NEF - Le Livre 010101 de Marie Lebert - From the Print Media to the Internet

From the Print Media to the Internet (1999)
2. The Internet

2.1. The Internet and the Other Media
2.2. The "Info-Rich" and the "Info-Poor"
2.3. The Web: First English, then Multilingual

2.1. The Internet and the Other Media

Since a few years ago, the Internet has become integrated into our daily life, and people have gotten connected at home, at work or in their university. At the end of 1997, the number of Internet users was estimated at 90 or 100 million, with one million new users every month. In the year 2000, the number of Internet users will be over 300 million.

Does the Internet compete directly with television and reading? In Quebec, where 30.7% of the population is connected, a poll taken in March 1998 for the cybermagazine Branchez-vous! showed that 28.8% of connected Quebeckers were watching television less than before. Only 12.1% were reading less. As stated by the French Canadian magazine Multimédium in its article of April 2, 1998, it was "rather encouraging for the Ministry of Culture and Communications which has the double task of furthering the development of information highways... and reading!"

The Internet has become the medium of choice for many news consumers, in many cases matching and occasionally surpassing traditional forms of media, according to a survey conducted in February 1998 for MSNBC on the Internet by Market Facts.

In an article of Internet Wire, February, 1998, Merrill Brown, editor-in-chief of on-line MSNBC, wrote:

"The Internet news usage behavior pattern is shaping up similar to broadcast television in terms of weekday use, and is used more than cable television, newspapers and magazines during that same period of time. Additionally, on Saturdays, the Internet is used more than broadcast television, radio or newspapers, and on a weekly basis has nearly the same hours of use as newspapers."

The corresponding number of hours per week are: 2.4 hours for magazines; 3.5 hours for the Internet; 3.6 hours for newspapers; 4.5 hours for radio; 5 hours for cable TV; and 5.7 hours for broadcast TV.

When interviewed in Autumn 1997 by François Lemelin, chief editor of L'Album, the official publication of the Club Macintosh de Québec, Jean-Pierre Cloutier, editor of the Chroniques de Cybérie, explained:

"I think the medium [the Internet] is going to continue being essential, and then give birth to original, precise, specific services, bywhich time we will have found an economic model of viability. For information cybermedias like the Chroniques de Cybérie as well as for info-services, community and on-line public services, electronic commerce, distance learning, the post-modern policy which is going to change the elected representatives/principals, in fact, everything is coming around. [...]

Concerning the relationship with other media, I think we need to look backwards. Contrary to the words of alarmists in previous times, radio didn't kill music or the entertainment industry any more than the cinema did. Television didn't kill radio or cinema. Nor did home videos. When a new medium arrives, it makes some room for itself, the others adjust, there is a transition period, then a 'convergence'.

What is different with the Internet is the interactive dimension of the medium and its possible impact. We are still thinking about that, we are watching to see what happens.

Also, as a medium, the Net allows the emergence of new concepts in the field of communication, and on the human level, too - even for non-connected people. I remember (yes, I am that old) when McLuhan arrived, at the end of the sixties, with his concept of 'global village' basing itself on television and telephone, and he was predicting data exchange between computers. There were people, in Africa, without television and telephone, who read and understood McLuhan. And McLuhan changed things in their vision of the world. The Internet has the same effect. It gives rise to some thinking on communication, private life, freedom of expression, the values we are attached to and those we are ready to get rid of, and it is this effect which makes it such a powerful, important medium."

The Web must not only give the necessary space to all languages but it must also respect all cultures. During the Symposium on Multimedia Convergence organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Geneva, Switzerland, in January 1997, Shinji Matsumoto, General Secretary of the Musicians' Union of Japan (MUJ), declared:

"It is not only in developing countries, but in advanced countries as well that we need to maintain our traditions. Japan is quite receptive to foreign culture and foreign technology. [...] Foreign culture is pouring into Japan and, in fact, the domestic market is being dominated by foreign products. Despite this, when it comes to preserving and further developing Japanese culture, there has been insufficient support from the Government. [...] With the development of information networks, the earth is getting smaller and it is wonderful to be able to make cultural exchanges across vast distances and to deepen mutual understanding among people. We have to remember to respect national cultures and social systems."

