When I was living in the US, I received my e-mails immediately through my Blackberry, and when I was at home enjoyed ready access to the internet. Up until now, in Taipei, I have also been able to go online at home. Using the internet has become an obsession, I check my e-mail at semi-automatically structured intervals, such as when I wake up in the morning, and before I fall asleep at night, like brushing one’s teeth. If I am by a computer, I will quickly, yet resolvedly, check my e-mail and my facebook at least once, even if I am running late for an appointment. Even though at times I expect a specific correspondence, there is also a sense of waiting for an unknown letter or message that, due its unexpected arrival, will uplift my spirits that day. Occasionally this happens. Inevitably, the opposite also happens, and my inbox contains news I do not want to hear, deflating my mood. This waiting has almost a religious quality to it – waiting for the unknown to suddenly appear and transform the contours of the day. However, mostly, there is only spam.
Recently, the part of my computer that connects to my internet cable has broken, and since I am unwilling to pay the exorbitant repair costs, remains broken. As a result, I can use wireless internet at coffee shops, but I cannot use the internet cable my landlord provides. Thus, at home, I am without internet. While it is extremely frustrating not to be able to use the computer to research information, such as the Chinese internet dictionary I frequently visit, there has been something chastising about this experience- secretly scolding me that I cannot control myself from wasting hours reading miscellaneous articles, updating my FB status, as well as chatting with friends back home via gchat or skype. This deprivation of distraction had to be imposed on me from without, and for that, I am both grateful and frustrated. Frustrated by the way it impedes my ability to do my work, and grateful for the way it opens new opportunities to do my work, in a more focused manner, without the alluring temptations the web offers.
Speaking of facebook, a while ago, even though I use facebook, I hypocritically would argue it lacks any redeeming value, other than connecting old friends, and possibly, allowing a few more people to discreetly get laid. I viewed it as a virtual extension aggrandizing the ego, with each carefully framed beauty shot, snarky quote, and favorite band, being nothing more than an advertisement, proudly and pathetically claiming, ‘here I am, like me!’ However, I was dead wrong. Social media like FB and Twitter have been a central platform for organizing protest and consciousness raising in authoritarian states such as Mubark’s Egypt, and also, in places like Myanmar. Web-based social networks allow information to flow, travel, inspire, rouse, disgust, and so on, in ways that truly open new political horizons. It just appears strange to me, that the same communication platform can be used by a 16 year old boy to complain about his unrequited love with little emoticons and lol’s, and by protestors to topple a dictatorship.