Connect and Disconnect–The Curse of the Interwebs

Coming from the always connected Uhmerica life and diving into the Peace Corps can be a rough bit.  I haven’t worn a watch since I can remember, because I always had a cellphone in my pocket to check the time.  But getting sent into the campo or bush abruptly changes all that.  But even today, many countries and volunteer sites (especially in Peru) count on wireless cell phone service and even internet service from cell signals.  But how does it affect the volunteer in site?
The internet will always help you stay connected with what’s going on at home, but it’s also a false connection.  You’re scouring Facebook and the NYTimes to see what’s happening back home (or the Washington Post when your NYTimes free articles run out).  You might be downloading PDF manuals that might apply to your job or just causally gchatting with your buddies.
But it also creates a wall.
The internet also helps you disconnect from what’s going on around you – as in, where you are.  Very few people will be as connected as you are, and conversations happen face-to-face and not through Skype.  Having the internet around makes it easier to avoid going out of the house when there’s nothing to do, and avoiding any interaction with people in your town.  Seriously.
I’m guilty of it.
My general working spot is the health post.  I can set up my computer, type, read, do Microsoft Office stuff, and use the interwebs. They were slow, especially sharing the same weak connection with 2 other computers, but I could check my email or Facebook (not both at the same time) and patiently download documents.  But one day, a friend in site who runs one of the internet service providers in my town, told me he got an amplifier for his wireless network and offered to hook me up for free.  The best part was I could get internet in my house, thus no need to leave the house just to check email or do whatever.  So I was a ghost for a week at the health post. 
Stuff and Things 2011-04-05 002The ‘computer lab’ in my health post.  I’m actually standing against the wall while taking this picture.
But what happened? Working from home isn’t the same as in the States.  No one calls you.  So when my health post had an event they wanted help in, or a project I wanted to meter myself in there was none of that.  They just thought I was busy and that’s why I wasn’t showing up.  I missed out on ‘the water cooler’ type chats with the nurses and doctors to find out what’s going on.  I didn’t see my socio as much, as she lives by the health post and is always known to stop by.  While I was connected to the digital world, I was disconnected to what was going on around me. 
So I packed up shop and headed across town (all 6 blocks) to the health post, where I’m currently parked and happily typing away, reading an OxFam report about food supply and prices and just shooting the shit with the doctors.  It’s much better this way – I ‘m connected to both worlds. And an added bonus, they upgraded their internet connection and have a short WiFi signal. 
My advice to trainees and new to site PCVs, hold off on buying your wireless card or some kind of internet connection.  Connect in the community first, and then after 3 months see how much you need the Facebook news feed.


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