to do so) could leave their imprint and make creative contributions.
Those were the times after the collapse of euro-“Soviet”-style “socialism,” so I was glad to see the birth of this pragmatic “utopia.” I saw it as one that could serve to unite people worldwide and that operated on principles quite distinct from the segregation of ownership and the classic command-and-control system. It was like the return of the old notion of what was “common.”
I remember joking about how, if there hadn’t been a “collapse,” the “Soviets” surely would have invented an “Internet” segregated from the “Western” one.
Anyway, the CIGB computer specialists explained to us back then how non-commercial societies administered the allocation network domains …and much more. But we were looking forward to surfing “for real” — although many technical conditions already existed by the middle of the ‘90s to impose iron rules whereby permission from five ministries was necessary for this.
Nonetheless, the most enthusiastic among us copied documents like “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” by the cyber activist (and member of the US Republican Party) John Perry Barlow. We shared the same dreams as those “geeks” who invented Linux and Wikipedia, projects outside of modern logic of standard control.
Out of what was called “post-modernism,” I believe the Internet was the only practical and still living fruit.
Subsequently, cyberspace suffered the bursting of the “dot com bubble” followed by the boom of social networking …while Cuban access remains largely precarious.
I just found out that a group of states — China, Russia, Iran and those in some Arab countries — are promoting an initiative to transfer jurisdiction over the Internet to the International Communications Union, a specialized international organization of the UN, which up until now has regulated inter-state communications with respect to radios, telephones, etc.
In other words, the entire internet (and not just it parts) would then become subject to regulation by governments.
I don’t like the idea. Cyberspace is obviously not the idyllic place that many of us imagined in the ‘90s, but it’s undoubtedly a formidable instrument for solidarity and the pursuit of possible futures – ones beyond authoritarian and capitalist logics.
The mere fact that Linux and Wikipedia — efforts that obviously have nothing to do with the former Communist parties — are present-day testimonies to the real power of volunteer work, they demonstrate the principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” (as long as there’s some way to get online and time to do it!) and they embody horizontal libertarianism. This attests to how the world isn’t based only on calculations of economic efficiency in the style of corporations or on the logic of ministerial bureaucracies.
Clearly, the Internet is not an ideal place, but it at least deserves to be that: a place, a setting with its own logic.