It was 10 pm, last Wednesday night, when I received a phone call. I picked up the phone and said hello, only to be treated to a bloodcurdling scream of a very high-pitched female. In my heart I felt I was feeling the same pain my friend on the phone was giving voice to. Facebook had been shot in the leg and young people with Blackberrys all over Lahore were yelping about it.
Naturally I, like many others, looked for other avenues to vent my frustration, which was good news for twitter.com. Of course, Murphy’s Law kicked in. Twitter was overloaded, and I got the “fail whale” image (which I have to admit is quite adorable).
Last Wednesday I discovered the wonders of proxy servers, along with the joke going around: “Do you know what Facebook and the Lashkar-e-Taiba have in common?”
“They’re both banned in Pakistan, but if you look for them, you can easily find them.”
There are 2.5 million facebook users in Pakistan, 79% of them between the ages of 18 and 34. What does this mean for Facebook? Not much. The estimated revenue for the 2010 is estimated to be only $700 million. So those of you who are creating a ruckus about it costing Facebook billions, on the monetary side Facebook has no incentive to apologize. The people who are losing out are local internet service provides, as there’s been a 25% decrease in internet traffic since the ban.
Numbers aside, can we survive without Facebook? Is life, without clicking through a gazillion Lahori wedding pictures, going to be harder? Can we live with our farms on Farmville being destroyed? And how shall we ever get over the loss we have suffered when the Zombies vs Vampires application is not there in our lives?
It was fine till it was Facebook, but then, it seems, we dropped the ball of yarn, and well now everything is a tangled mess. YouTube, Flickr, and Wikipedia also came under the list of blasphemers. The Minster of IT, Sardar Latif Khosa repeated half a dozen times on TV (Express 24/7 specifically), that we have “zero tolerance” for such things, especially all sites that show such content. Mr Khosa, the only way you can stop the drawings from bleeding all over the internet is if you block the internet!
Today YouTube is banned, which is quite sad because now if I miss people like, let’s say, Mr Zaid Hamid on the television, I can’t go avidly listen to him on YouTube either (or repost his videos on Facebook). With a ban on Wikipedia anyone can edit entries at the encyclopaedia that have to do with Pakistan, and since no Pakistani can see it, no Pakistani can correct it. Think about it, how many friends do we have out there?
With banning these various other sites, our government has missed the point. Facebook was banned not because the Pakistani population should not see the pictures. It was banned as a protest against an act that was disrespectful to the belief of a very large number of people, and the protest was pointed at the source i.e. Facebook. Someone explain to me the principle behind blocking other sites? Oh yes, “zero tolerance”. My mistake then.
Here is what will happen next. The government is going to decide that charging cell phones eats up too much electricity and content can spread through MMS, so cell phones will be banned. Since people in cars won’t listen to their cell phones anymore, there will be fewer accidents. The internet will be banned so people will have more time for other things. These two will issues cause a population boom. Furthermore, the ban on running AC’s before 11 am will be extended to the whole day. There will be a temporary boom in the desert cooler market, but that will be short-lived as Pakistan runs out of water. When electricity gets banned, we will fall back on straw fans. Fuel will become more expensive, so we will go back to the good old 1940’s and travel by tonga. Keeps your rocks and sticks handy people, we will need them to keep warm in winters. Also, getting married will be banned, unless you can get married in five minutes without using electricity. And no one is allowed eat in those five minutes.
“Facebook, YouTube, and En.Wikipedia banned, Blackberry Service shut down. So close to turning into the society from Fahrenheit 451,” reads a status update by a Pakistani on Twitter.com.
Yet we have youku.com, a Chinese version of YouTube. Go ahead, try it. Google translates Chinese into English. Wait. What! They banned Google!!?
As a friend of mine said to me, “Let’s move to China, I hear people are free there.”
The Friday Times, May 28-June 3, 2010