The last posted date on my weblog often becomes a daunting reminder of how thin I can spread myself. More importantly, it’s a testament to how connected a person needs to be to keep up to date with the connected lives of webloggers.
As it turns out, Mexico was a dichotomous experience with respect to the online world. On one side, stranded at my resort for the Sunbelt Conference, I had access to the hotel’s “business center,” a euphemism for one computer with 57.6k modem and a fax machine open 4-8 hours daily. With 200 conference attendees looking to keep in touch with their distant friends, the line for this stupid computer was usually 5 deep. The final two days of the conference the hotel closed the business center altogether, claiming a transition between service providers. To say the least, my aspirations of doing some live blogging of the conference went unfulfilled.
On the other side of the map was downtown Cancun; a 45 minute bus ride from breathtaking ocean views and peaceful poolside margaritas, the city center actually contained some local culture (for those who have never visited the Cancun area, all of the tourist hotels are located in the most disgusting example of American consumerism you’ll ever witness.. with dinner choices ranging from TGI Fridays to Chile’s). Without the tourists, the city center is home to a surprising number of Internet cafes. In a two square block radius I counted more than 10, outnumbering the convenience stores. Each of these venues provided broadband access for a slight $0.80-1.50 per hour.
More fascinating than the saturation of local Internet shops was their use: at each one I visited, most of the computers were full, and the patrons were all messaging, and for hours on end. Who they were talking to, and where those people lived (local or otherwise) is still a mystery, but the fact remained that a large population of people spent their nightly recreation time on the horn to friends. For someone who feels like an exceptionally connected person for utilizing instant messaging, it was an overwhelming experience. I was humbled by the size of the locals’ buddy lists, and ability to switch between conversations (they may have even rivaled the inimitable Cory Doctorow on this front).
Given the age-old question of whether the Internet distances/connects people from/to each other, the answer seemed obvious. PEW Internet Study beware: Americans are not the leading indicator of the effects of the Internet on people’s social nature. Other, less developed, less saturated places are making much better use of the technology we take for granted.