Frédéric Martel,

SMART, On the internets

(Translated by Adriana Hunter)


“CYBERCAFÉS ARE NO LONGER THE THING. They’re tending to shut up shop. Everyone has internet access at home now, and people go to coffee shops with free wifi,” Bashar tells me. With its logo of four little @ signs representing the internet, the Login Café is on a quiet, tree-lined, flower-bedded square in the town centre. Printed in red on the menus of this cramped, two-story establishment are the words in English “Like Us on Facebook”, and on its round cup mats: “Log in to Your Mood”. That web slogan encapsulates the optimism of a place that seems to appeal to the local youth. The Login is both a cybercafé and a café full stop; people come here to connect to the web, order a cheeseburger or an apple strudel, and have an Oreo milkshake or a guava juice. It does not serve alcohol.

If the internet has stopped being a source of income for these cafés, sales of food and drink are, as everywhere else, still good business. “Customers sometimes take photos of what they’re eating at the Login Café, and post them on Facebook or Instagram,” Bashar goes on. He is the manager and is himself fascinated by a global phenomenon which is hard to explain.

He has also noticed that social networks are now taking over from blogs. “Some bloggers still come every morning. They order an espresso, connect to the internet and post their articles, but it’s not like it was,” Bashar says, adding for good measure, “the wifi code here is ‘logincafe’ with no spaces.” He brandishes his HTC smartphone and an Android tablet to show me that it is working, and that we are definitely connected. Up on the first floor, on a large screen which is also connected I notice a video mash-up of Lady Gaga and Madonna, and, later, extracts from an American blockbuster. On another day I might watch the National Geographic Channel relayed on the internet.

Like everywhere else, everyone here is familiar with Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, which come under the ugly nickname acronym of GAFA. Every shop has its website reference on Google and its page on Facebook, and I notice several people using iPhone and iPad apps; iTunes is also very popular. Amazon, on the other hand, is not used: there are no book deliveries here, in fact there are no deliveries at all.  Instead people choose to download films illegally, watch their latest idol on YouTube or make free calls with Viber.

There is a huge portrait in the doorway of the Login Café: an American rapper’s face represented in a mosaic of a myriad tiny images. Bashar tells me it is Eminem; one of the eleven waiters who work here says it is Jay Z. The staff stand and debate this in the doorway: is the rapper black or white? What if it’s Tupac? Or Kanye West? It is actually hard to tell because the image is stylised. Someone takes a photo of the picture and promises to get me an answer by Skype.

Only metres away from the Login Café, the shop “3D” was also a cybercafé for a long time, but has had to adapt to the times. It is now a video game venue where twenty or so boys – and no girls – spend their time on Battlefield 3, Call of Duty or GTA 4. It costs the equivalent of one euro per hour per player. I chat to two students who come here regularly for a virtual football match on PES2013, and one of them is keen to tell me, “Of course, we choose Real Madrid’s colours!” They each have a smartphone: a Samsung Galaxy S III and an Apple I phone 4. “It’s easy to get the internet here. Everyone has internet access. It’s cheap. At home or on a smartphone, you can be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. We chat with friends on WhatsApp, we call people abroad on  Viber – it’s all free,” one of the boys says, and the other adds, “I’m completely addicted to Twitter.”

A little further along rue Shohadan, Jawwal Shop is a mobile phone shop. They stock every model of phone from Nokia to Samsung via HTC, Blackberry and Apple, although the iPhone 5 is a rarity in town, and 3G is not an option either. The prices are manageable for entry level phones: what the locals call “pre-Android phones”, and others would refer to as “feature phones”. Smartphones, however, are still prohibitively expensive at the equivalent of 400 Euros. The shop has wifi, and a lot of local teenagers come here to log onto the internet or recharge their phones. “We let them do it for free, it means people get to know us,” explains Mohammad, the salesman. He tells me that what local youngsters really like is free apps and all non-profit aspects of the web: the navigator Firefox from Mozilla, the encyclopaedia Wikipedia, the GarageBand music software and, for the most geeky amongst them, the Linux operating system. “They complain bitterly about Photoshop which is getting harder and harder to pirate. They think that’s just not right,” Mohammad adds. I’m surprised how computer literate the shop’s customers are: they are familiar with different softwares, the tricks to avoid paying, basic programming techniques and even the “cloud” which stores data and content remotely.

