Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban media continue to warn us of the dangers of the Internet (both real and imagined). The latest show to join this offensive is Pasaje a lo desconocido (“Journey to the Unknown”). The general impression one gets, as always, is that the reality beyond our borders is an authentic disaster and that ours is the best of possible worlds.
I will quote the show’s excellent host, journalist Reynaldo Taladrid, and invite you to “draw your own conclusions.” For the time being, I will say only that I agree with the premise but that I do not accept the terms of the contract derived from it.
At the beginning of the show, they try to convince us that Google, Facebook and LinkedIn (to name the most popular networks) constitute a dangerous assault on our privacy and almost suggest we unplug ourselves from these online instruments. The examples used are serious cases illustrating the discontent of people in highly developed countries, chiefly the United States.
I applaud the way in which US citizens watch over their right to privacy – it demonstrates the unshakable spirit of individuality that prevails in that great, democratic nation, a spirit which has nothing to do with demagogic individualism. What I find counterproductive is trying to apply such criteria to Cubans, who live in a very different society.
When a person’s main concern on waking up is being able to have at least a glass of milk for breakfast, they are not likely to care about any assault on their privacy over Facebook, a network which, for the most part, is totally beyond their reach (for reasons we know too well).
The user agreements that computer programs present us with are another issue. The many paragraphs of legal jargon are often ignored by the user, who generally accepts the contract without reading it. Not many users ever read these texts, in Cuba or abroad. The reason is fairly obvious, but the details involved are different in the case of my country.
First of all, lacking an Internet connection, most of my compatriots install pirated software in their computers. They therefore care nothing about the legal terms of a user agreement, as they are breaking the law from the word go. Despite that, in much the same way things work on our island, one has to put up one’s hand in a show of agreement. The same thing holds for any software one wants to install – one has to accept its terms, there is no other option.
There’s another detail to bear in mind. Cuba also produces software and applies norms that are similar to the international standard in this connection: long texts that include very specific restrictions related to freedom of expression and the exchange of information. That said, we are something of a special case in the world of computing as well (and attempts at comparing our reality to that of other nations aren’t exactly fruitful).
Those who use Facebook at least consciously decide to give other people access to a part of their lives. As President Obama, a recognized social network expert, rightly said, people have to be careful about what they write on Facebook.
Cubans must first have the option of being careful or not before any of this can have any meaning for them. First things first, as English-speakers wisely say. I didn’t like last Sunday’s Pasaje a lo desconocido. Though Taladrid is a talented journalist, you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole.
In Havana, I have no other alternative than to accept the agreement I am given when I install a piece of software. As a self-respecting Cuban, however, I reserve the right not to accept the terms of contract I am forced to live under.
Vicente Morín Aguado: firstname.lastname@example.org