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Web-less Woes

February 2nd 10:00 AM: In my hotel room in Amsterdam – I’m here with a school trip to an MUN (Model United Nations) Conference – and packing my bags for our return flight to Cairo in the evening.

10:15 AM: Suddenly, my room mate bursts in:

– You are not going to believe this!
– What?
-There’s no Internet in Egypt!!
-You have got to be kidding me…….

My initial reaction, on hearing this not-so-spectacular piece of news, was evident disbelief; I really thought my friends were collectively playing a joke on me. Unfortunately, once they provided the evidence – headline news on all the major news sites on the web (all sanity had not been lost, and Internet was still available in Holland it seemed) – I had no choice but to face the music.

No Internet? The idea seemed ridiculous. And what more incredulous reason than because an underwater cable had been damaged?

News reports showed that a cable underwater off the coast of Dubai was cut at 05:59 GMT on Friday and that this was following a cable cut in the Mediterranean on Wednesday. Reports highlighted:

Damage triggered wide Internet outages, hampering businesses and private usage across the Mideast and Asia

With this news in my head, I grabbed the closest computer to me in the hotel lobby and initiated ticking off things one needs to do before going web-less:
– Check email inbox, and send last emails to loved ones, tick;
– Check MSN and tell everyone online about what has happened, tick;
– Check Facebook, MySpace and leave my status to explain my disappearance (so no-body gets worried), tick;
– Check weather, news, and essential entertainment gossip online, tick; and
– Finally kiss the Internet Explorer interface goodbye, tick.

I had ceremoniously parted with the Internet and ensured that I would survive the tremulous days ahead. But, being the naïve little Digital Native I am, I did not stop and think that if this was bad for me, it would definitely be much worse for others, especially those in commercial businesses. And it was.

Wireless Internet providers in Egypt were forced to give all customers a month of free Internet for the inconvenience caused – a substantial loss in revenue. Telecommunications companies were bombarded with complaints and inadvertently lost significant customer goodwill. Businessmen in general lost money; a friend’s father who was waiting for some documents to be sent via email for a crucial meeting with a client never got them and so lost out on big deal. The phrase ‘the end of the world’ no longer seemed as farfetched when I found Digital Natives, Internet consumers and providers all in utter chaos.

On a more personal level, after stepping off the plane and into my home, I noticed the hollow look my laptop had without the green ‘online’ icon. In school, sitting in the ICT (Internet and Computer Technology) room was a mockery, where my hand kept itching to check my email but which I knew would be futile.

On a more positive note, I can say that this incident afforded a rare opportunity for my friends and me to engage in greater “real-life” social interaction, as we now suddenly found ourselves spending more time discussing the latest gossip face to face (no more Facebook for that, remember?).

So, the incident was…I wouldn’t go as far as to say refreshing….but different, nonetheless.

Thursday July 17th 4:00 PM – In the Berkman Center’s kitchen, writing this blog post. Four months since The Incident, and still thankful that we have Internet!

-Kanupriya Tewari