Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Diffusion of Liberty, Humanity Online

There is freedom and enlightenment achieved through formal academic education. More so if the people who ought to be learning have the need and desire to do so. If a dog likes a bone and gets a kick out of doing the tricks it's being taught anyway, then it's easier to train.

Internet access has become so integrated to people's daily lives that it's extremely hard to ignore the enriching wonders that happen through the simple navigation and search for answers to questions we have or the information we need to get access to. The dastardly prison of ignorance and illiteracy that existed in the past, when information seemed to be too tedious to obtain (from the library, a book, a credible resource person, or from daily publications) is constantly being dismantled. To be the victim of question marks at this day and age is unacceptable, especially to those who have access to computers and the Internet.

The amount of texts that most people used to read prior to the web boom of the mid 1990's, is nowhere near the amount of information that kids get today. Simply put, no one has read as much from printed resources, as they do today from virtual sites on the Internet. Internet access encourages LITERACY. If anyone wants to jump right onto social networking at the very least (or serious academic research and content creation at the most) then he has to know how to read and write. The very fact that you're engaging publicly through the Internet with a computer means you've managed to rise above the illiterate/moron level because you know how to turn on a computer and use it!

A person who intends to use a computer has to know how to read the instructions. It's true that things can be trained through repetition especially if we just base it on pictures, symbols, colors, and shapes, even children can do that, but a person can only engage in more complex activities online if he knows how to read. Clicking on whatever you see on the screen will be pointless if you don't know how to read. Case in point is Facebook. The Status Feeds of Facebook presumes that a user can read what's happening as published on text and doesn't merely rely on the pictures being shown, unless he's a 2 year old. No one can pump out ideas, words or concepts online without knowing how to read or write. People may act like idiots online, but most of these people are literate. Nevermind what their intelligence levels are. It is again only basic literacy we have to consider. You can't use a computer, and go ONLINE especially, if you can't read or write.

If for example, I am unable to read or write, then by simply clicking on a dialog box (as enabled by luck, my curiosity, and my hand and eye coordination) and typing ''adf;lad aioxfac oaehfa'' - which doesn't make sense at all, only proves that I am merely capable of gibberish. Garbage in - garbage out. The idea is, if a person is illiterate then he is incapable of putting messages across through the Internet, unless he had a microphone and a listening ear on the other end.

I remember during my early years on the Web, in the mid 1990's, I would scour the net for MP2's on fan sites/rings and the concept was practically alien to other people. They had no clue about the depth of the virtual world and they would rather ridicule and label online exploration sessions as rubbish activities; but after witnessing things for almost 2 decades, I can say that whatever ridicule I've seen and embarrassment I've felt (along with other early adopters of the ''information highway'') in the 1990's are now nothing but distant memories, because everyone who knows how to read and write knows what the real deal is all about. Most literate people in the Philippines are users now, with their activities not necessarily confined to Facebook and other social networking sites, but rather as a part of a movement in this lifestyle phenomenon of Internet use.

Believe it or not, I went through high school with a Brother word processor, that's an electronic typewriter with a diskette drive and a monitor and typed away the night for my reports, while most of my classmates would simply copy and paste their reports from online resources. My poor professor couldn't even tell because he was so disconnected from the advancements in Information Tech! And this phenomenon had been happening in 1997. My point is, users are free to choose what they want to do online. The Internet and computers are merely instruments. These might encourage laziness, deception, bullying, cheating, among other deplorable acts, but that's the nature of what people do, whether online or in real life. These are moral and conscious choices we make for ourselves. A person can't label a certain activity evil or disgusting just because he has an outsider's opinion on it, that he prefers to exclude himself from engaging in it. No one should think he's better than others just because there's this snobbery on how unproductive something can be. Heck, slackers on weed are more unproductive. At least netizens create a consensual atmosphere that reflects on the domestic online culture of a country. Like for example, Filipinos have this habit of saying "Proud to be Pinoy" everytime there's some good news about some Filipino abroad. It's a habit I've witnessed mutate through the years, and that's when feeds and comments threads weren't even conceived yet and I was simply lurking BB's (Bulletin Boards) online.

As for my insights regarding the more subjective aspects on the field of humanities and the Internet, prior to the emergence of social networking online, pundits feared the disconnection between and among people due to decreased interaction with other people. It was somehow alleviated by social networking, although I must admit that physical face to face contact remains the preferred means of connecting with people. In any case, it's so hard to quantify how the integration and amalgamation of the humanities, the arts, and technology has helped promote cultural advancement, evolve perceptions of realities, and change mindsets. One very evident case is the emergence of the Arab Spring. The youth of rabidly Islamic and conservative countries in the Middle East and North Africa were able to appreciate the type of life democracy brings to the table. They've seen the lives of citizens of other countries filled with potential, opportunities, possibilities, liberties, and, well, fun.

Through the Internet, they bypassed their state controlled media and socially stagnant mindsets that were inculcated by the people who were leading their countries. They witnessed for themselves how through Youtube, Facebook, blog sites, among other Humanities-based websites (I refer to anything that promotes the arts and creativity as the Humanities field as opposed to the Hard Sciences and purely academic sites), people were creating content and making creative expressions of their humanity (through dance, comedy, filmmaking, music, poetry, etc.). They saw how liberties weren't necessarily "evil" and "worldly/materialistic" as their conservative clerics had always pounded into their heads (at least for Islam). People living in democratic countries were able to show how life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are wonderful premises in a democracy.

It is hard to quantify things, but empirically, the Internet through subjective means, through the Humanities channel, has promoted multicultural appreciation and tolerance. It's no longer about people believing in a White Man's world or any sort of mindset that promotes stereotypes and discrimination, we are presented with something that's beautifully integrated and promotes understanding among cultures and people from all over the world. Unless anyone thinks diplomatic interaction from the top is the way to go, which often depicts other people, nations, and countries under political spectra and misconceptions. And flying all over the world to meet and understand other people and other cultures isn't exactly cost effective. Many social networkers and bloggers have friends from different races, cultures, and nations abroad (regardless of political ideology) because, frankly speaking, politics can be divisive if not put into the right context.

It is worth mentioning, however, that there is indeed two sides to this. Our parish priest during last Sunday's Homily described this social networking obsession as the new culture of narcissism. I think that it's terrible that people just pump out pointless things and broadcast them to the world, while ignoring what others share online too (which can sometimes be more important than talking about what you had for lunch). Looking for reciprocity can be revealing of who the truly sincere people are and who are just broadcasting for the sake of engaging in pissing contests, which can be a very vicious cycle indeed.

All compositions, statements and opinions of the author are copyright © Earl T. Malvar 2009-2013. All rights reserved. There is no honor, respect, admiration, intellectual and academic dignity garnered through plagiarism.