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What is internet for you ?

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Pranav Gaur | Opinion

This brings me to a time when we had smartphones with Android of i-j-k th generation running on 3G networks costing more than 20 times the normal cost today. And it was working fine with me. I had limited use of my smartphone and I had internet cafe, laptop or broadband network for things I prefer a smartphone today. And I was still happy because I wasn’t stuck with a screen all day- or at least my friends were not. I am not happy today. I have plenty of data left at the end of the day and sometimes I feel guilty about it. Other times I don’t have much or any data left before midnight when I have used my mobile device for a considerable part of my day. And I feel guilty about it.

The current consumption rate of data per person today is an indicator of extent we have associated ourselves and our daily leisurely needs with the internet. Like in the Cuban case, people literally smuggled the internet peripheral devices into their country to establish Personal Area Networks. Cubans can now surely make their own networks but for them to visit any web address without surveillance will be another matter of discussion for years to come. The relaxation offered by government of Cuba is a giant leap forward when the country is already 10 years behind the rest of the digital world. Some time ago, Cuban govt. became one of the last countries in the world to allot 3G spectrum to its only Internet Service Provider. A monopoly for strict control over web affairs of the citizens. And Cubans are not alone in this. As per freedomhouse.org ‘Freedom on the net 2018’ report, China is the worst abuser of internet freedom in 2018. Among others include Syria, Iran, North Korea, etc. In this regard, this also deserves mention that freedom to use internet is one thing and freedom to use internet freely is another.

So why does governments restrict internet use? Because it connects people. Internet is the largest source of thought sharing; in the capable hands, it can bring down the whole nations down. For the countries where flow of information is controlled and unidirectional, internet is the biggest threat and maybe that’s why china tops the list of freedom house. A communist single party government can not afford to allow its citizens to explore the freedom enjoyed in other parts of the world. And the argument goes beyond political ideologies. A 2017 report by Community to Protect Journalists found that of all the journalists imprisoned, more than 70% were arrested for activities conducted on internet. So many of these journalists were not convicted of their crimes or their arrests were never made public. In addition to journalistic writers, a considerable number of internet bloggers like me were also detained for their allegedly anti-government articles.

Most of these cases come from countries where digital restrictions are ultimate and their leaders fear internet. The situation is not so in India. We have selective censorship and surveillance. It means almost all websites will work here but certain ones can be clubbed and banned (like pornography or offensive social media content); this selective censorship is mostly triggered by cultural or religious beliefs. There ere political elements too, focusing more on surveillance part. Last Saturday, Jeetrai Hansda was arrested for his 2017 Facebook post (which I haven’t managed to find yet) wherein he has expressed his views on Cow sacrifice and beef & peacock meat consumption. Hansda, a NSD graduate and a teacher by profession comes from a tribal community in Jharkhand state which, according to him, has a long tradition of consuming meat such as beef and peacock. In my own interest, I am not in a position to put forth my views justifying or criticizing Hansda’s arrest but somewhere, somehow internet has a say in it.

In a way, the digital freedom offered in India is only exploited by us. This is a shame for young guns of India if they are using their internet freedom to play PUBG or ‘browse’ Facebook or watch content having nearly zero contribution to their thinking potential. Everywhere I see people glued to their 5.1 something screens uploading garbage to their brains. Not a very smart way to use a high potential tool. A friend I have was shocked to discover his daily on-screen time and he didn’t waste a breath before uninstalling the app which provided such data. Cheap internet has stolen people’s precious moments and attached them with web based content. And the content providers are dancing with their pockets full. What I call digital quotient is at an all time low in average youth today. If things are to develop into this, I am thankful that a wide population of Cuban youth doesn’t understand what internet for them is.