Bloviating on the blogosphere

I am thrilled to bits to see a new newspaper online.  That was fast; within a few months of rolling out from the printing presses, it has pages downloading from the servers. Way to go.

Wordsworth could not have written, “I wandered lonely as a cloud” today – not in these days of cloud computing when pictures, documents, music, movies, everything is being shovelled into servers to be downloaded on a computer screen at the click of a mouse button or the stroke of a key.  And we don’t even wonder how it gets there; we have become so used to technology.

I remember my first computer: an IBM desktop, which was delivered to my home and set up by the delivery man. That was in 1997 in the days of dial-up services when I had to disconnect my phone every time I wanted to go online.

It was a heady experience and completely changed my views on computers. The first time I had to use a computer  at work I was so bugged I wished it had never been invented. The computer seemed nothing but a boxy, highly expensive pen cum notebook that we were expected to read and write on. We didn’t have internet connections then.

I was hooked once we went online.

One thing you have to remember: I am in Singapore. Before the internet, all we had were the local papers, a few radio stations and free-to-air TV, which was rather like Doordarshan.

So you can imagine what a difference the internet made. I could read The Guardian and The New York Times online for free. For Indian news, I could visit the Rediff website. What’s more, it offered free home pages, where you could build your own website.

I built my first website on Geocities, which was shut down last year by Yahoo. Images scrolled and music played on my website though I knew nothing of computer programming. It was all done with free, copy-and-paste javascripts and simple HTML guides available online.

And what a world it opened. Suddenly I was getting email from complete strangers in America, Britain and India. Many of them were nice.  I remember how pleased and grateful  I was when people actually started commenting on my blog. There were two American ladies – a retired TV news producer who then lived in New York and a housewife in Germany – an Englishwoman in the south of France, an American father of two little children somewhere in the West, an ethnic Indian in the Caribbean, and a Bangladeshi now in Germany. I still read their blogs from time to time.

The internet is my virtual library. Everything is available online from Shakespeare’s plays to government statistics. But you can’t bookmark every web page. Moreover, the content changes. The Singapore newspapers move their stories to digital archives, which you have to pay to access.

So what do you do? You can’t write down everything or store it on a disk. A simple alternative is to use a free online service.

Who came up with these free services: Blogger, Google, WordPress.com, Twitter, Facebook? Each and every one of them is American.

One thing I have known on the internet is the kindness and generosity of strangers. Usually, they are from the West.

I have received comments on my blog from Peter Stothard, the editor of The Times Literary Supplement, and Jeff Jarvis, an influential blogger who writes a column for The Guardian and teaches journalism at the City University of New York. True, they wrote to me only once. But no one of their stature has ever written to me from India or Singapore. Our societies are more hierarchical. It took an American, Thomas Friedman, to write a book called The World Is Flat.

And we are using the free services that Americans provide. The Singapore government uses Facebook for feedback from the people.

We hear so much about the decline of the West and the rise of India and China. But, whatever happens, we have to acknowledge what a difference American ideas have made to our lives. Whether we are in India or Singapore, more comfortable in Bengali or Mandarin, our modes of communication are changing, the winds of change usually blowing from the West.

How deep runs the American influence became manifest in a bereavement in Singapore.

Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, died on Monday morning. He was 55.

Guess where the news was broken?. On Facebook, through Twitter.  Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo tweeted from his iPhone: @georgeyeo Mourns the passing away of dear friend and colleague Dr Balaji Sadasivan.

The news was picked up by the newspapers from there.  It seemed futuristic to me, but that’s life: you are always playing catch-up with new technology. When you feel overwhelmed, you know you are getting old, as this poem says:

I grow old… I grow old…
I shall add some links to my blog roll.
Shall I change my default pic? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall play some World of Warcraft, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the servers singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen cats talking in capslock on the web,
All up in ur fridge, eatin’ ur food
When my laptop lights the darkness white and black.
We have lingered in the tubes of internet,
By URLS wreathed with info, loaded-down
Till cellphones ringing wake us, and we drown.

Guess where I read this parody of The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock? On the internet.

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