The Technorealism website first appeared on the Web on March 12, 1998. According to the website, technorealism is "an attempt to assess the social and political implications of technologies so that we might all have more control over the shape of our future. The heart of the technorealist approach involves a continuous critical examination of how technologies - whether cutting-edge or mundane - might help or hinder us in the struggle to improve the quality of our personal lives, our communities, and our economic, social, and political structures."

The eight principles of Technorealism Overview have been signed by over 1,472 people between March 12 and August 20, 1998. Here are the first three:

"1. Technologies are not neutral.

A great misconception of our time is the idea that technologies are completely free of bias - that because they are inanimate artifacts, they don't promote certain kinds of behaviors over others. In truth, technologies come loaded with both intended and unintended social, political, and economic leanings. Every tool provides its users with a particular manner of seeing the world and specific ways of interacting with others. It is important for each of us to consider the biases of various technologies and to seek out those that reflect our values and aspirations.

2. The Internet is revolutionary, but not Utopian.

The Net is an extraordinary communications tool that provides a range of new opportunities for people, communities, businesses, and government. Yet as cyberspace becomes more populated, it increasingly resembles society at large, in all its complexity. For every empowering or enlightening aspect of the wired life, there will also be dimensions that are malicious, perverse, or rather ordinary.

3. Government has an important role to play on the electronic frontier.

Contrary to some claims, cyberspace is not formally a place or jurisdiction separate from Earth. While governments should respect the rules and customs that have arisen in cyberspace, and should not stifle this new world with inefficient regulation or censorship, it is foolish to say that the public has no sovereignty over what an errant citizen or fraudulent corporation does on-line. As the representative of the people and the guardian of democratic values, the state has the right and responsibility to help integrate cyberspace and conventional society.

Technology standards and privacy issues, for example, are too important to be entrusted to the marketplace alone. Competing software firms have little interest in preserving the open standards that are essential to a fully functioning interactive network. Markets encourage innovation, but they do not necessarily insure the public interest."

2.2. The "Info-Rich" and the "Info-Poor"

There is a close correlation between economic and social development and access to telecommunications. Access to new communication technologies expands much more rapidly in the North than in the South, and there are many more web servers in North America and in Europe than on the other continents. Two-thirds of the Internet users live in the United States, where 40% of households are equipped with a computer, a percentage that we also find in Denmark, Switzerland and Netherlands. The percentage is 30% in Germany, 25% in United Kingdom, and 20% for most industrialized countries.

The statistics of March 1998 on the percentage of connections per number of inhabitants, available in the Computer Industry Almanach (CIA), a reference document on the evolution of cyberspace, show that Finland is the most connected country in the world with 25% of its population connected, followed by Norway (23%) and Iceland (22.7%). The United States is in fourth place with 20%. Eleven countries in the world have a proportion of Internet users above 10%, and Switzerland is eleventh, with 10.7%.

Regarding the global percentage, the statistics of end 1997 of the Computer Industry Almanach - which take into consideration the connections at home, at work and in academic institutions - show that the United States is still considerably ahead with 54.68% of the global percentage, followed by Japan (7.97%), the United Kingdom (5.83%) and Canada (4.33%). The survey also shows that the US lead is constantly decreasing - it went from 80% in 1991 to less than 65% in 1994, with prospects of 50% in 1998 and less than 40% in 2000.

Nevertheless, if we consider the whole planet, universal access to information highways is far from the reality. Regarding basic telephony, teledensity varies from more than 60 phone lines per 100 inhabitants in the richest countries to less than one in the poorest countries. Fifty per cent of phone lines in the world are in northern America and western Europe. Half of the world's population has never used a phone.

In the developing countries, it is unlikely that Internet connections will use traditional phone lines, as there are other technological solutions. The developing countries' equipment rate for digital lines is equivalent to the rate of industrialized countries. The growth in mobile telephony is also spectacular. The solution could be brought by cellular radiotelephony and satellite connection.

