The passport in my PC

I pledge allegiance to the IP and the protocols for which it stands.

I don’t do cigarettes, drugs, gambling or orgies. I do the Internet. I have to: I’m a cybercitizen.

At uni, my friends dreamt of going on safari, riding a gondola or trekking the Himalayas. I just wanted to go to Canada to see dexx, my cyber pal. I spent at least $50 a week to log on at the library and chat in the Filipino room at I’m convinced that taking up Computer Science—and free access to lab computers—saved me from bankruptcy.

In those days, chatting online was not in real-time. I was the F5 (refresh) queen and had multiple windows open to make sure I didn’t miss anything. We were civil. We used punctuation. We came back regularly (indeed, some hardly ever left). I got to practise Tagalog without having to worry about my dodgy accent. There were love affairs, cyber families and enduring friendships. When I finally tried IRC, it was like another country and I was a mere tourist: I came, I saw, I logged off. I think it was the miXed case sPelLinG and egregious lack of punctuation that finally did it for me.

Then I discovered ICQ. Real-time chats on a 28kbps modem were painful, but what price friendship? My best friends, Battcomm and Cybabe, and I could create our own byte-sized world. Mine had pink fonts. When I created a webpage, I staked my little piece of cyberspace. It was called ‘Kat’s Home(less) Page’. Not very original, but it was mine. And there was no mortgage attached.

But I wasn’t a cybercitizen until I started contributing to this world. I discovered message boards—Ah, my F5 skills were once again put to good use!—and had wonderful conversations with strangers on Buffy’s predilection for soulful vampires. I found eGroups (now YahooGroups) and made some random acquaintances until I was propositioned by a 16-year old to ‘meet me at the Novotel at Brighton Le Sands and teach me how to be a man.’ No, thanks. Unsubscribe.

Google brought order to my world. I was using ‘Google’ as a verb before it was even really a noun. It’s like the Lonely Planets guide to the Web, except it doesn’t just guide you, it brings you where you want to go. Well, most of the time. Sometimes it brings you to unspeakable places when all you want to do is find some information on the French water polo team. Who knew ‘water sports’ could get so messy?

When I discovered blogs and created my own, I became a contributing member of society. I wasn’t just a tourist anymore—I became a permanent resident. The fact that this world has no taxes is a bonus. My backyard is made of words and the neighbourhood gardens blossom with information. As in real life, we learn to sort the daises from the dandelions. Last year, I ditched the tricycle and upgraded to a 4WD—in other words, broadband. One day, I’ll trade that in for a private plane (wireless, baby!).

There are all sorts of worlds within worlds on the Net. Unlike the offline world, there’s space for everybody—even the Iraqi Information Minister. It’s a haven, a home and a vibrant community. What we do and say and whom we meet online are just as real to us as those we see everyday. (Battcomm and Cybabe were invited to my wedding!) Like the pyramids of Egypt or the Great Barrier Reef, the Net holds attractions and wonder for me and I never tire of it. Unlike Disneyland, most attractions are free.

It’s not always easy to live in two worlds at the same time. My husband is perplexed though resigned. (He credits the Great Modem Crash of 1997 for enabling him to pry me off the keyboard long enough to go out on a date.) You can bet I’ll be sneaking in a visit to this site at work to check for comments. When everyone is asleep at home, I’ll be breastfeeding my child on the left side so my right hand is free to type and move the mouse.

You see, I have to check out some blogs. That’s what a good neighbour does.

This article was first published in the October 2005 issue of PINOYexpats, an e-zine for Filipino expatriates. I’ve made some minor revisions since.

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