Friday, September 14, 2012

Look Back

My average day in Lianga nowadays starts with a routine so familiar that I often go through it it with nary a conscious thought as if I am on autopilot or cruise control.

As I get out of bed at about six in the morning, one hand immediately reaches out to flick on a switch on a power strip fixed to the wall on the right side of the headboard of my bed.  This turns on an internet modem and a WiFi router.  Then I grab my trusty Samsung tablet on a side table and, while still in pajamas, is quickly out of the bedroom and off to the kitchen to brew a cup of  hot coffee (sugar free but most certainly not decaf).

Then in the lanai of the house facing the sea and the slowly brightening horizon beyond the expanse of Lianga Bay and the blue-green waters of the Pacific Ocean, I would sit hunched over an old wooden table that used to belong to my paternal grandfather, steaming mug within easy reach, and leisurely checking my email inbox plus the day's latest news online while the sunrise of the new day breaks out in front of me.  A video call or two may occasionally interrupt my web trolling then it's on to Facebook for messages and updates from friends.

I am sure, the breathtaking sunrise vista taken aside, this routine is not exactly uncommon for a lot of people even here in the Philippines and more so elsewhere in the civilized world.  What makes it notable in my case in Lianga is that just six years ago, it could have been only not possible but the kind of stuff a local tech junkie of that time could have only dreamed about.

The year 2006 was the year Smart Communications inaugurated its SmartBro wireless internet broadband service in this town.  This was just  less than a year after it had completed work on its first cellular phone facility here and local mobile phone service became a reality.  I was the first to get hooked up to their internet service and yet even I had no real inkling then of the sea of sudden and life-altering changes that seemingly insignificant event would have in my life and the lives of the people here in Lianga.

Nowadays, there is nary a street corner in this town without a house with computer devices including laptaps and tablet PC's with an internet connection.  Most connect via WiFi networks within their homes and now consider having long, leisurely audio and video chats with family and friends from all over the world via Skype or FaceTime as an ordinary part of the average day.

A majority of Lianga residents now routinely dabble in web social networking and own Facebook or Twitter accounts.  An even greater number use e-mail and other internet tools on a regular basis and are no longer strangers to looking for, researching or buying consumer and other market products online.

This does not mean, however, that the road to fast and reliable internet connectivity here in Lianga has been without its problems.  For a long time and even to this very day, SmartBro's virtual monopoly as the sole ISP in Lianga has resulted in spotty service that has given credence to its moniker "SmartBroken".  Yet there has been a gradual albiet grudging improvement in speed and network reliability brought about perhaps by the prospect of facing potential competitors for a growing local internet subscriber market from other telecommunication companies like its primary rival, Globe Telecom.

The positive changes to daily life here brought about by the internet and the latest advances in wireless digital telecommunications have been enormous.  Physical distances have become meaningless as people can now easily communicate by text, audio and video in real time.  In a community where there are no local newspapers, radio and television stations, news and information are now quickly and easily accessible.  More than that, by the innovative use of social networking on the web and other internet tools such as blogs and online forums, many here that used to be voiceless and apathetic have acquired a capacity to have their say on the many social, political and economic issues of the day.

Yet like all the cutting edge technological advances of human civilization, such developments are not without their dark, unsavory and undesirable aspects.  Young, impressionable and innocent minds are easily overwhelmed by the quick and easy access to the deluge of  undesirable content (such as materials promoting pornography and violence) that is constantly available on the web.  Addiction to internet gaming and to internet use itself are also acknowledged problems and even in Lianga are becoming concerns that need to be addressed.

I was once asked by a friend if I am not worried that modern communication technology and the internet is radically changing the Lianga too much in too short a time.  It is a question that bothered me and required a lot of thinking to answer.

What is clear is that change is inevitable even for places like Lianga which had for so many decades existed seemingly within a time warp where nothing seemed to move on. Yet the town is fast catching up to the rest of the world.  To deny this fact it is to be delusional and to resist it is to be foolishly unrealistic.

That is why I have in this blog written so much about the Lianga of old, the Lianga I knew as child and as a young man, and the Lianga of recent years before it became swept into the maelstrom of change brought about by advent of the 21st century.  It is, in one sense, my tribute to the Lianga of the past that is fast becoming a memory and with that tribute is a prayer and a hope that there will always be those who remember what it was like before the magic came.

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