The old man, the Internet and me – Part One

I am a guajiro, a peasant. I was born on a distant mountain in a little island of huts surrounded by canefields.  I was nine the first time I went to the beach.  I was sixteen the first time I went out to fish in a small boat.  Since then, I like the sea.  From that time, so long ago, I keep the dream of a house made of wood from which you can see it, a place to grow old breathing the salt air and warming my body in the morning sun.  I, like so many others, before and after, dream of the sea.

In his novella “The Old Man and the Sea” Ernest Hemingway comments on the custom of using the female gender to refer to the sea.  He says there are those who want to speak ill of it, but they always do so with respect, as if it were a woman.  Some young fishermen, who have motor boats bought in good times, speak of the sea like a contender or a place, or as they speak to an enemy.  But the old man Santiago always conceived of it as belonging to the female gender, as something that grants or denies huge favors, and if it does evil and terrible things it is because it can’t help it.  Until moon affects him, just like a woman.

Since ancient times, man has gone to the sea to communicate, trade and make war.  Great advances have been made in navigation.  Great also have been the catastrophes that this fickle lady has caused to curb the excesses of our pride.  Even in our age of global telecommunications and satellite-assisted navigation, sailors sail her with ancestral respect.  They know that at any moment they may be faced with her fury, sometimes fatal.

We Cubans, who have always walked along the pathways of the sea, the same in ransom and contraband with pirates fishing offshore in the cold seas of the north, carrying troops to Africa (crowded in the holds of ships, similar to the taking of the Africans to become slaves of the army) and bringing bicycles from China, we find ourselves now, although it seems paradoxical, very far from the sea.  Its delicious fruits, which helped to develop the brain of primitive man, have been absent from our tables for decades.   Maintaining a boat is a far larger problem than owning a car.  To sail the sea you must have authorization, and as it’s grotesque to have to ask permission to have fun, those who go there do so in search of a consumer product or trade.  Sad paradox to live on an island and turn your back to the sea.

Of our relationship with the sea is paradoxical, the one we have with the Internet is no less so.  These two worlds, of dissimilar appearance, have much in common.  The first is of natural origin, created long before man walked its coastlines and from it, life on the planet arose.  The second is artificial, a recent product of human science and it’s radically changing the way in which we develop our lives, both as individuals and at a planetary scale.  For both, one navigates and surfs, ports and coordinates are used, in both logs are maintained and routes plotted.  From the comfort of a room, people around the world have the network to communicate, trade and wage war.  We Cubans, the sons of exceptionality, in spite of the terrible condition of the optical fiber everywhere and the promise of computerizing the society, still today, late in the first decade of the promising new century, are very disconnected from the Internet.

Like a stormy passion that shakes our life, access to the network of networks marks a before and—unfortunately if it is lost—also an after.  Like drugs, its use causes addiction and also euphoria.  Since that early morning at the end of the last century, when, in front of a dark UNIX console I celebrated for the first time the miracle of writing a URL address and receiving the corresponding hypertext, I, like so many others, before and after, dream of the Internet.