On my way out I notice an electricity generator on the ground outside Jawwal Shop. “It’s not a good generator,” admits Mohammad. “It’s a Lutan. The Chinese make them. I prefer Shatal generators from Israel, they’re better quality but more expensive.” Facing us are three armed soldiers – Hamas – in black uniforms, peacefully keeping an eye on the shabby-chic Jundi Al Majhoul neighbourhood. The Israeli army bombed the outskirts of the city the day before.

In the Gaza strip, a prison-like Palestinian territory which is almost impossible to enter or leave, cybercafés, smartphone shops and internet access providers are just like their counterparts all over the world. You could almost be in any city. The internet and digital technologies are global and, people say, not territorialised. Digital systems are alike everywhere, the sites viewed and apps used are the same, and the way they are used is becoming increasingly homogenous. Everything is connected. The world is flat.



CAMILO HAS THE SAME NAME AS CHE GUEVARA’S FAMOUS COMPANION – but he hates “the Che”. He is a black Cuban who dreams of living in Miami, “Where there’s no racism and no Castros,” he pretends to believe, being careful to speak of Castro in the plural. Less than one hundred and fifty kilometres from where we are in the Cuban capital of Havana, are the United States, Florida, Key West and, beyond that, Miami and South Beach. Camilo tells me he is “locked up in a huge prison here.”

We are queuing outside a cybercafé on calle Obispo, a pedestrianised shopping street near Parque Central. The queue goes on forever, you have to allow more than an hour to get into the premises on the ground floor of a rococo building from the heyday of the Cuban aristocracy, an impressive but dilapidated edifice which is crumbling beneath its stucco exterior and has been undergoing restoration work for the last ten years. All the luxury of the 50s reduced to misery in the new millennium.

“you have to pay in convertible pesos here, the prices are astronomical,” Camilo says irritably, exasperated by the widespread corruption and dysfunctional nature of the Castroist regime. In Cuba, essential goods are bought in local currency: tiny shops that are barely more than a doorway offer shampoo that does not lather, shoes whose heels fall off within a fortnight, an individually priced biscuits. To buy imported products, you have to pay twenty-five times the price in convertible pesos, the other currency. Toothpaste, soap, shaving foam, toilet paper and, of course, mobile phones and internet access are luxury goods in Cuba.

As with China, the paranoid Cuban regime anticipated at an early stage, almost from experience, that the internet would be a contributory factor in social disruption, a source  of rebellion and a passport to accessing international information, and perhaps even to visas. It therefore gave the internet “estado peligroso” status on the scale of risks, an official term from the penal code that translates roughly as “high-level danger”. This was one way the communist state could intervene preventively against any form of dissidence. But instead of completely outlawing the internet as North Korea has done, or building a vast local “intranet” as China has, Cuba opted to use organised penury. Mobile phones, computers and tablets are imported sparingly and the Policía especializada (“special revolutionary forces”) monitor their transition through customs.

When I finally get inside the internet café with Camilo, there is a hardworking atmosphere. The walls are cracked, fans whir without actually shifting the heavy air. About twenty people, no more, are checking emails or messages from relations, not wasting any time as the kids did in Gaza on wisecracking sites or online video games. Some have even brought a draught of their message to save time online. The cost of connection time is too high to linger (ten minutes is one euro, which is almost a day’s wages). “And it’s really slow, too,” Camilo  sighs. Cuba comes before last, above Mayotte, in global ratings for internet speed. I also notice the fiddly bureaucracy, even in this little “oficina”: you have to hand in your ID card, give your address, sign a document agreeing to being monitored, and indicate what sort of content you will be searching for in order to avoid “subversive” sites. These include Facebook, which is blocked on the island, as are blogs from members of the Cuban opposition.

I try to get onto Generation Y, the page of the famous Cuban dissident Yoani Sánchez, but end up with an error message.  I know that Sánchez is closely monitored in Cuba and she often sends her messages and tweets by telephone to a trusted contact, probably in Florida, and they are posted on the web from there. Her blog describes daily life in Cuba with the cultivated monotony of an entomologist: the constant food shortages, the failing public transport, the widespread corruption, and the child prostitution. This dispassionate style and its meticulous exposition of the facts, figures and bureaucratic embargos is more effective than any pamphlet as a description of daily life under a dictatorship. Of course, this site which has approximately fourteen million individual visitors a month, has more readers in Little Havana – Miami’s Cuban neighbourhood and the headquarters of the Cuban counterrevolution – than in Havana itself. But, although he cannot read it, Camilo knows this blog exists and, he says with a broad smile, “that’s enough to make my day.” Camilo is pragmatic and calm, expressing himself in prose, a far cry from Castro’s poetic language.

