Would you able to get on with your life if you didn't have access to the Internet?
Imagine this. You've lost your job. All you can think about is gigantic bills and the loan you have to repay. You look for work everywhere. You find a job and try not to notice that the air-conditioning leaves much to be desired. That the coffee is not machine-pumped espresso. That your chair doesn't swivel as much. Then you realise that only one machine is hooked to the Internet, and you're sure you're never going to survive.
With more and more people getting hooked to cyberspace, being disconnected in a totally connected world is like being left out of the gang. For most, it's like a drug -- one that calls for a daily fix. "If I'm not online, I'll probably wither away and die," says Ayesha Banerjee, who works with the Times of India [ Images ] in Chandigarh. "It's become like breathing." Savita Sharma would have much the same opinion. When she worked as an Internet strategist, she spent 85 per cent of her work time online. Later, moving to the position of brand strategist for a Web site ensured she spent as much, if not more time, surfing. But a nine-month gap between jobs forced her to switch from a leased line to slow dial-up one. "It was a pain trying to get through slow servers," she says. "It would take 20 minutes to access a site and another 20 to log into my mailbox -- this, of course, not counting the several times I would get disconnected and would have to dial in again."
For Annie Zaidi, switching from a dotcom to the position of a reporter for a print publication was a major shift -- especially in terms of Internet access. "My first job required constant connectivity. We also had TV cards installed on two computers so we could capture live images from news channels," she says. "But, when I switched to print, we had to work with old machines that crashed easily, leaving us with little time to do anything except key in our stories and check email." Electricity cuts and technical problems were as hard to handle at her earlier workplace though. "When the servers were down, which happened frequently, or we lost electricity, it was a major pain. We were left with zero work because everything was online." With the Internet being used for much more that email and chatting, Zaidi believes not being online can be a hindrance to her work. "So much reference work and background research is done online," she says. "I don't see how any professional can afford to not have complete access."
There are those, however, who feel that being online constantly infringes on personal time, as you have to constantly be on call. Given the addictive power of the Internet, being connected is also likely to keep users hooked to their computers. "If you were to pit the Internet against lack of exercise and socialising, I'd say I feel worse being online," says Sharma. Zaidi agrees it is also a distraction. "If I need to concentrate on what I'm doing, it's better not to be online," she says. "Writing a 500-word article, for instance, takes thrice as long if I'm online and chatting, as opposed to doing it offline."
Despite the distraction though, being online has become a habit for most users in India. According to Zaidi, being offline makes her feel depressed. "It can get a little empty. There's a feeling of not knowing what to do with yourself."
Interestingly, in America, a reverse trend is beginning to take root. A survey carried out by emarketingmag.com in 2002 found that 23 per cent of Americans did not use the Internet because of lack of interest. 1.6 per cent claimed the Internet was of no use to them. According to a new study -- which surveyed over 3,000 adult Americans -- from the Pew Internet and American Life Project released on April 16, 2003, 17 per cent form an increasingly large group called the Internet dropouts -- people who were once online but, frustrated with technical problems, have stayed offline sometimes for a year or more. The study also found that a total of 80 million American adults -- 42 per cent of the adult population -- do not use the Internet. 20 per cent have access in as close as the next room but still choose not to go online.
America today, India tomorrow?