Though an ardent believer of the empowering power of internet, I did not enable a connection at my home in Walling (Syangja District) this time when I stayed for around 40 days. Many reasons contribute to it. My ‘friend’ businessman who runs a sort of franchisee of a Pokhara-based ISP had promised a concession, but I refused. (His normal charges for a wireless connection for the laptop when no hardware is required is 4,000 plus and the monthly rental extra on top of that!)
This, none the less, gave me an opportunity to take a closer look at the remote end of a phenomenal process. Ever since I am swayed by the fat account of a flattening world by Thomas L Friedman, I have strange recurring dreams. Sometimes I think of the day when all households in Nepal will be connected to internet and I can manage a website to compare the prices of vegetables in different parts of the town.
For now, I am satisfied with getting to download important news and articles on to my laptop directly. The same friend who also runs a cybercafé had allowed me to connect my laptop to the internet. So it saved me from the arduous routine of downloading stuff in the PCs and then transferring it to a pen drive to carry along. For more than a month, I became a loyal and regular visitor of the ‘cyber’ (that is what they call it there).
It was mostly visited by teenagers. Many a times, I found boys and girls taking help of the operator in setting up an email account. Some people came with photographs and passports to be scanned and mailed to certain email addresses of people abroad. They were the people aspiring to go abroad for work.
When much debate is going on world over about the merits and demerits of the ‘wild social ether’, I try to find deep implications of simple instances at a cyber café in a town of Nepal. Googling for impact of globalization on the third world countries like Nepal, I find what I always do not want to believe. It will affect us negatively. Critics say the backward countries cannot update their mechanism and hence fare worse in the tough competition. What they actually mean, if you are listening Mr Friedman, is that the playing field is leveled but slanted to favor the major powers.
Barack Obama used Facebook to mobilize his small donors effectively to unite against the tycoons but that is the only example we can quote on political positivism of internet till now. Lately, reports of Twitter and Facebook being misused by politicians and paid feeds and ads in Twitter, Facebook and You Tube have proved that any medium is as good as the ethics of the politicians. But that is too far to be of any concern for the young people trying to touch the magical world of internet in a small cubicle in this cyber café.
Sometimes, I have to do a shhh… to a pair of boys who hang together in a PC cubicle and loudly enjoy their foray into the wild web. Sometimes, the Google-talk of a woman with her husband irritates me when she goes on and on from a cubicle next to me. But mostly, I enjoy the liveliness there.
Back in my room in the evening, sifting through all the materials I saved on to my laptop during the day, I start to feel the shift. The wireless icon in my laptop glows green to show that connections are available. This realization gives me an unknown happiness and hope. (I am technically just one ‘password’ away from unlimited twenty four hour internet connection at my home in a small town in Nepal.)
How does it affect us? What are the evident changes and impact? This is one of my favorite bed time musings.
The whole sense of impact of the internet for a society like ours lies in the choices it gives us. The choice of communications. It provides us options to see, learn and exchange ideas to widen the reach.
Contrary to general pontification, the irony is that it also has within itself the choice of narrowing. With the advent of Nepali Unicode, a strong group has emerged among my Facebook friends who use Nepali for all communications. And most of them do not live in Nepal. I realized it was so peculiar and obvious in my wall posts only when an American friend asked, “Are your posts in Sanskrit?”
A young boy occupying a chamber next to me in the cyber café one day was shouting excitedly over a phone, “I have just now opened a Facebook account and added you…please confirm my request…”
I am still undecided whether this is the right way of entering the race where others are way ahead. The boy, I know is trying to catch his ears the other way round. But, for now, at least stepping onto the track and getting the feel matters.