Thursday, September 20, 2018

Uyboco: No Internet

I TURNED on my laptop to start this article, and found out there was no internet, which meant that I couldn’t scan my bookmarked articles that I found interesting during the past week, to jump-start me on a topic.

So I began to reflect on how, the internet has taken over a major part of our lives in a span of a little over 10 years. Yes, there was internet way before that, but mass adoption of it only began a little after 2005 or so. I know because I’ve been using the internet ever since it found its way to the Philippines in 1994.

I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I was in college then and my school and department was the one spearheading research and development in this field. We were one of the first gateways out of the country and into the world. Everyone was excited and our professors were ecstatic and even had us learning Linux.

In those days, you did everything by typing on a command line. If you’ve ever used the MS DOS prompt on your Windows machine, that’s how it was. No windows, no buttons, no wizards. You had to learn commands like telnet, ping, ftp, or finger. I remember sending my first email to a stranger in another university halfway across the world and was delighted when I got a reply.

At that time, the school allowed us to off-campus access their server via dial-up. I got my dad to buy me my first modem. It was a mid-range modem running at pretty decent speed of 2.4 kbps. Yep, that’s a k which stands for a thousand. I was connected to the internet at 2,400 bits per second. For comparison, typical DSL speeds today run at around 3-5 mbps, or millions of bits per second.

The web was still at its infancy back then and I could only catch glimpses of a graphical interface and a web browser when I peeped inside the faculty area. Only the school had speeds fast enough then to accommodate such a luxury.

And then I discovered online gaming with MUD or Multi-User Dungeon - a role-playing game loosely based on the rules of Dungeons and Dragons. You basically chose your race -- human, dwarf, elf or whatever else the particular MUD you connected to offered. Then you roamed around the world, kill monsters, and meet other players -- very much like today’s online games, except that it was text-based. There were no fancy graphics or animations. You had to read everything -- the description of the room or the monster, and you had to type out all commands like “go north” or “kill griffin” or “get lantern.”

It was fun and addictive and I would often play in the computer labs, borrowing my classmates access cards, as we were given only a limited number of hours (and they rarely used theirs anyway). At home (I stayed with my mom’s friend who was kind enough to put up with me for a year), I connected to the school via my 2.4 kbps modem, but the catch was I could only play from midnight until around 7am. The phone lines in that part of the neighborhood was old and if I played anytime outside that window, there would be a lot of garbage on my line and I couldn’t connect properly. I had to be awake when everyone else was asleep.

When I graduated and came back home to Davao, I was dismayed to find out that there were still no internet providers. I went cold turkey for months before an internet cafe called Weblink opened and started offering dial-up subscriptions. I bought a new modem at a higher speed. No more 2.4 kbps, I was now surfing the web at a blazing 9.6 kbps.

It wasn’t long after when modem speeds went up to 28, then 56 kbps, and so on and so forth until today, when we almost take internet speed and availability for granted. Well, not entirely for granted as one can still see people ranting on social media about whatever internet provider has failed them again. But the point is, they were still able to go online somehow so that shows there are more alternatives and ways to get connected.

The internet has vastly changed the way we do business, and has even spawned businesses based on it -- ride sharing with Uber or Grab for example, or AirBNB, or retail with Amazon or Lazada. There are people who can literally live anywhere and work anywhere because their whole business model is online. Even currency is now being fully digitized with bitcoin and the hundred other cryptocurrency “experiments.”

According to a 2011 survey by AGB Nielsen Philippines, 43.5% of Filipinos were connected to the internet. I would say that figure is much higher now. Even your friendly neighborhood sari-sari store owner or security guard or janitor is on Facebook.

No internet? No problem. Let me just turn on my phone’s data and mobile hotspot, and voila, I’m back in the game.

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