FAITH IN INDONESIA

FAITH IN INDONESIA
The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Friday, October 14, 2005

INDONESIAN BLOGS

DON’T GET MAD – GET BLOGGED © Duncan Graham 2005

“I don’t mind you thinking slowly. I do mind you publishing faster than you think.” Message on a blog.

Blog isn’t the most delectable word in the language. Nor are some of the contents of this rapidly growing Internet fad. But that’s no argument against exploration.

According to one directory almost 60,000 people around the world have their own blogsites, with the number increasing at around 2,000 a week. Another claims more than 16 million and growing at 2,000 an hour.

So in the time it takes you to read this article another couple of blogs have entered cyberspace. Or 100. Hype and fact are strange partners in blogworld

The US, the UK, Canada, France and Spain dominate. So far Indonesia is lagging behind most nations with almost 600 sites according to the sober directory – although ahead of Big China with less than 400, thanks to that nation’s Internet police.

Little Malaysia next door has more than 800. Singapore exceeds 1000 and courageous free-speakers they are too in that fine city. Australia has almost 2,000.

Indonesia’s position probably reflects the slow take-up of computer technology in a country where text messaging on handphones beats surfing the Net.

Many Indonesian sites are in English, perhaps indicating the bloggers are up-market trendoids who think their thoughts worthy of a global audience. So far they don’t seem to have been hit by the censorship cops active across the Malacca Strait.

If you’re not an Internet fanatic you’re probably about to look for something more comprehensible on the sports pages. So let’s de-code the jargon:

Blog is short for web log, a do-it-yourself website construction. It’s the ordinary person’s entry into the Internet. Several sites offer free templates, so instead of having to pay some longhaired nerd to build you a custom-made site you can keyboard a title, add your profile and you’re in business.

Enthusiasts push the slogan “publish – and be read” – which makes a blog the ideal soap box for those who can’t get their letters to the editor printed, their poems accepted or their partners to hear their complaints. You can even get feedback. But because there are now so many blogs the problem is getting noticed.

Surprisingly the ranters and the ravers don’t dominate. There are veranda warriors pontificating on Iraq, terrorism and the government – but they’re a minority.

More interesting are those by soldiers and victims in conflict zones where they express themselves free of military censorship. But who knows if they are what they say? Verification difficulties are a downside of blogs.

Personal sites rule the blogsphere and most are just good old fashioned romantic diaries – the meanderings of lovesick youth. This is “uptown gurls” territory and pink is the preferred background. The perpendicular pronoun gets a good workout.

As every serious journalist knows to her or his dismay, an alleged celebrity’s bed hopping is downright sexier than the DPR’s deliberations on fiscal restraint, and it’s the same in blogsphere.

I’ve found only a couple of blogs on the Indonesian economy, but plenty on Indonesian girls, Blok M bars (and girls), shopping, hotels and expats rabbiting on about archipelago life. Balancing this are blogs by Indonesians living abroad reporting on the foibles of foreigners.

Some use blogs to push religion. Protestants dominate; this parallels developments in Indonesian churches where modern communication technology is widely used. Although the only Islamic blogs encountered come from the UK that doesn’t mean Indonesian Muslim bloggers aren’t active – just not well advertised.

Diaries of a couple’s first baby are also popular as the miracle of birth impacts. Few record subsequent arrivals. By then parents are too jaded to sit at a computer screen.

The sentiments may be trite, but the graphics are often novel, demonstrating originality and computer skills above the ordinary. If only their words were as good as the pictures.

During election campaigns in the West candidates use blogs to push their profiles and invite comment. That doesn’t seem to have happened in Indonesia. No SBY blog discovered.

Inevitably business has tried to turn the blogsphere into a marketplace, though with little success. A few estate agents advertise their properties, and home-based trinket makers and gizmo inventors promote their wares. Looking for a pair of magnetic reading glasses or a Celtic crochet pattern? Check a blog site near you.

To find these sites use web directories like www.blogarama.com www.technorati.com or www.blogwise.com There are many others. Or just keep clicking NEXT BLOG on the menu bar.

This provides a random choice so you never know what will jump onto your screen. It’s like browsing in a bookshop after a sweeping for subversive literature.

Occasionally you hit porn and bad language, so this exercise is for adults. If you find objectionable content you can flag the site for review and maybe removal. You have to mouse through a lot of dross to find some gems – all you need is time and a fast server.

Blogging isn’t great fun if you’re using a dial-up system where it takes longer to load a page than read it. But if you have a high-speed broadband connection then the exercise can expand your horizons. It can also be time consuming and addictive.

I haven’t found a site yet for blogaholics anonymous, but maybe it was designed while I was writing this story. Next month’s Telkom bill should help effect a cure.

(The French group Journalists Without Borders has just published a useful guide to blogging, ethics and censorship. Download free from www.rsf.org)

(First published in The Jakarta Post Thursday 13 October 05)


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