My life online

By Miriam


bookshelfDAYS RUN INTO WEEKS as I plan for a trip to Europe, revise my French, prepare a power point on Climate Change and catch up with course material on Sustainability in Practice offered by the University of Pennsylvania. And weeks run into months as I sit in front of the computer for hours a day to do all of the above.

Information is a click away and we use it to answer the most immediate questions and to remove a heaviness from the tip of our tongues. But beyond the obvious, one-dimensional experience of momentarily picking and dropping names, facts and figures, there exist webs of creative, thought-provoking and salient dialogue.

Morphed into forums and blogs these seeming outliers actively break down questions to its essentials and thread intelligent, coherent thoughts and ideas to answer in entirety. Blogs and other social networking services have steered me towards interesting and avant-garde articles, podcasts and documentaries that I would not have come across otherwise.

First things first, I have to plan a trip to Europe. With little experience of traveling in Europe, I go in search of netizens whom can guide me on what to expect from the places I plan to visit. On Reddit, I get privy to all kinds of scoop on what to do and what not to do when in Paris, Brussels or Munich. For instance, an American jet setter informs me that taking a cab in Paris can be a nightmare, a resident of Brussels tells me which Belgian chocolates are overrated and a German warns me of the new speed limits on certain stretches of the Autobahn.

With googlemaps, and /r/travel open in different tabs, I am the master of my own design. And I take complete responsibility for any intangible fortune or heavy handedness that might occur in planning without a go-between. Embellished with links and recommendations from fellow Redditers, I have all the inside information to schedule an itinerary fit for a king but for a king that flies economy.

My next task was to start revising French, the use of which will come in handy when I am in Paris. One click led to another and through the blogger grapevine I was introduced to, a game designed to teach the user Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish and even Irish.

From explanations on rules of grammar to testing translations and pronunciation, Duolingo covers the essentials of the French language. And true to most games the incentive is to beat the highest score of the opponent. I’m not sure if it is as effective in teaching a language from scratch or if it is as good for the other languages as it is for French but for revising French, it is ideal. Learning has never been more fun.

In fact, learning has never seemed so attractive either. Preparing a presentation on Climate Change took me deep into citizen and science blogs detailing debates and current research on the issue. The web has been buzzing with talk of rising atmospheric temperature and of building a global consensus to keep it below 2 degree celsius.

Ban-Ki Moon invited leaders of nations, businesses and civil society to gather in New York on the 23rd of September to brainstorm and commit towards UNFCCC 2015 (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). Bloggers whom were close to the event, physically and by discipline presented online narratives of expectations and activities before and after the summit, giving readers like me a timely feed of events. Along with hard facts, I came across videos, like this one, (see link below) that gave me a sense of the mood in NY at the time of the Climate Summit.

Closer to home, I registered online with the Asia-Pacific Adaptation Network (APAN) and in effect gained access to material APAN used in their recent climate change adaptation summit in Kuala Lumpur.
Having studied Environment and International Development back in 2008 access to recent and relevant publications keeps me updated with the rest of them. Clearly, our excuses to stay in the dark about the changes around us both near and far are slimming and along with information, opportunities to learn and participate await just clicks away. is yet another timely revelation from the blogosphere that brought me to the steps of UPenn and possibly, to lifelong learning. I registered for an online course on Sustainability in Practice organised by UPenn, free of cost. Weekly video lectures, assignments and a forum to discuss and clarify sustainability concepts with the staff create a virtual classroom environment.

Initially, I underestimated the commitment required for an online course and I barely got through the first week of video lectures and assignment. But now I allocate my time accordingly. Without qualifications and titles, the course serves to educate for the sake of education. In other words, information stands to become knowledge and opinions stand to be informed.

The world is indeed a smaller place with the convenience of online shopping, online subscriptions and online networking. However, more than convenience, my life online, outside of Facebook is constructive and nurturing. I am not blind to the spurious and maligning ways of anonymous or otherwise irresponsible blogging. But I navigate online with the same shrewdness I have and would use when crossing a busy road in Mumbai.

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