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Guest Post by S A J Shirazi

Having to survive without the Internet when every one seems to be living in the cyberspace and achieving is a new king of anxiety. It is very hard to perceive life offline especially for those who have integrated Internet in their lives and work.

The Internet is a shorter route to many things: obtaining information, conducting business, making decisions, socializing or spending leisure time. Researchers are trying to find out Internet's impacts on life on and offline. Celebration of the Internet Free Day or the 20-year net veteran Steve Cisler's expedition to put himself "in other people shoes who are not online" are some cases in point.

For generation that is growing up with the Internet, the essence of existence lies in their presence online and being disconnected in their totally connected circle means like living in a digital dark age. This fraternity thinks that every one in the world is online. They forget an overwhelming majority of humanity which is without the Internet. Convinced that there is nothing that cannot be done online, this generation looks up to the Internet world for help and support for every thing from writing term papers to writing emails 'to the future' or doing what many will not try in real life -- even shy adolescents are active and bold in the virtual world when engaged in Internet communications as a passionate past time. I browsed MSN Member Directory with my search preference (Pakistan, single and looking, age 20-29) and found 20 pages of results showing Pakistani males and 20 pages of Pakistani females. Well, in today's world, the Internet does net people in a well knit circle together!

Always looking to own new gizmos, experience new technologies and find ways to do novel things online, it is the youth who are future computer scientists, engineers, programmers, developers and end users (also the Web queens and the Net princes). Youth are worst affected by no access to the Internet or outages. How do you perceive life without the Internet? "Without the Internet my life is unimaginable. It gives me feelings of being a dweller of the Stone Age if all of a sudden I were to quit use of the Internet. But like radio, television, or telephone, or cars and microwave ovens, the Internet is not going to go away. So I think of making best of it rather than thinking about living without it," says Sara Kazmi, editor Ravi, a magazine of Government College University Lahore. Jaffar, a Syrian student of de'Montmorency College of Dentistry Lahore says, "A lot of thrill and interactivity is attached with the world online so it really is painful to perceive life without the Internet."

The other categories hit by no access or disconnections are of IT professionals and those end users who are supplementing their earnings by pursuing income generating activities online. Zahid Shahzad, a techie says, "When I am disconnected, I attend to those assignments that otherwise keep piling up in the in-tray waiting for my attention. And, I keep jotting down things and thoughts, what I would do when online." Hafiz Munir is an urbanite computer engineer with his roots in the village where his mother, brothers and sisters live without telephone or possibility of the Internet access. He says, "I have always been going to my village to refresh my urban attitudes but going has become greatly difficult since I have put my work and life on the Internet. And it is no only me. No IT professional can afford to live without continuous connectivity. One of the reasons is that others assume IT people as 'on call' every time."

Users who have been online all their life have started taking it for granted. Any interruption, short or long, is frustrating. What do you do when you have to live offline for reasons beyond control? "Me and every one in my circle (presence on the Internet seems to be defining social circles) groans and grumbles when ever there is a disruption in connectivity; and there are so many," says Sara. Enthusiastic users have connections from more than one ISP (and the Internet cards at hand) and still "the first thing I do is to ring one or two ISPs and inquire, then I ask my friends before I decide what to do. One has to run around if there is a hardware or software problem that needs a repair or reinstallation. In our country you can do nothing in case of electric failures, telephone line disruptions or ISP 'maintenance' problem. Even respective departmental inquiry stations and help lines will not tell you what is happening," laments Arshad Mahmud. And Hafiz says, "After ascertaining the cause, I look for alternatives to remain online till things are back to normal at my own work station."

Acquiring necessary skills and hooking on the Internet at later stages in life was a major shift for those who were in the middle of their life when Internet necessitated changes in job specifications and descriptions as well as in societal norms. It is comparatively easier for this class to strike balance in on and offline life.

For Maryum Yunus, switching from the position of a sub editor in a print publication was a major shift -- especially in terms of Internet access and experience online. "The usage of the Internet mainly depends on what sort of work one is doing. I have Internet exclusively available to me at work as well as home. For my newspaper job, use of the Net was essential for me. I would logon and remain online more though I never was a freak. My present job as the Assistant Manager Image Marketing does not require active use of the Net. I only need to go online every now and then for a short duration to download my emails, fire off replies, weed out spam to keep the inbox under limits, exchange Hello Hi with friends if I can could catch someone online or to surf any specific site and look for particular information. Life never stops for me if I am disconnected or do not go online for days. After all people had been living, working and communicating even before IBM launched the personal computer. No?"

Life offline is rather harder for those who are yet striving to go online; those who are aware of the Internet and what people are accomplishing online. In our infrastructure poor country, majority of people are not online, for a variety of reasons. "I always dream about life online and what all I will be able to do when I join college in the city," told Mumtaz, a metric student from village Mong who is using computer since last one year and is to go to the city for college education where he will be able get connected. "People are migrating to cities for providing opportunities to their wards in the online world," says Hafiz.

There is an equilibrium point between the virtual and real life though it is getting difficult to point out where that point is. Life online is difficult but life can be much more enriching for those who are online, can take control of the Internet and are not mesmerized by its rhythm.

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posted @ 12:30 PM,

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