How far do you think what happens on the Internet has any effect on real life and our society? Some might argue that it can be a reflection of our people and how society works as a whole due to the fact that anonymity grants us the freedom to be ourselves.
Now many would argue that this freedom is actually a blessing for people who have to hide who they are so they can present an image that is accepted by the society but, on the other hand, we are plagued with abusive internet practices that make the technology seem less revolutionary every day.
The word “Digital Pakistan” has become a regular part of speech for the Ministry of IT and Telcos but are we really moving towards a digital country or is it again some washed up mantra that we use to please ourselves while we are abusing technology? By the end of April 2018, there were 57 million broadband users and 55 million 3G/4G subscribers across the country and yet the people who use this technology towards a beneficial goal are very less in numbers.
Let’s take a look down the memory lane and observe whether we have changed at all in the past two decades or are we still abusing technology? When the internet first arrived in Pakistan, there was a frenzy of cards as there was no optical fiber in those years instead we would use the dial-up internet to connect with the digital world. Then began the era of Yahoo chats which fascinated Pakistanis more than every other nation in the world and became a breeding ground for wasting our time and resources; how we srarted abusing technology in Pakistan.
For nearly a decade those chat rooms were rampant with Fake IDs, lust filled messages, secret dating life, and what not
It is no secret for anyone in Pakistan what used to happen in those chat rooms. People were abusing technology by using the platform to hunt a female ID and ask her to open her webcam.
After Yahoo decided to shut down its chatting world, we saw many small-scale chatting sites popping up on the internet but we did not see much smoke as the fires were smaller. Fast Forward to the current era, the world has changed, now we do not have to wait for the dial-up internet to connect, go to an internet cafe or use the single computer that used to be present in a very public setting in our homes instead our smartphones are enough to satiate our Internet needs.
When access to anything becomes easy, people often take it for granted or abuse and misuse it
The same phenomenon can be seen in today’s world where Pakistanis have missed the window of creating something great and useful with the knowledge that is accessible via the Internet and have thrown themselves into the arms of abusing technology to fulfill their carnal desires.
You may wonder, how a country that is deprived of quality education, employment opportunities and is in a constant state of political instability finds the time to talk useless things with a stranger?
Well, we all have an innate desire to be heard but in the case of Pakistan the repressed society that fears to debate on the real issues of the country and gives the freedom to do anything and everything under the banner of politics and religion has created the individuals who want a 2 second fame on the internet without thinking about their moral and ethical responsibilities or realizing that they are abusing technology.
Abuse of Technology
With the widespread of the internet, we can see many destructive behaviors like cyberbullying, harassment, internet trolling etc. wreaking havoc on the digital lives of the people.
While we accept the presence of such evils in the society, we cannot ignore the fact that not everyone is a victim on the Internet
Alas, the internet does not come with a manual on how it is supposed to work and what is expected from the people who are using it but a bit of common sense and research can go a long way. Once again, we are at the foot of the debate of whether the technology should be blamed or the people who are abusing technology, for instance, the telephone was designed to connect people, not to run a lucky draw winner scam to rob people.
We all complain that Pakistan is not tech-enabled enough but are we doing justice to what is already available to us? Let’s review how we are turning technology into an epidemic in Pakistan:
Mobile Apps are the living breathing souls of our smartphones that brings millions of options to our literal fingertips. You can name anything/ activity from your daily lives and there is a probability that an app would be there that can help you do it efficiently or take out the hassle altogether.
While these apps make our lives easier, connect us with people, make us more productive, at the same time just like any other technology, we have found a way to abuse and misuse it. Let’s start with the live video streaming service BIGO which has taken the Pakistanis by storm (not in a proud way).
A few days ago, I was not even aware that an app named BIGO existed in this world (Yes, we techies can’t keep track of all the apps of the world) until someone mentioned it to me and without going into many details asked me to check it out for myself. As curiosity got the better of me, I downloaded the app, signed up and instantly realized why we are doomed as a society.
The app enables the user to broadcast their lives, share live videos, video chat with friends and even make money by exchanging virtual gifts that can be converted into cash. While we are not here to give a tutorial on how BIGO works, at any given time we can find numerous live broadcasts that just show the exchange of profanity between men and women.
From dance numbers to batting the eyelashes to ask for money/gifts, use of abusive language and sexually explicit conversation, etc. this mobile application seems to be a haven for the indolent people who have lots of time to waste.
It can be seen as digital prostitution with only one exception, no one is completely naked
You can find a tweenager, teenager, adult and senior citizens alike in this app. While going through the app, I saw a teenage girl engaged in inappropriate conversation with men twice her age and Pakistani police officers in their uniforms bragging about themselves to impress the females which shows quite a dangerous path ahead for the Pakistani society.
One of the most horrifying moment while using BIGO was when I happened to stumble upon a broadcast by a schoolgirl in her uniform who was barely in her teens and was being complimented on her looks, charm, and dress by older men.
Is this the new form of pedophilia brought on by our use of technology?
