The information super highway — The power of the Internet and Did Australia Miss the Memo?

I remember going on a field trip early 1994 during freshman year in high school. I was chosen as part of a select few students in my math class to attend a conference at USC titled: “The Information Super Highway”. I barely remember the details of this day but I clearly remember the name and the speaker’s video prop. He spoke of the days where people can access the world with the palm of their hand in an instant. He spoke of connections made instantly, working remotely, and a few other things I don’t remember. My naive 14 year-old english-as-a-second language brain barely understood most of the conference, but one thing stuck, in the future I won’t need to go to the library. Believe or not, I don’t recall the conference using the term: Internet … instead they called it “The Information Super Highway”.

Internet has become such an important part of who we are today. We use it to connect with family, work, friendships, or to look for cooking recipes, flight/lodging options, and more.

One would think that while traveling the world we would be disconnected most of the time and check the online world once a week or so. I mean, 60% of our trip was in a “third world” country. Surely they don’t have wifi everywhere. Oh man how I was wrong. Not only was I wrong about the “third world” being disconnected, but about expecting first world countries to be connected.

I debated about buying a global USB internet connection before our trip. The cost was $60/month but you would have wifi almost anywhere in the world. It was tempting but we decided against it figuring most of our lodging will have some form of internet. If not our lodging, then a nearby cafe. For the most part, in all the 20+ countries we’ve visited, this has been the case. We can connect almost everyday, communicate with the people we love and in my case get some work done.

The coolest internet experience was in Otres Beach, Cambodia. We were staying in a bamboo hut on a very remote beach. Our hut was a few meters away from the ocean with no walls except for bamboo curtains to cover 3 of the 4 sides of the hut. The 4th side was facing the turquoise ocean. Even here, we could access a wifi connection and speak with the people we loved. It was here where I met my brother’s girlfriend for the first time via a 3-way skype video call. It was a surreal experience.

The most productive internet experience was in 4,000 Islands, Laos. We were staying in a very remote island on the Mekong River. There are no motorized vehicles in this island and the roads are all dirt (or mud depending on the weather). Our hotel offered WIFI in the open air restaurant. One morning while staying in 4,000 Islands, I had a Skype meeting with the producers of the SFMOMA Photography in Mexico Exhibition. During the meeting they mentioned the need for a spirit sponsor. After the call I made a few phone calls and I was able to connect them with Don Julio Tequila followed by a 3-way call and a few emails. SFMOMA and Don Julio were able to connect for this event and I heard the event was a huge success. After the morning calls, I went on an 8-hr Mekong River kayaking excursion to do river rapids and to search river dolphins!

However cool these last two stories sound, sometimes I think internet is evil and it takes away from basic human interaction. Look at the following examples:

In 1990, if you wanted to meet up with a friend you would call their house and if they would not answer, you would leave a voice mail in their answering machine. To connect with a friend without meeting up sometimes you would hand write letters and actually go buy some postage stamps.

In 1995, to get a call back, you would avoid using the answering machine and call their pager. You would type your own phone number followed by a 911 if you wanted them to call you back ASAP.

In 2000, to connect with a friend you would call their cell phone and expect them to answer right away. If they don’t answer their phone you would call the house but because of call waiting, you also expected them to answer your call right away.

In 2005, email, cell phone, myspace, and texting were the ways of communicating. Instead of calling now, you would text your friend: “How are you?” — “You free for dinner?” — “I’m busy. TTYL” — “I love you”.  We no longer thought the need to actually call or request to meet up.

In 2010, Facebook became important to your life. Texting and email are still our top 2 communication channels but Facebook is now utilized to see how someone is doing. A person-to-person meeting is near impossible in this cyberspace busy life we lead. You would send a wall post comment to a friend asking them: “Wow, great picture. How’s life?” or a private message to friends that matter because the wall post friends are not really friends … they’re just people you added as friends because you don’t want to be mean.

