THE WEB OF LIFE IN THE LIFE OF WEB: THE PHILIPPINE EXPERIENCE
By Benjamin M. Wage, Jr. ([email protected])
There is no doubt of the immense popularity of the Internet in the world of technology today. The tremendous response of its capability to make communication instant, can make us wonder what we can expect in the future. Even the academic community find the Web too slow in terms of its accessibility (downloading), hence the www.internet2.com was conceptualized precisely to make information instantly available.
The Internet is beginning to change the way we Filipinos access data, conduct surveys or research or share information. It is has enabling power, with just a click of a button and it is brings us to a seemingly endless arrays of connection to a different space- the cyberspace --- an uncharted territory. It also has humbling effect, what we know today might be considered old in matters of days. But while the Internet can empower, it can also alienate.
It has brought us to hope, we sort of wishing of it as an information Esperanto, a great equalizer for the world in which we live and indeed we are fortunate to live in this interesting age of electronic agrarianism.
This paper is divided into three parts:
I. The State of the Net in the Philippines
Internet is, according to Rob Kling, of the Center for Social Informatics is "a wonderful extension of the nations (and worlds) communication infrastructure widely used in education, journalism and research, as well as for commerce and entertainment". While the United States and the western world find it convenient to embrace this technological world, we, from the Philippines, would like to look at this digital revolution with this attitude, in the word of John Perry Barlow of Electronic Frontier Foundation, "fasten our seatbelt and enjoy being confused".
In the United States, it is presumed that there are approximately 83 million people going online to gather news, do research, go shopping or just have fun in the Net. Almost 40 % of the US population age 16 or older, are accessing the Internet.(see data from Intelliquest Research )
In the Philippines, a country of more than 70 million people based on at the 1997 estimate statistics, shows there are 217,121 users at the end of 1997 or .003 % of the population [IDC Report]. More than 900,000 users expected by the year 2002 and 6 % of the Philippine users have bought products out of curiosity of the procedure through the Web. There are now 170 ISPs in the Philippines that serve the major cities of the archipelago. About 60 to 70 or 35- 40 % are based in Metro Manila. The Ph Domain have also increased from 475 in February 1997 to 2,246 in September 1998 or a whopping 470 % increase. One big factor in the popularity of the Internet in the Philippines is the ability of our people to speak and use English very well. English has always been considered as our second language. Its dominance in the Internet needs no arguing. Hardware and software are in any case English oriented. Most of the search engines are in English and are based in the US.
The presence of ISPs in different parts of the archipelago has ignited the flame to get free e- mail, do chatting, one can adopt a new persona, change gender, gain insights from others culture and others. Besides, part of the reasons for being drawn to the Internet is its convenience and novelty.
There is certainly novelty in this new emerging technology. Access to the Web has created much joy and fun especially among the youth who can get in touch with their parents or relatives where a good number works as Oversees Filipino Workers (OFW). By paying only P 90 an hour (equivalent to US$ 2.50) one can go online through the presence of cybercafe in almost all the popular malls in the cities. This kind of arrangement has been of great help in making communication with the love ones more accessible over prohibitively expensive cost of long distance telephone calls. Inspite of this over-enthusiasm and overwhelming response, some signs of information overload, net addiction, cyber-plagiarism and others are beginning to surface. The Internet has provided a nice insulation, one need not give his/her real name or address.
Another problem with the Internet is private access. In the Philippines, for example, The average cost of a top of the line computer ranges from P 25, 000.00 to P40,000.00 or around $ 650- $1,000.00.The annual average family income of a full time employee is P123,881.00(US $3,260.00)(figures, from National Census Office) Thus someone who would like purchase one good computer must spend about 1/3 of his/her salary on a computer. The prohibitive cost of computers, continuous upgrade and the impending problem on Y2K has brought a lot of caution to a great number of individuals.
The Philippines connection to the Net is barely five years old. A Yahoo! like website directory which devotes things about the Filipino life and culture. Last year, the first Webby Award was launched in recognition to Filipinos contribution to the digital culture.
Although there is no serious study yet on the Profile of Net users in the Philippines, a pioneering study was made by a Singapore based firm. Allow me to present some of the key findings in the Internet Survey. A total of 2285 Filipino Internet users participated in the study and a profile of the net user as follows:
He is 25 years old, male with a college degree and earns about P 30,000.00 (around US$ 750.00) a month and made some shopping on the Internet for books, magazines and software. E-commerce is promis ing even though only 5 % have tried online business transaction. The study continues to perpetuate three major biases:
According to 1995 report by the Panos Institute, a London-based international non-profit organization specializing in development issues,
"Access requires a telephone line At a global level at least 80% of the worlds population still lacks the most basic telecommunications."
Moreover, during the last few months of 1998, a boycott was organized to protest the rate hike of telephone. The general call is that making access to the Internet expensive is a factor of underdevelopment.
II. Information gap
The United Nations is greatly concerned about the imbalance in access to communication facilities. The UN's Administrative Committee on Coordination issued a statement on Universal Access to Basic Communication and Information Services in April 1997 in which it comments:
"We are profoundly concerned at the deepening mal-distribution of access, resources and opp ortunities in the information and communication field. The information technology gap and related inequities between industrialized and developing nations are widening: a new type of poverty - information poverty - looms. Most developing countries, especially the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are not sharing in the communication revolution, since they lack:
The Philippine government is fully aware that societys level of advancement can be measured by its level of communication. Access to information is recognized as a basic human right. The World Telecommunication Development Report 1998 says:
" Perhaps the greatest danger to improve access is complacency. There is a tenden cy to believe that a profitable industry will solve the access problem by itself."
According to the latest study on global software piracy by the Business Software Alliance and the Software Publishers Association), in 1998 , 38 % of the business applications loaded onto PCs worldwide were pirated. This is translated into $11 billion lost as a result of software piracy in 1998, compare to $ 11.4 billion.
The Philippines was ranked 24th among countries with the highest software piracy. From the data available, it went down to 77 percent in 1998 from 83 percent in 1997.This is the second successive reduction in the piracy rate considering the economic problems the country is facing.
It is important to know, that among Asians, imitation is a form of compliment. Hence the saying:" he who shares is to be rewarded; he who does not, is condemned."
Take for example the case of the software AutoCAD Release 14 whose original price cost P125,000.00 as compare to the P 300.00 price. The temptation to have one of this software can also bring a certain advantage and affirmation among peers.
Having a law is one thing; enforcing it is another. This makes us differ from the Western perspective of morality, westerners tend to be deontological, while the Asian morality utilitarian. In general, the attitude towards software piracy can be sum up in this:
"The difference between hardware and software is this, hardware is what you buy, software is what you copy."
Towards a Collaborative Effort
There is a tremendous responsibility attached to those who have as the saying goes: much is given, much is expected. There is a need to share and to collaborate. When I was looking at my dictionary, on one of the meaning of collaboration is "co-operating treacherously with the enemy." More positive though, is for us to get together and do something. Information has to be shared and the need for an effective dialogue takes time and it can be done. Any first world perspective or any specialists' views or findings just to validate the researches are by definition unbalanced, incomplete and unhealthy. Michael Dertouzos email to the author says : "left to its own devices the information revolution will increase the gap between the poor and the rich nations and between rich and poor people between nations".
Everyone has the right and the duty to participate and collectively learn from each others efforts. We believe that it is important that you know what its like at our end. While it is true that we may have different cultural perspective, this adds richness and depths to our sense of meaning of "being glocal". Now we are in this electronic proximity it is now important to become more accustomed to each other.
The global challenges require coordinated responses based on common universal ethical principles. We can no longer allow to have two informationone for the rich (the haves) and the other for the poor (the have-nots). As in the word of one poet, "there will be only one future, or none at all."
* I would like to thank the SPT Program Committee, especially to Prof. Deborah Johnson, whose works inspired me to see and re-focus from a particularly Filipino perspective on what are the socio-ethical implication of the widespread use of computer technology.