What is even more surprising is that you can hear their families in the background who have no idea what their child is doing while they have their headphone plugged in and are using their smartphones.
With BIGO, a person can join in to see the new broadcasts happening near his/her location or can change their country to explore what is happening around the world. It continuously pushes notifications on the user’s smartphones with broadcast suggestions so they won’t miss out on wasting their time talking nonsense with others.
Same is the case with the Tango mobile app which is alright if you are connecting (calling, texting etc.) with someone you already know but now the main focus of the app is on the live broadcasters which basically do nothing while people chat with them.
The users can again send them gifts which can be redeemed by the users in the form of actual money. The difference between the two is that Bigo gives more local content than Tango.
The purpose of social media was quite innocent but its applications have become quite horrendous. From Facebook to Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit, we have seen the social media platforms being misused by the users targeting many people online.
While we cannot deny the prevailing online abuse and harassment on these sites, many people are misusing technology and the anonymity that comes with a digital world.
Starting with YouTube, unless you have subscribed to your favorite channels and spend your time watching quality vlogs, you will be bombarded with the most watched videos or trending videos in Pakistan and apart from a few dramas, music videos, we are mostly left with some immodest videos with awful content garnering millions of views.
At the same time, there are very few progressive or purposeful Facebook groups by Pakistani admins where mostly want to be frieaands (becoming friends with a living breathing girl/boy).
There also many salacious Facebook groups that have a large following and very active members who are available at any time of day
You can expect to see many Pakistani men and women vying to get more likes and followers by creating a thread which serves no purpose other than admiration of the each other’s beauty and securing a chance to have a private chat with someone.
While we are on the topic of technology abuse, it would be an injustice to not discuss the epidemic of prank calls which are mostly made to the emergency numbers provided by the security agencies in Pakistan.
A year ago, we reported that around 90% of the calls received by the Police emergency helpline 15 are pranks where people either report fake accidents or hang up when their call is answered. Some also try to show off their sense of humor or blatantly abuse police officials. The percentage hasn’t changed much as of today.
The authorities do not have the option of blocking the numbers of these pranksters even if they are abusing technology because if one day they are in actual trouble and want help, they should have the option of seeking help from the Police or Rangers. The telephone, which was built to help people communicate is now being misused to get a few silly laughs out of them or their friends.
Cybercrime is prevailing in the country and while people love chatting with strangers at odd hours, they are also taking time out to fool the citizens by spamming them, years old practice of abusing technology.
Benazir Income Support program and Lucky Draw Winner are the most famous scams in Pakistan and neither seems to possess an expiration date. Recently, FIA issued a letter revealing that people are impersonating Pakistan Armed Forces Officials, Banking helpline officers etc. to ask for the user’s data on the pretext of data verification and lottery schemes.
Is Pakistani Society Doomed?
Looking at the present situation, the most prevalent causes of this behavior seems to be the menace of staying idle and looking for ways to make some easy money without working.
We love to rant about having no employment opportunities but what are we doing to rectify this situation
Also, you can see many degree holder individuals involved in abusing technology so the decades-old “education is the key” is no solution to our problem unless there is some force of magic that can overhaul our education system.
The real reason surrounding this issue is our hesitation to talk about different topics openly especially with our children. In turn, our parents are to be blamed for shying away from topics about sexuality, gender issues, etc. and consequently a child never learns the difference between right and wrong or in most cases represses their thoughts and then finds such outlets for himself/herself not knowing how their actions are shameful and destructive.
We are quick to issues fatwa over small things but want to keep our eyes closed on the subject that is destroying the roots of our society. The youth which is busy in finding carnal pleasures or scamming someone on the internet will never learn how to stand up as a nation and work towards doing something that can help us make a mark in this world; an ultimate path towards destruction.
Youth comprises of a very large percentage of Pakistan which gives this nation an opportunity to see the change brought on by the latest trends and new ideals but if they are engaged in such immoral acts themselves, how can they form an ideology or create standards for administrative reforms that are desperately needed by the country.
Under the banner of being an Islamic nation, when we do not raise such issues on a public forum, we allow these problems to be swept under the rug. This approach may help us unsee all the evils that are taking hold in our society but in reality, we are just allowing people to fall into the lure of these traps without providing a defense mechanism to constructively deal with them.
Today, many people may also argue freedom of choice in the case of watching different types of content on the Internet or engaging in questionable behaviors on the point that everyone should have the freedom to be able to access any information that they want over the internet, throwing the question of abusing technology out of the window.
Now they are somewhat right; we have the option of choosing what to do and watch on the Internet but it is also important to keep in mind the potential risks and the consequences of abusing technology.
Pakistanis need to learn a grave lesson, “With freedom comes responsibility”
They have an opportunity thanks to the availability of affordable smartphones and 3G/4G technology to make a progressive digital economy and it is heartbreaking to see it crumble to dust.
So to answer the question, “Is the Pakistani society doomed?” I would say Yes; right now it is headed towards a dead end.
This article first appeared in the July 2018 Edition of More Magazine