August 2, 2017 | By Austin Hong
When the first farmers created agriculture, we revolutionized labor and created economies. Suddenly, the hunter-gatherer no longer dominated the professional marketplace and a sub-population could create enough food for the entire human race. Because the entire population no longer devoted themselves to the struggle for existence, they could do other things like build cities or trade for salt. One thing led to another, ancient Syrians updated their LinkedIn profiles, and now I type this reflection on an ASUS laptop to be wirelessly transmitted across the globe to my “Program Director.” It’s been a long journey from berries and gazelles. We’ve gained a lot, but every iteration of economic advancement seems to bring people further and further away from the means of production. And because we are disconnected, we take less care, building our Samsung smartphones with rare earth metals mined in environmentally disastrous Chinese operations and eating methane-producing beef ground from a conglomerate across the Midwest.
But furthering economic advancement does not necessarily increase detachment. After the invention of the steam engine, Europeans were suddenly traveling all over the world. Then we had trains, and a group of steel lords had the bright idea of building a transcontinental railway here in America. Soon after that, we had the internal combustion engine and road planning and a beautiful man named Eisenhower. Then we created the modern marvel of the American highway system, connecting an entire nation with a complex web of asphalt navigable to anybody with a map, the will, and a Model T. My family once moved from South California to the Puget Sound, and we made it in three days by driving up the west coast, eating ramen packaged in China and burning unleaded fuel from Canada. On the way, we stopped at museums and beaches that we found with that Great Connector, the internet.
Of all of our inventions, the internet deserves the highest praise, something I’ve learned slowly over time while in the Philippines. We joke about the millennial generation, glued to their phones and unable to interact with other people except through the lens of Instagram and Twitter. But the internet is addictive because at the root of it all, we are information junkies. Human brains were made to learn, and the internet contains the sum total of human (and even nonhuman) knowledge.
We badly want people to innovate and to develop sustainable businesses and solutions, but spotty internet access in places like El Nido represents a far greater obstacle than we give it credit. I constantly hear that the problem is education – that people don’t understand the issues – but I find it far more likely that the problem is access to information. We at Georgetown can take it for granted that the answer to almost any question can be found in less than 10 seconds of Googling. Well, without that luxury, people solve problems with the classic tools of their own ingenuity and talking to their friends. Any time we interview someone with good practices (generally wastewater reclamation/filtration), we find that they learned their practices from El Nido Resorts or that they heard about it from a friend. Perhaps if they had 24/7 access to these solutions through the internet, we would see more innovation.
Every time I start a new project at Georgetown, I begin with several hours of research on models at other places, the theory behind the project, and any related materials. I have the University’s bandwidth, I’m a fast reader, and I’m adapted to navigating the internet for information. However, in the short time that I’ve been here I’ve become used to not using the internet. We’re designing a summit, with many interlocking parts and different stakeholders. I’ve often felt the urge to Google a speaker’s name or to begin pulling up documentation on similar projects. But that’s just not time-efficient because I have slow internet access, and that’s not really the way things happen in the Philippines. In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve adapted to not searching for information.
The same is true for people who have lived here their whole lives. Anyone starting a business mostly relies on the experiences of their friends and family. Of course, this is overly pessimistic – people have always been creative and the internet is not completely absent here. Furthermore, many other resources exist, including El Nido Resorts itself. I just want to comment on the pervasive and powerful influence a fast internet connection can provide.