Latin Americans Building Websites
Traditional broadcast media (that is, television and radio) are based upon technologies that limit the number of available media outlets and which may require considerable operational resources and capitalization. Print media are in principle unlimited, although at one point certain governments have regulated the availability of newsprint as a means of suppression dissension; still, print media may also require considerable operational resources and capitalization. These conditions have led to rise of an oligopoly of media powers that may have anti-democratic tendencies at times.
The Internet revolution was hailed as a democratic revolution. The cost of setting up a website is relatively low. Sites such as geocities, tripod, fortunecity, cjb, starmedia, aol and others have enabled Internet users to set up personal or commercial websites easily for minimal costs, or even for free.
In this article, we wish to ask which Latin Americans have gone ahead to create and maintain their own websites. We will cite some survey data from the TGI Latina study. This study was conducted in seven Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela) during 2001. Out of all the survey participants, there were 11,750 persons who said that they have used the Internet in the last 30 days. Among these persons, 6.2% said that they frequently engage in the activity of creating/maintaining websites. These efforts may range from a simple personal page to being a team member of a large corporate team, and the technical skills may show just as much variation.
In the next chart, we show the breakdown by age/sex groups. The web creation/maintenance activities are more popular among males and youth.
Whilst building and maintaining websites is relatively easy these days, it is nevertheless true that Internet users need to be motivated to go through with the effort (namely, getting a host, learning the tools, publicizing the website, etc). For this reason, we would expect that the infrequent user would have less interest in setting up a website. The next chart shows that the web building/maintenance is a direct increasing function of the total time that one spends on the Internet overall.
Although we have stated that it is relatively easy to set up a website, it is not totally free and frictionless. There are still many different types of direct or indirect economic costs. First of all, there is the hosting services, which may cost hundreds of dollars a month if one has special needs (such as huge storage, heavy bandwidth, database management, credit card processing, etc), to several dollars a month for a no-frills website, to free space with limited storage and bandwidth. By the way, in case you are curious, the hosting cost for ZonaLatina.com is US$14.99 (fourteen dollars and ninety-nine cents) per month, so don't let anyone fool you with proposals that contain astronomical numbers. Then, there are the costs of acquiring web creation tools which can range from freeware (including coding directly in html with a text editor) to consumer products (such as Microsoft Front Page) to professional tools (such as developers' versions of Macromedia Dreamweaver or better). After that, there is the economic opportunity costs of spending time to learn the tool and operating the website. We call this an opportunity cost because that time could have been spent in other economically productive activities.
In the next chart, we show the results by the socio-economic level of the survey respondents. There is a distinct skew towards upper socio-economic levels, for the reasons that we have listed.
While the Internet has been hailed as a democratic revolution, the reality is not as straightforward. It is one thing to enable and empower millions of people to create their own websites. This does not guarantee universal popularity for all these websites, because there exist vast variations in quality and depth. Internet users have frequently found themselves wading through hundreds of websites looking for some specific subject in vain. In the end, we have gone full circle because it is still mostly the large brands that can guarantee known service and quality.
This implosion of meaning in the media is not solely an Interent issue. We leave the reader with a long quotation from Jean Baudrillard's book, Simulacra and Simultion:
We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.
Consider three hypotheses.
Either information produces meaning (a negentropic factor), but cannot make for the brutal loss of signification in every domain. Despite efforts to reinject message and content, meaning is lost and devoured faster than it can be reinjected. In this case, one must appeal to a base productivity to replace failing media. This is the whole ideology of free speech, of media broken down into innumerable individual cells of transmission, that is, into "antimedia" (pirate radio, etc.).
Or information has nothing to do with signification. It is something else, an operational mode of another order, outside meaning and, of the circulation of meaning strictly speaking. This is Shannon's hypothesis: a sphere of information that is purely functional, a technical medium that does not imply any finality of meaning, and thus should also not be implicated in a value judgment. A kind of code, like the genetic code: it is what it is, it functions as it does, meaning is something else that in a sense comes after the fact, as it does for Monod in Chance and Necessity. In this case, there would simply be no significant relation between the inflation of information and the deflation of meaning.
Or, very much on the contrary, there is a rigorous and necessary correlation between the two, to the extent that information is directly destructive of meaning and signification, or that is neutralizes them. The loss of meaning is directly linked to the dissolving, dissuasive action of information, the media, and the mass media.
The third hypothesis is the most interesting but flies in the face of every commonly held opinion. Everywhere socialization is measured by the exposure to media messages. Whoever is under-exposed to the media is desocialized or virtually asocial. Everywhere information is thought to produce an accelerated circulation of meaning, a plus value of meaning homologous to the economic one that results from the accelerated rotation of capital. Information is thought to create communication, and even if the waste is enormous, a general consensus would have it that nevertheless, as a whole, there be an excess of meaning, which is redistributed in all the interstices of the social --- just as consensus would it that material production, despite its dysfunctions and irrationalities, opens onto an excess of wealth and social purpose. We are all complicitious in this myth. It is the alpha and omega of our modernity, without which the credibility of our social organization would collapse. Well, the fact is that it is collapsing, and for this very reason: because we think that information produces meaning, the opposite occurs.
(posted by Roland Soong, 2/7/2002)
(Return to Zona Latina's Home Page)