A decade ago, the World Bank had recorded that 25% of the Philippine population are internet users. What do you think is the percentage now? Given the fact that we are on the bottom of the list when it comes to internet speed, a 10-percent rate increase is already a good guess. Or let us say 20 percent, because of the seemingly interminable offers to avail products and services that would allow almost any household to be integrated into the online world. Surprisingly, in 2017, data shows that 60% of the populace are already internet users. The source is yet to release its data for the past few years, but three years after that big leap, we are now facing a pandemic that has drastically changed our reality.
And by “reality,” I mean both our online and offline realities. For the past few years, I have considered the two to be detached with each other. When I went online, I was completely aware that what I was seeing were profiles and not actual people. And that the cyberspace has nothing to do with the life I live outside of it. However, with the entire period of time that we were on lockdown, I learned that it is inevitable for the two realities to overlap with one another. We see it now in the way interviews are conducted via Zoom, live broadcast of news is done at the comfort of the reporter’s homes, press conferences are becoming “virtual,” and so on. With the aforementioned, I cannot help but conclude that our online world is constitutive and even reflective of our concrete reality. How so?
On one hand, the online constituting what happens offline can be seen in the presence of online protests. This phenomenon happened remarkably during the burial of the former President Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and the most recent one is the call for mass testing in the country. Moreover, politicians and personalities joining the Tiktok wave, doing fundraising online, and posting on social media what they are up to are manifestations that online presence now contributes to their reality, which is also our reality. Government agencies conducting online surveys and considering these as valid sources of data for policy-making is also an indication of our online interactions contributing to how we navigate in the offline.
On the other hand, our offline reality becomes reflected online in so many ways. For example, we often think that everyone is given an equal footing on social media merely because same rule applies to us when we share our insights and content. This is also how our mind operates offline. We go around thinking that all of us are given the fair chance of getting into college, securing a job, and enjoying the work of our hands. The truth is, in both online and offline dimensions, inequality and unfair treatment exists which bring us to various situations. A concrete example would be the tale of two cases involving the National Bureau of Investigation. The one is on the public school teacher who was immediately detained and the other is on a government official who was interrogated in a span of 25 minutes with her lawyers. In both worlds, we should take into account that in everything we do, our resources, influences, and privileges that interplay with our circumstances are not the same. And most often than not, these differences and inequalities result to unfair treatment among us.
But beyond the online being constitutive and reflective of our offline world, I think the real concern should be how our (dis)connection to it exacerbates social inequality. At this point, we have seen that while others are able to speak their mind online and be informed of the latest events because of being connected to the internet, many of us remain to be disconnected and silenced and uninformed, or worse, misinformed.
As we advance for our transition to online classrooms and cashless transactions, among others, our fellow Filipinos continue to grapple with life, thinking about what they should do next so they could pay their rent if they are lucky enough to have a home. For some of us, work from home set-up is favorable that we often forget about the employees who are gravely affected by the no work-no pay scheme of some businesses. In this intertwining of the online and offline worlds, we see how it brings about severe and concretely felt societal problems.
In a research conducted by PEW Research Center, it is stated that people with higher levels of education are more likely to use the internet. With this finding, we should not be surprised if a decade from now, we are left with a wider social divide between the rich and the poor, the urban and rural areas, the cities and far-flung municipalities, and so on. The point is, our (dis)connection has real social implications that reshape the future of our nation. To address this, we have to use the internet as a tool to help more Filipinos to become more equipped in contributing to nation-building. And we can do that by ensuring that not one of us is left disconnected, ergo make internet accessible to all. In short, technological development should not be instrumental to class stratification but must be a part of our strategy in uplifting our fellow men.
There has been a disconnection in the way we operate as people, that is, there has been a wider social gap that continues to worsen. Now that the majority of the objects that signify this gap is gone due to the pandemic, I hope that the connection that we are now more concerned about is not solely the internet connection we need in order to carry on with our personal lives but the common humanity that we should uphold as a collective. During this lockdown, I hope that those who have the luxury to do so, will go beyond the market-oriented way of life, and start asking the real questions: What information is true and factual? Whose interest am I forwarding? Amidst the complexities of social structures, where should I position myself in order to serve my neighbor? Etc.
For all of us who remain alive and able amidst the pandemic, where are we going to be in the next decades? We have to look into the possible trajectories of our country. If healthcare, education, water, and other basic necessities will continue to be under the monopoly of giant corporations, then we can expect more injustice in the future. If businesses will continue to choose profit over people, one day we will find ourselves in two possible scenarios: 1) integrated into another social system that is evidently different from what we have now or 2) still in the same system but with less people to interact with because not many of us can make it. These changes may sound strange, scary even. But change, more than a stimuli that arouse emotion, is a call to action.
It is imperative that we act on our reality today to see the future that we wish to live in as a nation. How much change do we want to see? We have all the data we need in our reality and we have the resources we can use at our disposal. May we, as individuals, choose to become a part of the percentage that is a part of the solution and not the problem. And may we, as a collective, take the necessary leaps to make progress inclusive and pro-Filipino.