It is estimated that in 1993 the Internet carried only 1% of the information flowing through two-way telecommunication. By 2000, this figure had grown to 51%, and by 2007 more than 97% of all telecommunicated information was carried over the Internet
In 2002, I wasn’t too clued in to the online world. That’s what triggered these thoughts, way back then. A decade later, I have as healthy a life online, as I do in real time.
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You've got mail! The words dance on the computer screen, lighting up the early moments of my day. Until I scroll down the 17 messages in my Hotmail inbox — and find 15 of them are just junk. What do they offer?
Free CDs, with strings attached. Flyaway holidays, with the hidden print tucked in fine. Personal favours, ones we can do without in the thick of a hectic social life. It's like having a surfeit of empty toothpaste tubes on your bathroom rack, when you need to perk awake with a brisk brushing away of last night's debris.
It's at these not-so-hot Hotmail moments that I long for old-fashioned communication. Letters scrawled longhand from cousins and family and friends in distant climes. Or real invitations to meet flesh-and-blood people — not faceless cyberfolk in an unidentified never-never land. Not condensed-into-chaos verbiage from Jaan, John or Dante at unidentifiable addresses that end with .com or .net or .edu.
I'm now a citizen of the World Wide Web. I can zoom into a cool, instant network at the click of a mouse, the touch of a key. In a trice, I'm one with the global village. Yet, over the past decade, my frame of reference has turned topsy-turvy.
No longer do the lines of communication flow straight and narrow. No longer is there an unbearable agony of waiting — for a line from afar brought to the door by the postman's ring. No longer do smell and touch and memory contribute much to messages that summon up the face of the sender, a lifestyle sandwiched between strokes of the pen. Instead, I'm flooded by messages that come from light worlds away — and usually mean nothing. I can get across in a jiffy, yet I reach across sans face, sans emotion. I'm the centre of a communications universe, yet I pine for a Jurassic Age of cross-cultural vibes.
Could it be because of the giga-heaps of information that die at first printout, lacking personality and humaneness? Could it be because people still count in a world grown competitive and dispirited? I'm still trying to figure it all out.
Take this instance. One morning my Inbox had a mail from KrytonCasablanca@sabena.edu. Who could that be? What did this creature seek? From where in the cyberspace woodwork had it crept out? The questions kept my being abuzz. Dare I open the file? Could there be a real being behind the cloaked identity? What if it proved to be a virus in disguise that wiped my life on the Net out clean?
I dared not delete it. I was curious enough to keep it pending. Two days dragged by... in a week, I mustered up courage enough to resolve the mystery. And made a cyber friend.
Though I steer clear of online Chatrooms, I find I've acquired a pal of unknown origin, faceless to boot. His identity? A young intern at a Swedish hospital, who's fired up with religious fervour, signing daily mail with: God bless you! Three days later, this total stranger invites me to holiday with his family in the summer.
Isn't that disarming? Is this an alternate interpretation of global warming? That the borderline between friends and strangers fade into the twilight zone?
As time and space collapse in a sci-fi moment around my keyboard, as megabytes of information swamp me, I yearn for emotion, for face-to-face deadlocks, for exchanges with pen on paper that are as sharp and striking as duelling swords or as gentle as a shower of feathers. For love notes and hate mail, for swirls and curlicues, for dark ink on handmade paper textured with petals or jute fibre. Or even for inter-office memos that signal a boss with a frown or a reprimand couched at fever-pitch.
Unlike my Inbox crammed with insane inputs, my In tray doesn't tango with the ceiling. In everyday life, the postman seldom brings me snail mail from total strangers — apart from the bill collectors of the telephone or electricity departments. Nor do the assortment of courier boys who range in and out of the door, with magazines with my byline in them or long-forgotten cheques for assignments accomplished as a freelancer.
I'm connected by words, by recognisable signals, by life signs I can touch. Then, why do these strangers intrude on my life over email?
Their immediacy, their peremptoriness, their hard sell cues, cast a shroud of gloom over me. What do they signal? That I must forget every rule of spelling, language and grammar nurtured over the years, and opt for telegraphese that tortures my world of words. I can't bring myself to type out messages like U R 2 GD 2 B TRUE! Or lapse into the laconic with `LOL.' I didn't cotton onto that right away, until a pal in the US spelt it out: Laugh out loud! Give me old-fashioned, head-on conversations any day. Or even eye-to-eye communication.
I still shy away from ordering a diamond ring on the net, though a CD bargain seems pretty safe. Would I call for monthly provisions over the keyboard? No way, when I can cross swords with the loud-mouthed resident groucho at the provision store just two doors away. Would I invent myself an identity for online chats when I have stranger-than fiction folks in my circuit? Perish the thought. Heave-ho! I flail out of my cushioned chair and back into the world of outdoor action. Just a staircase and a jogger's trail away.
Between the cryptic and the scripted, between the argot and the agony, falls the shadow in my life. Between the recognisable and the surreal, the beauteous and the banal, throng the question marks. Between the Inbox and the In tray lies the murky area of potential misunderstanding I'm trying to sidestep.
And so, a reluctant Netizen rocks on her heels and wonders. What's the write line, by the way?