However, the demarcation between the "info-rich" and the "info-poor" does not systematically follow the demarcation between the so-called developed and developing countries. Access to information technology in the so-called rich countries is also rather uneven. Some developing countries, such as Malaysia or a number of countries in Latin America, have a very dynamic telecommunication policy. In the documents prepared for the second Conference on the Development of Telecommunications in the World, organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) from March 23 to April 1, 1998 in Valletta, Malta, it was stated that several developing countries, such as Botswana, China, Chile, Thailand, Hungary, Ghana and Mauritius, succeeded in extending the density and the quality of their phone services during the last three years. On the other hand, the situation was getting worse for the poorest countries.

During the ILO Symposium on Multimedia Convergence held in January 1997, Wilfred Kiboro, Managing Director and Chief Executive of Nation Printers and Publishers Ltd., Kenya, stated:

"Information technology needs to be brought to affordable levels. I have a dream that perhaps in our lifetime in Africa, we will see villagers being able to access [the] Internet from their rural villages where today there is no water and no electricity. We hope they will be able to watch Sky News on their portable televisions, but maybe this is just a dream."

For the media particularly, there is an abyss between the 'info-rich' and the 'info-poor'. In many African countries, the circulation of newspapers is very low compared to the population figures, and each copy is read by at least twenty people. According to Wilfred Kiboro, who noticed in his company a drop in the newspapers' price thanks to multimedia convergence, distribution costs could drop with the use of a printing system by satellite which could do away with the need for transporting newspapers by truck throughout the country.

Nevertheless, multimedia convergence in particular and the globalization of the economy in general has put the developing countries in a position of inferiority because the printing and radio-television broadcasting means are in the hands of a few main western groups. Cultural problems exist alongside economic problems. Paradoxically, information relating to Africa and broadcast for Africans doesn't come from the African continent, but is broadcast by westerners who transmit their own vision of Africa, without any real perception of its economic and social situation.

Some developing countries - such as Mauritania - rely on the Web to regain prestige, as explained by Emmanuel Genty and Jean-Pierre Turquoi in the daily French newspaper Le Monde of March 30, 1998. Mauritania presented its Government Official Site at the headquarters of the World Bank during the Days of the Consultative Group for Mauritania (Journées du Groupe consultatif pour la Mauritanie) on March 25-27, 1998. This event took place following the media focus on the continued existence of slavery in this country, despite the fact that it has been officially abolished for years. The website is intended to be the country's shop window for tourists and foreign investors. On the other hand, the use of the Internet inside the country is heavily regulated by the Post and Telecommunication Office (Office des postes et des télécommunications - OPT), which is the national operator. And things are made even more difficult because of prohibitive connection costs - three times the cost of a local phone call.

China is also discovering digital information through the China Wide Web, which is the country's national Internet. The number of its subscribers jumped from 100,000 in 1996 to 600,000 in 1997. Set up by the China Internet Corporation (CIC), a company based in Hong Kong, the China Wide Web is a business and information network more or less cut off from the rest of the world, and screened and controlled by the Chinese authorities.

The abyss between the "info-rich" and the "info-poor" is not only the one dividing developed and developing countries. In any country, there are gaps between the rich and the poor, the employed and the unemployed, the people who belong to society and the people who are rejected by it. As a new communication medium, the Internet can be a way out of the abyss. Anyone can have an e-mail address on the Net. Anyone can use the Web in the public library or in the premises of some association, to find information or look for a job.

2.3. The Web: First English, Then Multilingual

In the beginning, the Web was nearly 100% English, which can be easily explained by the fact that the Internet was created in the United States as a network set up by the Pentagon (in 1969) before spreading to US governmental agencies and to universities. After the creation of the World Wide Web in 1989-90 by Tim Berners-Lee at the CERN (European Laboratory for Particle Physics), Geneva, Switzerland, and the distribution of the first browser Mosaic (the ancestor of Netscape) from November 1993 onwards, the Web, too, began to spread, first in the US thanks to considerable investments made by the government, then around North America, and then to the rest of the world.

The fact that there are many more Internet surfers in the US and Canada than in any other country is due to different factors - these countries are among the leaders in the latest computing and communication technologies, and hardware and software, as well as local phone communications, are much cheaper there than in the rest of the world.

