On Friday, Jeong left his phone in a taxi, it’s gone and unlikely he’ll get it back. It was an expensive smartphone and had apps for a pocket dictionary, calculator, music player, games, notebook, and map. It also had a mobile internet connection.
Jeong relied on the smartphone so much that he feels disorinentated without it, he complains about his disconnectedness. At the moment I think the man-phone is the closest we are to cybernetic existence. The phone connects you to a network, I can see that connection slowly growing in strength, to the point where it acts as an extension of the body.
I’m reading ‘Program or be Programmed’ by Douglas Rushkoff. He argues that the internet is an asynchronous medium. The computer is timeless, it does not matter whether it takes you ten seconds to compose an email or ten hours. It makes no difference whether the recipient is down the street or on a different continent. My dad likes to repeat that you can always save an email and it’ll still be there tomorrow like it’ll still be there next year. He recognises that computers don’t move at the same pace as us, and this understanding of time is important.
While I’m living here, I am in a condition of asynchonous communication, I don’t connect to the internet in real-time.
Firstly, any communication with the UK is delayed by a 5-hour gap across time zones. That’s a fixed separation and it makes it difficult to chat with people at mutually convenient times. I had a chat with my brother on IRC, and that was my only real-time conversation with someone outside of Kazakhstan which wasn’t planned in advance.
Secondly, internet speed here is generally extremely slow. I’ve become very careful with bandwidth usage, I turn off images in firefox, and I’ve noticed Jeong using a download manager. There’s no streaming media here, everything has to be downloaded in advance and saved offline. Having said that, it’s amazing how much you can do with only a 5-10 Kb/s connection. I can easily download news from RSS feeds, send status notices, emails, or publish blogposts like this one.
Lastly, I have very limited access to the internet. Since moving into the dormitory I’ve lost Brennan’s mobile connection, which was available whenever Brennan was in the hotel. The university claims that WiFi is available in the study rooms, but that’s not true. There is no WiFi in the study rooms. There was WiFi in the Coffee Inn cafe, until about three weeks ago when it was arbitrarily turned off. At the moment there is no wireless internet access on campus.
I only connect to the internet in the computer rooms, which are open intermittently from 9:00 to 20:00 on weekdays and they’re usually open at around mid-day on weekends. Each computer room has a supervisor who watches what you’re doing, and you need to ask permission to print anything out. This effectively makes the computer rooms a closed system. The connection is censored through a local university filter, as well as the national one, although most websites are available.
I remember someone saying that complete censorship is impossible because as soon as you start limiting internet access, people will fall back to exchanging USB sticks between each other. Well, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’ve asked one of the Korean students to download some study materials onto a USB stick so that I can read them over the weekend.
In this situation, I’m basically disconnected from the network. I still have to use computers, but I’ve gotten used to not relying on them. On Saturday, the university was closed and I didn’t use the internet all day. Some days I only get 5 minutes to check any new emails and then I move on. I’ve accepted that feeling of being out of touch, not knowing what’s happening in the world.