The internet is filtered then in Cuba’s rare cybercafés, its universities and businesses.  “This internet café is a state run enterprise. There’s no way the regime would leave communications to the private sector,” Camilo points out fatalistically.  Every company, restaurants and farm in Cuba was nationalised in 1968, although in the last few years, Raúl Castro – Fidel’s younger brother and, at 83, the “new” president – has cautiously authorised small factories, micro-entrepreneurs, snack bars and some craftsmen and farmers. Along the walls lining Havana’s avenues there are giant portraits of Castro and Che Guevara almost everywhere, and alongside them are the overused nationalist and socialist slogans that have been done to death: “Viva la revolución”, “Viva Fidel”, “Patria o muerte” or “¡ Socialismo hoy, mañana, y siempre !”

To get a better internet connection you can always go to one of the big international hotels, such as the Habana Libre – which does not wear the freedom in its name at all well. Standing on 23rd Avenue, it is a luxury hotel, a former Hilton requisitioned and nationalised by Castro, and the internet speed there is slightly better. But you have to buy a card intended exclusively for foreigners, valid for a limited access period, and at an average price of six Euros per hour which is out of reach for the great majority of Cubans.

“The suffix ‘.cu’ is a mirage. No one ever sees it,” says Madelín ironically (her name has been changed). This former teacher in her early forties was paid twenty Euros a month for her state-run work. She now earns almost one hundred times more on the black market, by letting out just three rooms in her “habitación” close to the famous Malecón, Havana’s long avenue along the seafront. I am staying in this “casa particular” – a sort of bed & breakfast that can be booked by telephone or, from abroad, on, a Cuban site rather like Craigslist or Airbnb. Referring back to  ‘.cu’, Cuba’s dedicated national internet suffix, Madelín adds with the slightly wild optimism that often characterises Cubans, “At least the Cuban regime did what it took to get a suffix. North Korea hasn’t even asked for one!” And she is right: the ‘.kp’  suffix has not been requested, which confirms Pyongyang’s refusal to connect to the internet. The North Korean regime does not officially exist on the internet, unlike Cuba.

The fact still remains that in private homes such as Madelín’s there is no internet access. It is almost never available at home in Cuba: the internet uptake rate is just 0.5 % at best, using dial-up via copper telephone lines, making that characteristic and far from sought after, grating noise. Computers are rare  – found in 3.5 % of households – and modems even more so: they are still officially banned by the regime.

Madelín tells me it is sometimes possible to establish an internet connection through a neighbour because a certain number of Cuban officials, particularly high-ranking civil servants, army officers or respected professors of medicine, have special dispensation. They frequently sublet their internet access codes to help make ends meet. “Obviously it’s illegal and expensive,” she adds.

She is more outspoken during the course of a dinner at Mama Blanchita which is something of a rarity, a “private” restaurant on the first floor of a collapsing colonial palace on Rampa à La Havane; this family run establishment serves us black bean soup, plantains and cafecito. “The regime’s few successes are artificial,” she says. “There’s a lot of insecurity in Cuba, the health system is weakened by the cruel shortage of technical equipment and the huge exodus of qualified doctors to Venezuela, in exchange for oil. Racism is endemic, when it was only thought to exist in the United States.” As she speaks sights from bygone days play out before our eyes: cruising along the avenue are limping old American jalopies including a Chevrolet Bel Air that lurches as if it has lost its shock absorbers. Cuba is stuck in the year of the revolution: 1959. And, dismayed by this outdated spectacle, the teacher goes one further: “Even the education system that Castro always boasted about doesn’t keep up with the times and is pure propaganda, particularly in history and economy, not to mention what goes on in business and journalism courses. As for information technology, in Cuba it’s taught without computers or internet access!” Like a lot of Cubans I’ve met, Madelín would love to live in Florida “where the internet’s free and there’s 3G.” And she adds, citing a recurring joke here: “What’s great about Miami is it’s very close to the US!”

In 2011, with help from Europe, a 1,600 km underwater fibre-optic cable was laid between Venezuela and Cuba to accelerate internet speeds on the island. After two years of inertia, the Castroist regime finally agreed to opening about one hundred “cyber-points” in the summer of 2013. These were sort of internet “salons” open to anyone, but their rates are still prohibitive so they continue to be accessible to only a few. “The great majority of the population still doesn’t have access to the internet,” confirms the telecommunications expert Bert Medina, a Cuban-American I met on the island.

