Thursday, March 21

The creation that forever changed our lives

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ON Thursday, for about eight hours or so, the majority of users of social media platforms Facebook and Instagram, as well as WhatsApp, experienced what is now known as downtime or loss of service. For just this short period in a day, there appeared to be some kind of mass panic among those whom I’d term as social media addicts and WhatsApp heads as they found themselves unable to communicate with their friends, families, and chat groups, besides not being able to access or post on their Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Thirty years ago, such a scenario would be unknown and totally unheard of. On Tuesday, March 12, the world wide web turned 30. It was invented by Tim Berners-Lee, who was in 1989 a 34-year-old English engineer and computer scientist. However, Berners-Lee only published the source code in 1991 and made it free to anyone who wanted it. That is how the internet as we know it today started to grow by leaps and bounds.

Facebook was founded in 2004, only 15 years ago and is today alongside Amazon, Apple, and Google, the Big Four technology companies in the world; with a base of 2.2 billion active users as at January 2018. In Malaysia, it has more than 18 million registered users out of a total population of 33 million.

We can all say truthfully say that our lives have changed forever because of the internet.

Many would feel lost, insecure or out of touch without spending at least a couple of hours a day either doing one of these normal daily routine things – which were hitherto not possible or available until the internet came along.

Alarm clocks were made obsolete by the alarm application (app) built into all our smart phones. Except for a very small percentage of the population, the majority of us own and use a smartphone today; a handful of hardcore non-techies may still be using their Nokias and just land-lines, but they are extremely rare.

After your wake-up call by your morning alarm app, you get up and perform your morning rituals while reading through online news portals as you sit on the can or wash your face, brush your teeth, take your shower. As you stagger down to your kitchen to boil water, make your coffee and breakfast, feed your pet(s), and open the door and draw back curtains, you return to your breakfast table and either read the morning papers, or start scrolling through your favourite (pre-bookmarked) online news portals, read your emails, and scroll your WhatsApp group chats. You would then quickly browse through social media – Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, what have you. You would respond to some of the more urgent messages or those that needed your attention.

All this while you are still seated, sipping your morning coffee, munching your buttered toast and eating your eggs;
in either your pyjamas or in your office wear, ready to take the kids to school, or to go to work.

If you had woken at 6.30am, or even 7am, in less than 45 minutes to an hour, you could have done all that I’ve mentioned above.

Without going into your office, there would be stuff you could do online, on the web, just by browsing and searching.

You could call for a Grab; you can even order a pizza, a takeaway of any kind within a reasonable distance if you live in the city or a suburb.

You can make bookings for the evening’s programme – cinema or theatre tickets, restaurant bookings and other entertainment. You can plan and organise and book tickets for your holidays – flights, hotels, transport etc.

You can Google for anything you want to know about under the sun – currency exchange rates, weather conditions throughout the year in countries you can’t even pronounce, learn how to speak a language. The list is endless.

There are full and complete instruction manuals, how to cook a dish, how to tell if your pet is sick, what are the symptoms of a disease – there’s so much (in fact too much) medical information on the net. Some helpful, some dubious.

Cookbooks no longer sell. Self-improvement DVDs and videos and books no longer sell. The DVD and CD shops have all closed down one by one.

With YouTube, you can search and click to watch any instructional video on ‘how to’ anything. Before I went for my triple CABG (coronary artery bypass graft) over two years ago, I had searched for and watched on YouTube a 45-minute real-life CABG procedure done by a team of surgeons. It had greatly enlightened and relieved me of the dread and fear of my impending procedure. (Many friends thought I was crazy to have done that, but I am one of those who prefer to know ahead what’s coming instead of leaving it all to the imagination!)

On your phone camera (which has killed sales of compact cams), you can take a snap of anything and forward it to anyone anywhere in the world – within a second! You can video call as well.

On music channels and on Spotify, you can listen to all the music you want. On the streaming channels like Netflix, you can watch all the movies you want. Like that old classic pop song in the 1980s ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’, today it’s a case of ‘The internet has killed all the brick and mortar entertainment business’. Even porn videos and retail outlets and its other hangers-on are disappearing.

In the old days, before the advent of the internet – to do what you have just completed under that one hour and before even reaching the office; you would have needed to spend at least half a day, maybe even up to five or six hours, in the office, or over lunch break, or back home after work – to do all that!

No doubt the internet has been a boon and a huge advantage for those whose time is precious, limited, and who needs everything at their fingertips. But what are the cons, the negatives, the bummers?

The main and biggest concern today is the almost total invasion and immersion of the internet has meant that we are no longer anonymous individuals because instantly every single one of us has become a consumer.

Our privacy will continue to be invaded, as more pervasive apps will delve even deeper into our private lives and our spending habits as well as all of our personal information. Big Brother has not only arrived, it has invited himself into our living rooms and has taken over our lives! Is it too late to stop now?

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