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Minding the Fine Virtual Line in A Borderless World

Some friends and I chatted recently about global recession and effects on Indonesia. One guy firmly believed there’d be none, since there’s no mortgage problem here and most Indonesians don’t invest in capital market. I said globalization made it impossible for virtually any Earthling to keep immune of any happening outside their borders.

He was starting to argue back when his laptop fired a ‘ping’. Wait, he chuckled, someone just posted me something on the wall. Soon he was buried on Facebook. When I had to leave, he waved and muttered something about me to please register myself on networking sites so he could always keep tabs, all the while fixating his eyes on the screen.

I couldn’t help but laughing about the whole irony.

For the remaining naysayers, globalization has long arrived and is here to stay. For the often ill-informed or ignorant believers, it brought baggage; in which for each posh Louis Vuitton trunk there’s a non-descript luggage potentially as nasty as the Pandora box.

Take the unraveling recession. It started at Uncle Sam’s grand house of cards, quietly took down Baby Stearns, Aunt Frannie and Uncle Freddie, ravished Brother Lehmann, Sister Merrill and Cousin WaMu, and then quickly infected shaky Wall Street houses before spreading into unsuspecting houses on Main Street and World Streets. Welcome to Global Village, population 6 billions.

Self-reliance may work to some extent, but completely rejecting globalization is delusional. No country can efficiently produce everything to sufficiently provide for their citizens, as no country can effectively run economy without foreign citizens playing some parts. The relatively self-provided Eskimos face ecosystem going awry, thanks to climate change inflicted by the rest of us. Even the self-professed West-haters al-Qaeda relies on West-invented Internet to spread propaganda.

Which brings to my utmost discomfort, that the Pandora box of free information is much uglier. We can control goods movement across borders, but regulating information stream seems futile.

The Web’s massive capability to store information and feasibility to connect people has created a perpetual thirst of new information and the need of instant gratification, which birthed 24/7 news cycle and BlackBerry. It also fertilizes primal human traits of curiosity and recognition; explains the rise of blogs and YouTube, and why reality shows triumph over regular TV. Networking sites like Friendster, MySpace and Facebook answered all of the above.

What seems to have conveniently been forgotten in this euphoria is that regardless of how many ways we can get connected, the number of messages a human being can receive, process, or relay in a given period has limit. Thus, consciously or not, people prioritize their information sources and outlets. The question is will they prioritize wisely?

The Indonesian execs still busy parading their new BlackBerry may not know yet that the developed world now suffers from the CrackBerry phenomenon, where people are so addicted to the device’s connection they get feverish when cut off and become awkward in relating to real human beings.

I’ve seen a silent group with laptops, each busy updating profile on networking site, which primary ‘friends’ are probably none other than themselves, instead of just directly telling each other of the new flame acquired last weekend. Or the angry wife who chose to air on YouTube her marital woes, including hubby’s bedroom antics, instead of filing a normal divorce paper.

Those are quite harmless compared to what 20-year-olds and younger, who never know life without cyberworld, have gotten themselves into. A CSI: NY episode showed a young serial murderer who couldn’t separate herself from her hired assassin avatar identity, and in an eerie twist of life imitating art, last week a wife divorced the husband who couldn’t forego his avatar’s girlfriend whom he never even met in real life. The 14-year-old who went to big school, yet felt so lonely when her MySpace crush dumped her she hanged herself.

The boy who staged suicide in front of online camera, while Netters nonchalantly discussing the unfolding scene before someone sensibly alerting police, who sadly couldn’t make it on time. The most chilling; how maladjusted people in search of identity and place in the world, instead of pushing comfort zone to engage the surrounding society, or using Web to develop healthy lifestyle, withdrawing to cyber groups that offer twisted ideologies masking on false camaraderie. Campus killing spree and suicide bombing, anyone?

I support rights of free speech and access to balanced information. But in this borderless virtual world, only we can exert discipline and accountability on ourselves. Barack Obama might’ve pioneered a Web-based campaign garnering unprecedented grass-root supports and donations, but now he’s mulling over the way to balance normal life (email for him, Facebook for his daughters) and the risks of highly-connectedness for people in their position.

And that also goes for us mere mortals. My new business venture uses networking sites for promotions, though I personally opt out. My friends and associates come from various walks of life, too endearingly unique to be put on one-dimensional page, and what I like to share may well be different or irrelevant to each subgroup of fellow writers, bellydancing friends, diehard yogis, ex roommates, former classmates, or business clients and associates. Still, it hasn’t stopped my old pictures or private conversations to appear on people’s sites for others to freely observe.

The manner of which I dispense the information is also different, a trivial aspect often overlooked on work emails or as in my consulting gig recently, when a bright talent lost job offer due to post-interview text messages, despite my advice that formal correspondence is the best communication method with future employers, and in extreme situations requiring SMS to always maintain proper language instead of the abbreviated colloquialism used among friends.

It’s borderless. It doesn’t have to be mindless. And it’s up to us.


This article is originally published by the Jakarta Post