Which leaves us with “cellulars” as mobiles are called in Cuba. There are now more of them: approximately 12 % of the population have mobile phones. Camilo and I go into a telephone shop in the Habana Vieja district; it too is state run and has long queues. Pedantic bureaucracy, prohibitive prices and constant poverty limit sales. And without 3G, mobiles cannot give internet access.

Cuba paints us a rare picture because it is one of the last countries on earth to be almost entirely devoid of internet access. In the Cuba of today, in its totalitarianism of the Tropics, stuck in a pre-Sputnik world, Camilo concludes “the internet would be an anomaly: it would be too twenty-first century.”




THE SLOGAN ON SIPHO DLADLA’S BASEBALL CAP READS “The Limitless youth”. Not yet thirty, wearing All Stars and carrying a Blackberry smartphone, Sipho is the very incarnation of a young activist who intends to “push back the limits”. He runs a digital technology education programme in Kliptown, a disadvantaged area of Soweto in South Africa. “We work with 400 teenagers here, and everything’s free. We teach them to use a computer and get onto the internet. But the surprising thing is they already know more than us about technology,” Sipho says. “In the evening they go off with their mobiles and tell their parents how to use them.” For the first time in African history it is not the elders passing on knowledge to the young, but children teaching their parents. “It’s a major change in civilisation,” Sipho acknowledges, but he points out that “the kids also come here to eat, because our training comes with a free meal. We expect them to follow the course  in order to eat.” As we talk I can see huge pots of rice and chicken heating. The meal will soon be ready.

The Kliptown Youth Program is based in the heart of Soweto. This ghetto-town to the south west of Johannesburg is home to nearly a million people (twice as many according to other estimates that include immigrants). Part of Soweto may have been revitalised but dozens of townships remain unchanged. Like Kliptown, one of the most deprived slums in the country: no tarred roads but potholed beaten tracks with filthy water streaming in open sewer-gutters. There is no running drinking water or electricity. Corrugated iron everywhere. And Aids is the primary cause of death: the HIV positive rate is high at around 11.5 % across the country but perhaps three times that much in this neighbourhood.

In such testing circumstances there is a surprising omnipresence of high tech devices and internet access. “Everyone here has a mobile. They listen to the radio, check the weather, read their horoscopes, and all on phones that aren’t even ‘smart’. One of the most popular apps is the in-built torch light. Soweto is steadily shifting into the digital age,” Sipho tells me, and adds, “The problem here isn’t a disconnect between those who have internet and those who don’t because everyone has access to the internet. It’s all about being educated in how to use the web. People understand that they need to be digitally literate if they don’t want to be left behind. Sipho uses the expression “digital literacy” several times; he sees it as the future of the internet (indeed it is viewed as an important factor in economic development worldwide).

And they are so resourceful here, so adept. With no electricity, mobiles are charged on truck batteries or via small solar panels. More often than not internet connections come via a 3G key. In one Kliptown Youth Program bungalow, youngsters in ragged clothes check their Facebook page on computers connected with fat internet cables. Others are using an app called Mxit which is very popular in South Africa and offers a free messaging service from any mobile phone. There are also kids sitting on the floor, following in their older siblings footsteps and killing time playing video games on small, apple-green 100-dollar laptops handed out by the American NGO One Laptop per Child. I listen to them talking amongst themselves in a mixture of English, Sesotho and Zulu, just three of South Africa’s eleven official languages. There is a lot of laughter.

Adults in the township do not have access to the Kliptown Youth Program facilities. In order to get onto the internet they cross a tiny bridge over the motorway that runs down one side of the ghetto, and go to a nearby cybercafé. It costs about 15 Rands an hour, the equivalent of 1.2 Euros. “But most of the time you don’t need to go to an internet café, you can just get onto the web on your mobile,” says the writer and internet journalist Khopotso Bodibé, whom I interviewed in Soweto. “Ninety percent of everything I know came from the internet. The web was my education.”  He tells me that after the Soweto library closed in the evenings he carried on working on the internet at McDonald’s which was one of the few places in the area that stayed open and had free internet access. As for Sipho, he has high hopes both for the new Datawind tablet which will cost around 20 Euros in Android form, and for new smartphones anticipated to retail for about 4 dollars. He thinks they could change life in the township. With his boundless energy and optimism, this man born in Soweto and still living in the ghetto with no running water or electricity believes in the web with a passionate, almost exultant fervour in keeping with the current mood. It is in some people’s nature, when they have had little luck and have had a long struggle, to be all the more generous and indulgent to others. The only thing that has kept Sipho going is the internet, so he wants to give others this “white light which will feed the black continent.” Really? In the face of my scepticism, this internet evangelist wants me to gauge all the magic of digital technology and adds sagely, “the web changed my life. I taught myself on the internet when the schools in Bantustan couldn’t help me. I learned geography and history. I did some of my law studies on it. I wouldn’t even have been able to talk to you in English without the web. The internet’s the best thing that’s happened to me. And this is just the beginning.”




Smart is an investigation into digital globalisation. In Gaza, Cuba or Soweto – and in about 50 countries in all – this book aims to describe the transition currently in progress, and the digital world to come. Seen from afar an in superficial terms, the current technological globalisation would appear to be uniform. The very connected Palestinians in Gaza use the same social networks and apps as the rest of the world, even though they are not free to leave their own country. The Cubans dream of the web: they crave internet access to end their isolation. And South Africans living in townships hope to escape the ghettos thanks to digital-driven development. Similar digital practices are being developed everywhere. With its billion members, Facebook is used by one in seven people on the planet, half of them from their mobiles – and “it’s free.” In these three cities, however, we find three different internets: an internet supporting the fight for emancipation; a censored internet; and an internet of survival. Despite the uniformity of its global image, the internet is different everywhere. That is the premise of Smart.

The underlying idea of the book is simple: contrary to popular belief, and to what people might think in Gaza, Cuba or Soweto, the internet and digital issues are not in and of themselves global phenomena. They are rooted in individual territories; they are territorialised. They are usually about men and women, news services, e-businesses, applications, maps and social networks all connected by real, physical links. It is both a smart world and a small world, and this world is definitely not flat.

Plenty of people feel intuitively that the world is getting bigger and evolving toward a single network in which cultural or linguistic misunderstandings will dissolve, but this counter-intuitive book offers a different vision. It breaks away from the generally accepted idea of a digital globalisation that goes beyond territory and borders. Surprising though it may be, the internet does not abolish traditional geographical limits, erode cultural identities or erase linguistic differences: it endorses them.

This territorialised aspect of the internet will probably become even more pronounced in years to come, as a result of more widespread access to the web and to smartphones. The future of the internet is not global, it is rooted in single territories. It is not globalised but localised. In fact we should stop thinking in terms of a single, capitalised “Internet” but rather of plural lower case “internets” – and that is how I will write it in this book. My subject is: the diversity of internets.



THIS NEW CONCEPT OF THE WEB allows for a “smarter” world than we can imagine. The diversity of internets, the vagaries of different countries, languages and cultures all have their place in the digital world. The web is not hostile to identities, local peculiarities and languages, neither is it against “cultural differences”, nor diversity. That is the great discovery made by this book, the good news it brings. The move to digitisation does not increase uniformity; it does not lead to a mainstream unity, no more than cultural globalisation does. In fact, it is a far more complex globalisation phenomenon than was thought, and, on those grounds alone, the legitimate fear that it elicits warrants discussion and perhaps putting into perspective. For those who live in fear of losing their identity as a result of globalisation and the technological revolution (and these are legitimate fears), this book shows that they must not be pessimistic. And that the scenario they envisage is an unlikely one.

The internet is therefore “smarter” than we think, hence the title of this book. The word “smart” – in the American sense of clever or shrewd – gives us a number of new terms that are being used with increasing frequency: smartphone but also smart city, smart grid, smart economy, smart window (with glass that changes to adapt to ambient light and heat), smart TV (with an internet connection, but “social TV” connected to social networks is also being developed), smart power (the combination of hard power and soft power, in the words of Joseph Nye and Barack Obama), and of a “smarter” world. What does it actually mean? The term smart is mostly just synonymous with the word internet, and means it can be expanded to embrace the whole digital sector, including mobile phones with internet access, apps, other technologies and digital facilities in general. When the NYPD, the famous New York police department, announced the arrival of its “smart squads”, it was referring to new patrol cars fitted with video surveillance equipment as well as detectors and sensors for memorising registration plates  and comparing them with crime databases in real time.

The word “smart” is actually more consistent than might be implied by these security systems lurking under a cool name.  It points to a fundamental change in the web and what it will be like in years to come: the transfer of information, knowledge being communicated and now put onto the internet.  Instead of settling for receiving data, internet users have now started producing it with the so called 2.0 web, and they are now making it a human development tool as illustrated by the youngsters in Soweto. In this respect, “smart” is a crucial term whose meaning heralds the future of the internet as a place of knowledge and of territorialisation.

I witnessed this territorialisation of the internet everywhere I went, but it does not preclude elements of globalisation nor of acceleration. Of course there is a global dimension to the internet, just as there is a mainstream culture, but they are not overwhelming. Communications are developing and the speed of life is accelerating, no one is questioning that. In fact, projections for the future are still astonishing: Moore’s Law predicts that the performance capacity of microprocessors will double every eighteen months (this is actually an apocryphal rendition of Moore’s conjecturing); and photonic law anticipates that the amount of data carried at the speed of light by fibre-optics will also double every nine months.   In 2013, it achieved the astronomical figure of 31 terabits per second over a distance of  7,200km, which means 31,000 billion bits propelled at a speed of 300,000km per second – a record. At this rate, and even if the laws inevitably reach their physical or economical limits,  the promise of endless exponential growth in digital information is there. The head of Google recently calculated that “we create as much information on line every 48 hours as was created between the birth of humanity and the year 2003.” And, according to him, in 2025 our computers will be sixty-four times faster than they are now. We are only at the beginning of the digital transformation.



Smart follows on from my previous book about cultural globalisation: Mainstream. Where Mainstream looked into the creative industries at a time of globalisation and Americanization, deliberately leaving aside digital questions, Smart concentrates on the internet and the digital world. As with Mainstream, I have favoured first-hand information in this book: it was, therefore, a widespread investigation and most of the interviews – which were systematically carried out face to face – are new or not previously published.

At the end of the day, Smart is a work of demystification which shows we can reclaim control over digitisation – and our lives – on condition that we understand the dynamics of the internet which, rather than being disembodied and international, is deeply rooted in particular territories and in “real life”, and comprises a strong element of proximity. This conclusion does not derive from any ideological reasoning: it is the result of my investigations.

When tackling the question of digitisation, researchers and journalist should however maintain a degree of humility. The way the web is accelerating makes all our assumptions unreliable. If this book had been written three years ago it would probably barely mention tablets or iPads (launched in April 2010), when they have now allowed whole swathes of our culture to go digital. If this book had been written about five years ago it would not have mentioned smartphones or apps, both so central to our lives now (the first iPhone was launched in June 2007 and the first App Store, the Apple store, in July 2008). If it had been written seven years ago, it would not even have mentioned Twitter, which did not emerge until 2006 but has become so important. If it had been written ten years ago, it would not have included Facebook or YouTube, which date from 2004 and 2005 respectively. And if it had been written twelve years ago it would barely have a trace of Wikipedia, which was launched in 2001, or even of Google which was in its start-up phase in 1998. We should also remember the model companies, such as Finland’s Nokia and Canada’s Blackberry who did not adapt to the smartphone and are now just shadow’s of their former selves. Or the digital giants such as Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo, that were once invincible but now need to reinvent themselves. The high-performance computing company Silicon Graphics went bankrupt, MySpace never grew up and Chatroulette got the wrong economic model. Even Google Reader was disconnected. Not to mention the fantasy towns, the deserted, uninhabited modern Pompeiis like Second Life that no one visits anymore. The stupefying speed of technologies and the revolution we are currently experiencing should inhibit any tendency to make forecasts.

And yet, following in the footsteps of Mainstream, I felt I had to decipher the world to come, the “after”, and to imagine this sort of “next-stream” that lies ahead. The question was how. Unlike Silicon Valley’s gurus who think only in “quantitative” terms when talking about the “global internet”, or those researchers and experts who think they can investigate technologies from the comfort of their own home (believing the internet is the same everywhere), I felt I had to take a different stance. This book’s hypothesis is the opposite, with a wider perspective because the internet is not the same here as it is somewhere else. Digital conversations are different everywhere. Being online is not enough to understand them, you have to meet the players on the web “IRL”, as they call it – in real life. So you have to be there in person, around the world, setting aside your internet navigator, if you are to find these internets for real. It is only with a qualitative investigation on the ground and through hundreds of interviews on five continents that we can gradually come to understand the realities of the digital transformation and its future. Here it is.