THE CYBER-SOCIETIES OF PESHAWAR
THE NERD AKA Zeejah
Computer enthusiasts of Peshawar were taken by storm on 14th. August 1995, when an enterprising young lady, Maliha Elahi, introduced them to cyberspace. The invitation to login to her hobbyist BBS, (KHYBER BULLETIN BOARD SERVICE), led to an exciting yet frustrating experience for everyone. This was the first BBS in Peshawar and few would-be netters really understood networking; and fewer still owned modems. The going was slow but steady, and a small, dedicated clientele gradually built up.
ZAK's KHYBER BULLETIN BOARD SERVICE, replaced KBBS (1) in January (1996). At the time of writing, this is in the throes of finding its feet in cyberspace. It is on the air for only four hours, (3.30 p.m. to 7.00 p.m..) and is bravely trying to cope with the influx of impatient networking fans.
WILD BBS, another hobbyist BBS, only comes on the air after 10.00 p.m. and carries on until the early hours. The sysop, J. A, is happy to chat (with truly missionary zeal) to anyone who is lonely or bored. Before the night is out you will be a truly GOOD muslim, or he will want to know the reason why!
SEEN, is not a BBS. Its aims are far more profound. The Sysop only allows scientific discussions, however inane! You can judge the success of this 'laudatory' aim by checking the posting on its forums. These forums are soon be increased to accommodate non-scientific subjects, thus enlarging its scope and interest for the unpretentious netter. Therefore, night owls, insomniacs or just plain net-maniacs now have a narrow, but ever widening piece of cyberspace invading sleepy Peshawar.
A Bulletin Board Service, whether commercial or hobbyist, is basically, a long-distance meeting-place. A place where people can meet and speak their minds freely. Theoretically, it is a place that brings people together, people who might not otherwise have had the chance of exchanging views. The shy, the reserved, or the plainly misanthropic, can take on an alter ego and see the world through a new perspective. This may not have been possible without the anonymity offered by a BBS; and it may be one of networking's greatest attraction for netters in conservative Peshawar.
Theoretically, it is a commendable enterprise. Practically it is another story altogether.
Wishing to learn something about networking, I visited Peshawar's cyberspace as THE NERD. Neither man nor woman, neither old nor young, neither green nor yellow nor blue, just the NERD. The discomfort this caused is unbelievable. It seems that there is a general preoccupation with gender differences. The gender prefix is indispensable in any communication. Peppering their conversations with and about the nerd with he/she or him/her, their discomfort grew. Almost everyone in cyberspace Peshawar, (old or young, green or blue), became obsessed by the enigma posed by the ridiculous name. Many believed that the NERD had to be female, as a male had no reason for anonymity. It soon became the netters' mission in life to expose the NERD. They exchanged notes, piecing together all the bits and pieces of information picked up along the way. A storm in a teacup is a very serious matter, for those living in the teacup!
Some said this and some said that, and almost everyone had an airtight theory about the Nerd's identity. What was not heard in cyber-space was, `The NERD is a person, with a fundamental right to anonymity. My rights to information end, where the Nerd's nose begins!"
To a student of human nature this was an interesting situation, too good to miss. The air was thick with clues littering cyberspace. Tongue in cheek, the NERD led them on a wild goose chase. Peshawar's netters were in full pursuit.
I finally came to the conclusion that Cyberspace was a wonderful opportunity for sociologists to study the development of nascent societies. The entity known as 'Cyberspace' is here to stay, and each cyber-society will develop differently, as do societies in physical space. Each will take on the rules of the society at large, and can thus be studied as a prototype.
Peshawar's cyber-society only accepts people who remain fixed in a well-recognized slot. This again reflects the rules of the society at large; where there is a well-defined pecking order, and thus a need for clarity (about everyone's status).
Another interesting discovery is that the pompous carry their self-importance with them, all the way, into cyberspace. Anonymity generally ensures equality; but not in Peshawar, where `some are more equal than others'. The slightest joke can injure the 'amour propre'. Levity is frowned upon when assumed to be directed at fragile egos!
The more restricted a society, the more rigid are its closely guarded boundaries. Retribution as social ostracism often comes to one who dares to overstep them. The call regularly goes out, "Halt! who goes there?"
Everyone is counted and weighed and measured and marked. Everyone, but everyone, is obsessed with everyone else's identity, and everyone else's business. Being a human being is not enough, you have to fit into a preordained slot; a recognizable mould. You have to answer the sentinel's query before you are acceptable, and recognized as a person.
Closed societies are threatened by anything that may change the status quo, because closed societies exist in a vacuum. They live in a fantasy world where they think they are growing and flourishing, while actually they are stagnating and shriveling up. Any idea remotely novel is terrifying, because ideas have the propensity of changing the world. Such societies do not have the prerequisite expertise to deal with novel situations, simply by never having allowed them to happen.
Another point of interest is the denial involved. Those most threatened by innovation and novelty, are often its greatest proponents. They wait in the vanguard, to strike it down! These are the self-appointed guardians of a closed society. The guardians make sure no fresh ideas enter through its hallowed portals. They are aware that these ideas may cause them to lose their position of excellence. The ones at the top do not need change; they are doing very well, thank you!
Change in any society has always come from below. The masses rise when moved by ideas and their own unfulfilled needs as thinking human beings. If their minds are locked up, and the keys thrown away, the guardians are safe.
As in the rest of the country, everyone in Peshawar's cyberspace is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Internet connection. Under the circumstances, it would be an interesting exercise to discover how the netters of Peshawar will fit into the international cyber-community. On the internet they can never know whom they are communicating with. Heaven forbid, but the imperious and the egotistical may even not receive the respect due to them! The palpable disquiet generated from such a situation will make an interesting study.
Cyberspace on the Internet will not change to suit us. Internet is a loosely connected network of computer enthusiasts, not governed by any rules. Information on almost every subject is freely available, and you have to be your own censor. Generally, the idea of so much freedom terrifies those who have given up their right to free speech and free thought. The belief generally being put out is that, if you desire such complete freedom it must be either for immoral or illegal ends.
If we wish to be members of the international community of cyberspace, we will have to go in for a general overhaul of our out-moded concepts. We will have to learn to earn, rather than demand respect. To understand that it is mutual interests alone that brings people together. Most of all we will have to break out of the serene medieval stasis that binds us. We will have to learn to interact with people, as people; irrespective of gender, age, colour, caste or creed.
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