Raul Trejo Delarbre
La Nueva Alfombra Magica: Usos y Mitos de Internet, la Red de Redes
(The New Magic Carpet: Uses and Myths of the Internet, the Network of Networks)
Madrid: FUNDESCO (Fundacion para el Desarrollo de la Funcion Social de las Comunicaciones), 1996.
cloth, 276 p., ISBN 968-13-2932-5
Available through: Editorial Diana, Mexico, DF
Editorial Diana: email@example.com
There are now hundreds of thousands of Web sites in Latin America. You can read the news from any one of many daily newspapers, get on-the-site reports of the destruction from Hurricane Mitch, locate scholarly research conducted at Latin American universities or simply follow your favorite soccer team. Regional networks have been appearing at a rapid rate since the early 90's and "some [of these] ... have had the highest rates of growth worldwide" (Hahn, p. 58). Just as in the United States these networks serve to disseminate information about every sector of the economy and society. The most active Internet nations in Latin America include Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, Venezuela, and Uruguay. A quick visit to such mega-Web sites as: http:// lanic.utexas.edu:80 (UT-LANIC), http://ekeko.rcp.net.pe (Red Cientifica Peruana) or http://www.rtn.net.mx (Red Tecnologica Nacional. Mexico) can lead the intrepid Web explorer into a multi-lingual Latin American-based world of information.
But are the issues facing Internet development in Latin America any different from those addressed in the developing world? Mr. Trejo Delarbre's book, La Nueva Alfombra Magica, thinks so. The book is a guide, not to individual Web sites, but to the political, social, cultural and economic issues inherent in the Internet and its potential and application in developing countries. The book is an excellent synthesis of the work of scholars and Internet theorists, citing sources as diverse as Nicholas Negroponte, Herbert Schiller, Armand Mattelart, Ed Krol, Robert Reich and Stewart Brand. Trejo Delarbre weaves this with Latin American theorists and practitioners including Jose Soriano (Peru) and combines it with examples from Mexico and other Latin American countries as well as the European Community. Don't be thrown by the publication date, although it was written in 1996, the theoretical background and framework is still quite applicable and identifies areas for further discussion that are infrequently mentioned in much of the English-language literature.
Trejo Delarbre is a faculty member and researcher at the Institute for Social Research at the National Autonomous University in Mexico (UNAM) and received the FUNDESCO Essay Prize for this work in 1995 (Premio FUNDESCO de Ensayo, Spain). Using Vinod K. Jain's image of the Intenet as Aladdin's magic carpet, Trejo Delarbre views the Internet as a combination of discovery, emotion and adventure and his work attempts to address the risks and challenges within. The book is divided into five chapters:
1. Internet Globalization
2. New Realities: A Cyberspace Profile
3. New Challenges
4. State and Liberalization
5. What to do with the Networks
The opening chapters of the book cover territory familiar to most, as Trejo Delarbre identifies uses of the Internet in developing countries, e.g., distance education, entertainment, academic and scientific research, e-mail, e-commerce, telecommuting, listservs and discussion groups, online news services, and political applications. He also raises many of the same issues one would see in any Internet discussion, hackers, copyright, encryption, and evaluation of information, for example.
Even in the "familiar territory" discussion, however, he suggests themes particular to Latin America and the developing world and raises the issue of North/South conflict in this context. He introduces early on the possibility that the globalization of the Internet may create new dependencies on the developed world rather than increasing developing countries' autonomy. He raises issues of national sovereignty in the increasing globalization of the Internet and introduces the idea that national and regional information policies are necessary to reduce this risk. He expresses the fear that Latin Americans will be consumers only, rather than providers of information. This may be one aspect in which the book is dated, as the explosion of Latin American resources has partially corrected this assumption.
It is in the latter portions of the book that he discusses issues endemic to the developing world that impact the Internet including: access (information rich v. information poor, lack of telephones, inadequate infrastructure); stratification of social classes; and increasing movement in most Latin American countries towards privatization and free market economies. While admitting that privatization is currently a prevailing force in much of Latin America, he argues for active involvement from the state. Citing the early history of the Internet and the fact that much of the good will that currently exists has to do with the Net's antecedents in academia and the nonprofit world, he fears this may well be overtaken by commercialism. He views state involvement as critical to reasonable development of the Internet, feeling that it can't simply be left to market forces to ensure the protection of society. Trejo Delarbre views the abstention of the State in regard to Internet regulation a roadblock of potentially historic significance, that must be overcome if the Internet is to achieve its full development and economic potential. The state's role must not be overly restrictive, but it must include the development and support of infrastructure; training and development of human resources; and strategic planning, administration and development of national policies.
He also points to the possibility of cooperation between the Latin American countries and views the European Community as model. Although it is not universal throughout Latin America, Trejo Delarbre cites the commonality of the Spanish language as a possible advantage in achieving collaboration across borders.
Citing the work of Soledad Robina, he states that the Internet alone is not going to solve the political, economic and social problems that torment developing nations, but it may be seen as an indispensable tool to improve planning, elevate educational levels and disseminate scientific and technological knowledge. Trejo Delarbre views the Internet as possessing great potential for developing nations, but warns that its potential must be assessed and molded for the benefit of its citizens.
This is a very accessible book (if you read Spanish) and it is not bogged down in either technical jargon or political polemics. It is well worth a read, dictionary in hand. I have touched on only a few of Mr. Trejo Delarbre's points. I recommend the book as a work that raises many of the political, social and cultural issues regarding the development of the Internet, not only for countries in the developing world but in regard to its growth in the United States and the developed world in general. - Lucinda Covert-Vail, New York University Libraries.
If you are interested in Latin American Internet development, you might consult the following selected English-language resources or visit the sites listed above:
B. Belejack, 1996. "Cyberculture comes to the Americas," NACLA Report on the Americas, volume 30 (November/December), pp. 14-17.
R. A. Fannin, 1997. "Internet finds its audience among elite Latin Americans," Advertising Age, volume 68 (December 8), p. 3.
S. Hahn, 1997. "Widening the western Web," Americas, volume 49 (May/June), pp. 58-59.
E. Horwitt, 1997. "Latin America: It might be only 3% online today, but fasten your seat belt," Computerworld, volume 14, number 39 (September 29), pp. 17-19.
C. Ryder, 1997. "Latin America: Internet Opportunity," Computerworld, volume 14, number 39 (September 29), p. 53.