FOR one reason or other, Filipinos spend more hours on social media than the rest of the world. We are also the world’s most prodigious texters. I do not know the percentage of those living off-grid, the small segment of the country’s population of which I am part (which basically means having a phone that can call and send SMS, but with zero applications; this lack of social media presence is the reason I can’t respond to trolls who threaten to “tokhang” me all the time). But I am sure it is a tiny, wee bit. Who can resist the often insatiable urge to post one glorious selfie on social media, the wealthy at Seychelles or Tierra Patagonia and the commoners at Mang Inasal spooning up their petsos? People I know who used to be bland, dull, introverted at the personal level are different on social media. They have jettisoned all their inhibitions to plunge giddily into the shoot-then-post syndrome.
Shoot-then-post is the new national epidemic, but in ways different from dengue or measles. The two are treatable. Cyber addiction is one without any remedy or cure.
Worse, a segment of our cyber users are not much different from the cyber thugs of Putin’s Russia.
They hack, they troll, they spread fake news and they wreak havoc on the broader society. The dark, deep corners of the cyberworld have become the launching pads for all sorts of hackers, perverts, wackos and misguided cyber warriors. The reactions to these typists are 99 percent not discerning, well-meaning reactions but vile, unreasoned tales from trolls.
Only in the Philippines indeed.
The Russian experience on the vile, destructive side of the Web should have been a cautionary tale for us. Many of the technology geniuses now driving the growth of Tel Aviv as the second most productive, innovative and creative technology enclave in the world — after Silicon Valley and the greater Bay Area — are Russian Jews persecuted in modern-day pogroms and forced to resettle in Israel.
So, a part of the Russian internet space is occupied not by the tech geniuses out to create the algorithms and the apps to make the world a better, more efficient place but to sow mayhem in the world. What the state-sanctioned hackers and cyber propagandists did to influence the 2016 United States presidential elections in favor of Trump has been fully documented. Over the past few years, the political energy and capital of Washington has been spent looking at how Russia influenced the 2016 elections to favor Trump.
Just like in Russia, the Philippine internet space is occupied by vile and superficial users — non-stop display of narcissistic tendencies. And one other segment — gambling.
Right now, if you say “online” in the Philippines, the reference point is online gaming, and the star players in this part of the cyber universe are those certified as Philippine offshore gaming operators, or POGOs.
The POGOs, according to real estate nabobs, occupy 1.1 million square meters of office space, which means a lot. Around 60 percent are Chinese operators and that category excludes the Taiwanese. That the Xi Jinping government has appealed, under the name of comity and friendship, to the Philippines to ban the Chinese-run POGOs is an indicator that the Chinese gambling operators here and their Chinese workers fall under the category of “deplorables” in their own country.
Here, they fit in. They are most welcome despite fears that some of the POGO zones are in sensitive military and national security areas. Even some freeport zones host the POGOs.
The online gaming invasion segues well into another byproduct of the Web, the Bitcoin/fintech/blockchain enclaves being put up mostly in the state-run freeport zones. These are essentially the cryptocurrencies that are untethered to the formal monetary institutions. They were dreamed up, initially, by libertarians who wanted independence from the formal currencies and outside of the each of the central banks. But, as they say, even the grandest dream of the global libertarians often go awry.
Gambling, drug-dealing, buying stolen goods, paying for sexual services are among the activities currently associated with the flow of cryptocurrencies. While the Winklevoss twins are often written about as the public face of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, much of the cryptocurrency use is on illicit trade and activities.
Why can’t be we be like Tel Aviv? Or, the vibrant Indian cities dedicated to doing hardcore and productive web business? Or discovering the algorithm for the next Twitter or Uber? Why is “online” Philippines version identified with our worst practices and our worst impulses? The worst of the internet.
Because our version of the Web has never ventured into the phase of serious coding. Because our version of “technology” is displaying our narcissistic tendencies, not working for the next Big App. And texting inanities round the clock.
And because our predisposition is toward gambling, not writing the next code for the next beneficial apps, game changers that would benefit the broader society.