In Hugues Henry's article, La francophonie en quête d'identité sur le Web (Francophony in search of identity on the Web), published in the Dossiers of the daily cybermagazine Multimédium, Jean-Pierre Cloutier, author of Chroniques de Cybérie, a weekly cybermagazine widely read in the French-speaking Internet community, explained:

"In Quebec I am spending about 120 hours per month on-line. My Internet access is $30 [Canadian]; if I add my all-inclusive phone bill which is about $40 (with various optional services), the total cost of my connection is $70 per month. I leave you to guess what the price would be in France, in Belgium or in Switzerland, where the local communications are billed by the minute, for the same number of hours on-line."

It follows that many European surfers spend much less time on the Web than they would like, or choose to surf at night to cut their expenses. At the end of 1998, in several countries (Italy, Germany, France, etc.), surfers began to boycott the Internet for one day to make phone companies aware of their needs and give them a special monthly rate.

In 1997, Babel - a joint initiative from Alis Technologies and the Internet Society, ran the first major study of the actual distribution of languages on the Internet. The results are published in the Web Languages Hit Parade, dated June 1997, and the languages, listed in order of usage, are: English 82.3%, German 4.0%, Japanese 1.6%, French 1.5%, Spanish 1.1%, Swedish 1.1%, and Italian 1.0%.

To reach as large an audience as possible, the solution is to create bilingual, trilingual, even multilingual sites. The website of the Belgian daily newspaper Le Soir presents the newspaper in six languages: French, English, Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish. The French Club des poètes (Club of Poets), a French site dedicated to poetry, presents its site in English, Spanish and Portuguese. E-Mail-Planet, a free e-mail address provider, provides a menu in six languages (English, Finnish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish).

As the Web quickly spreads worldwide, more and more operators of English-language sites which are concerned by the internationalization of the Web recognize that, although English may be the main international language for exchanges of all kinds, not everyone in the world reads English.

Since December 1997 any Internet surfer can use AltaVista Translation, which translates English web pages (up to three pages at the same time) into French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, and vice versa. The Internet surfer can also buy and use Web translation software. In both cases he will get a usable but imperfect machine-translated result which may be very helpful, but will never have the same quality as a translation prepared by a human translator with special knowledge of the subject and the contents of the site.

The increase in multilingual sites will make it possible to include more diverse languages on the Internet. And more free translation software will improve communication among everyone in the international Internet community.

In Web embraces language translation, an article published in ZDNN (ZD Network News) of July 21, 1998, Martha L. Stone explained:

"This year, the number of new non-English websites is expected to outpace the growth of new sites in English, as the cyber world truly becomes a 'World Wide Web'. [...] According to Global Reach, the fastest growing groups of Web newbies are non-English-speaking: Spanish, 22.4 percent; Japanese, 12.3 percent; German, 14 percent; and French, 10 percent. An estimated 55.7 million people access the Web whose native language is not English. [...] Only 6 percent of the world population speaks English as a native language (16 percent speak Spanish), while about 80 percent of all web pages are in English."

Robert Ware is the creator of OneLook Dictionaries, a fast finder for 2,061,220 words in 432 dictionaries (as of December 10, 1998) in various fields: business; computer/Internet; medical; miscellaneous; religion; science; sports; technology; general; and slang. In his e-mail to me of September 2, 1998, he wrote:

"An interesting thing happened earlier in the history of the Internet and I think I learned something from it.

In 1994, I was working for a college and trying to install a software package on a particular type of computer. I located a person who was working on the same problem and we began exchanging email. Suddenly, it hit me... the software was written only 30 miles away but I was getting help from a person half way around the world. Distance and geography no longer mattered!

OK, this is great! But what is it leading to? I am only able to communicate in English but, fortunately, the other person could use English as well as German which was his mother tongue. The Internet has removed one barrier (distance) but with that comes the barrier of language.

It seems that the Internet is moving people in two quite different directions at the same time. The Internet (initially based on English) is connecting people all around the world. This is further promoting a common language for people to use for communication. But it is also creating contact between people of different languages and creates a greater interest in multilingualism. A common language is great but in no way replaces this need.

So the Internet promotes both a common language AND multilingualism. The good news is that it helps provide solutions. The increased interest and need is creating incentives for people around the world to create improved language courses and other assistance and the Internet is providing fast and inexpensive opportunities to make them available."

For more information about the Web and languages, see my study about Multilingualism on the Web.

Chapter 3: On-Line Bookstores
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© 1999 Marie Lebert