In 2012, FB wall comments or private messages have now become close to obsolete. To let someone know you care at all, you don’t bother leaving a comment or sending a private message. Instead you “LIKE” their comment/photo/post and hope they realize that you like it.

With 1,500 “friends” on Facebook, it’s difficult to keep track of who’s doing what. But more importantly, we get such a release of some crazy hormone in our brain that 50% of FB users login once a day to see how many likes they have on their post. There is some type of high most people get when they feel “loved” via Facebook.

I’m guilty of this lack of communication myself. I mean, a skype call is only 2 cents a minute and yet I only find calling my mom every so often. I want to think I have an excuse because I’m traveling but in reality I’m not on vacation. This is a lifestyle. I think I called my mom more when I lived in SF than while traveling and yet I’m more free now than when I was back then … SORRY MOM! I’ll try to call you more often!!!

In any case, my point is that if you let internet take over your interactions with people, you will lose the necessary social skills we are meant to have. We need to interact with people face-to-face (or at least via voice communication) to really connect and grow together. A simple email, FB message, or text will only connect you so far. How many times have you misinterpreted an email in the past that got you upset?

Regardless, internet, if used well, is a powerful tool. It allows you to connect with the people you love that are thousands of miles away, or connect with thousands of people with the click of a button, or connect with a long lost friend, or research anything your brain can think of … really, anything!

As powerful as internet is, I was surprised that a “first world” country was lacking broadband infrastructure.

Did Australia Miss the Memo?

Per my two previous examples, you know we’ve managed to get internet in the most remote places in Cambodia, Laos, India, Thailand, Jordan, and more — most of the WIFI connections for free. We were also able to connect in “first world” countries in Europe. However, to our surprise, Australia is really not setup for wifi. We’ve only been to two cities: Sydney and Cairns so we cannot speak for the majority of the country, but I figure these two cities are pretty important for the country.

My mom was gracious to give us part of her time share to stay in Sydney. It was a 3 star studio/hotel apartment. To our surprise, WIFI connection was only available for a charge of $20/day. The nearest wifi connection (and the only wifi connections) were 3 blocks away: McDonalds, Burger King, and Starbucks … luckily I like cheeseburgers and chocolate sundaes but fast food joints were the last place I wanted to hang out while traveling the world. I prefer local cafe’s like the cool coffee shop serving milk tea in Chiang Mai.

Unfortunately, neither of the three locations offered any reliable internet connection. The speeds were pathetic for lack of a better word. I could barely download my emails and I was not able to login to my bank accounts.

We were hoping our stay in Cairns would be different but we were faced with even a scarier situation. Our 3 star resort (includes tennis courts, 3 pools, lagoon, and a block from the beach) does not even offer WIFI at a cost. They have one computer in the reception (opened from 8 am to 5 pm) with an operating system of Windows ME …. yikes!

The closest WIFI connection? A 10 minute drive to McDonalds or Burger King… the first few days we did not have a car so we got stuck without internet.

No where during our travels has it been so difficult to connect to the information super highway.

But let’s hold on for a minute. I’m not really complaining, I’m just shocked! I was glad I did not have access to the internet at my hotel or anywhere near it. It gave me the opportunity to enjoy writing a bit more and reading some books. We also got the opportunity to cook more and go exercise.

I am still debating wether to hire internet upon my return to “normal” life or stay without it. A friend of mine in Chiang Mai deliberately chose to not have internet at home. She said that having no internet helped her focus on more productive things and forced her to get out of the house more often.

As I write this (on my offline blog editor), I am torn between being connected or enjoying an internet free life …

Because I have not been able to call family, I’m leaning towards getting the fastest connection possible upon my return regardless the price, but I also realize that when I’m back in SF, I’ll have a phone I can use to call!

Back to Australia. Today I saw a commercial paid by the Government of Australia that they’re investing in broadband infrastructure. I’m glad for them! Even with all the evil things the internet can make us do, I cannot deny the power of the information super highway.

What’s your take? Hate or love the internet? Leave us a comment!





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *