Chances are, if you are one of the billions of people with no access to the Internet you are not reading this article right now.
I’m actually writing it offline (in my trusty Word program) with the hopes that one day, hopefully even today, my spotty Internet connection will be restored. (If you ARE reading this article it means I did get access and was able to actually post it. Score!)
“You’re moving where?” people asked incredulously when I told them I was moving to Yangon, Myanmar last March. The question would often come with an echo, “Myanmar?” usually followed by, “Wait. Where’s that?” (More about that here: Echoes of Myanmar.)
Myanmar, a country bordering India, China, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Laos is waking up from decades of international isolation, military rule, and sanctions. It boasts a lush, unspoiled natural landscape rich with minerals and natural resources. Its people, probably its greatest resource, are by far among the friendliest I’ve met anywhere in the world.
It’s also currently the poorest country in Asia (though hopefully that will one day change) and only 3.5% of the population has access to a computer. Only 6% have access to the Internet. If you are one of the lucky 6%, the Internet you have access to is shaky at best and completely out and unavailable at worst.
So, two and a half weeks after moving to Myanmar, today I’m not one of the lucky 6% and I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that my “digital nomad” online business of teaching online worldwide and providing freelance art and multimedia may be severely compromised. In other words, my little growing enterprise I worked so hard to build these past two years so I could take it with me no matter where in the world I went is… um…just a tad at risk. (I can see the digital nomads in my Facebook group who warned me about Myanmar’s Internet access shaking their heads sadly… They told me to move to Thailand, but that’s not going to happen any time soon.)
Sure, luckily I can still write blog posts offline, make an illustration, or record a video lesson without the Internet. In fact, if anything good can be said for having the Internet go out randomly several times a day, it’s that it forces me to concentrate on tasks without the threat of email, Facebook, Twitter, CNN, and other distractions constantly competing for my attention. I call it “Forced Focus” and that is a positive.
Because I’m 10 to 13 hours ahead of most people I need to communicate with online (mostly in the USA), I often schedule Skype calls, webinars, and other meetings for the very early or very late hours. I was due to check in with Infopreneur and Online Instructor Marc Isaacson last night for his podcast/Youtube Viva la Vida Infopreneur segment but instead I was a no-show. And I couldn’t even communicate that I wasn’t going to be there. (New rule: Start getting people’s phone numbers in case I need to send an emergency SMS when the Internet goes out. OK. Lesson learned!)
My Internet had gone out at 2PM yesterday. Due to “Forced Focus” I did some video work for The American University of Myanmar and ran errands. When I came back at 6PM it was still not up and running. I’ve been trying to make sense of when and why it goes out so I can plan better for the future but there appears to be no rhyme or reason. I’m told that things like the weather, time I go on, and even the wind can be to blame. I thought I actually had things all figured out, planning in advance and testing Skype, Blab, and Zoom.us (for webinars) just to ensure I could have a shot at beaming myself into the online realm.
Tonight at 7:30PM (9AM EST) I have a webinar scheduled for my Designing Your Life: Innovating From the Inside Out course for the UN’s UPEACE Center For Executive Education. In theory, it all should work. Of course, only if I get my Internet access back. (A little green light on our router is blinking on and off, taunting me.)
So, the plan at the moment is to wait and see what the technicians from the UN’s World Food Programme (who set up our connection at home) can tell me. Plan B is I will go to the nearest tech/phone store and buy a little pin drive with SIM card so I can use a “plug and play” type of Internet access as backup. I did this in Ethiopia in December when I was teaching university there and it worked fairly well, at least for most basic tasks. I won’t even get into how long it takes in the developing world to upload and download things. My solution is just start uploading/downloading overnight and hope to not wake up to an error message.
Anyway, that is the current situation. And really it all seems so trivial in the face of the extreme poverty that exists in Myanmar as well as the fact that access to safe water, enough food, and electricity (which goes out many times a day) is an even bigger, more pressing problem for the population. I mean really, who am I to even complain?
Ever the optimist, I will say that this experience is overall a good one. It’s forcing me to find other ways to work and be of service in my new country. I never wanted to be holed up in a home office anyway away from everyone and everything just outside my door. Maybe without good Internet access I’ll actually create an even stronger connection to this wonderful country through in-person (imagine that!) teaching, volunteering, and collaborations.
Yes, on second thought, a little offline time never hurt anyone. Thanks for the lesson Myanmar!