Ms. Mahmud is ecstatic. She has just received news that her daughter, who lives in the US, has just had another daughter, and Ms. Mahmud is now about to catch her first glimpse of the baby. Hands clasped, she sits in front of the screen as the file downloads. She squeals in glee as the multimedia presentation shows her slides of the baby. The email further informs her about the baby's weight and height. It is one of her happiest moments, made possible through the magic of the Internet.
Over the past decade or so, urbanites in Bangladesh having been catching up to the Internet revolution. From shopping for gifts to finding one's life partner, more and more people are finding solutions to all their needs online. Let's take a look at some of the areas in which the Internet has taken over our lives.
Travel: No more standing in long queues to find out ticket fares and schedules. Whether travelling by bus, train, or airplane, the current trend is for checking for and booking tickets online. Let's take www.railway.gov.bd which not only carries the train schedules and ticket prices, it also has a nifty foreign-currency conversion calculator and other neat facilities. Other than that, there are a couple of good local travel sites like www.discoverybangladesh.com that provide comprehensive information about tour packages and travelling options available in the country. You can also check up the Bangladesh Yellow pages online to find the contact information about different tour operators and bus services around the country.
Health: From health blogs and articles that provide information on everything from diet tips to allergy information, people are turning to the Web to find answers to their health-related questions. A popular trend amongst health-conscious expatriates is to monitor their weight using online BMI (Body Mass Index) calculators to check that whatever they're doing to add/lose weight is not harming their health. Try this link http://www.halls.md/body-mass-index/bmi.htm to calculate yours. It's also possible to make online appointments at hospitals abroad, and recently local hospitals like the Apollo Hospitals, Dhaka are also offering this facility. Visit http://www.apollodhaka.com to check them out.
Music: Ask any teenager about music, and s/he's bound to mention mp3's at some point. A cheaper alternative to buying CD's and cassettes, one can download music or listen to streaming online radio at Launchcast or Raaga.com. Young professionals and even older people are slowly catching up to the craze. After all, what better way to relax and concentrate on work than by playing a little light music?
For the uninitiated, it's hard to imagine the reach of the local online music forums and their fan base. Recently, local web community www.amadergaan.com announced their legalised virtual music shop that allows you to download mp3's at $1.85 per album, and their 24/7 streaming radio that offers everything from local chart-toppers to interviews and music news.
Budding musicians bless the Net because learning how to play an instrument has never been easier. It's possible to download guitar tabs and learn to play favourite songs. The Internet is literally flooded with learning sites which offer you everything from sheet music to free demos, and many of these are actually beneficial!
E-publishing: One of the positive results of media convergence include e-publishing. This is a blessing to those of literary leanings and limited pockets. Can't afford all those Terry Pratchett books? Download the e-books and read away! Don't have the dosh to spend on publishing your poetry? Post it on your blog! The blog, or 'weblog' is a marvellous invention that really allows you to express yourself and reach a large number of people. From journals to articles, what you can do with one is only limited by your imagination. Yahoo! and MSN offer their users free customisable web-sites (for MSN, these are called 'Spaces', and for Yahoo, they're called 360). Very popular amongst teens and tweens.
Shopping: …. God made women to shop and so Man created the Internet! So why is the internet a solution for all men? Because with the internet, all the wifeys and the girlfriends can now shop till they drop while the guy watches some action flick on TV. Sure beats lugging behind carrying all that they buy! Internet has taken shopping to a whole new level and with sites like E-bay and www.amazon.com increasingly popular to fulfill almost all needs. And all you need is an international credit card. You can place orders for books on Amazon and even go as far as to put stuff up for sale on ebay. However its' important to beware of frauds. As far as Bangladesh is concerned online shopping hasn't really taken off as yet but don't be surprised if within the next five years you are shopping your groceries from home.
Greeting Cards: Globalization has seen the divergence of the Bangladeshi people to all corners of the globe. I personally have relatives living all over the world- from the vast expanses of Texas to the, well, vast expanses of Australia. Although the distances in miles are titanic the real distance is not much more than a click of a mouse away. Yes, it is that simple. One industry in real boom in the internet is the greeting card business. Remembering a distant friends birthday or wishing someone getting married in exotic locations have become all too easy. Just go to www.bluemountain.com (or for that matter any search engine, yahoo has a good selection) pick your category, choose from an ample selection of cards, personalize and then click send. Viola! Done and dusted and your friend across the oceans will have a warm smile on his lips as he reads the personalized getting card that you just sent him. Total time spent- five minutes. Total effort expended- definitely within the thresholds of male perception of work!
Education: Ok this is where it gets a little bit tricky. The internet is a valuable source of information about all forms of educational institutions. Just ask any college bound student and he/she will instantly ring off a list of websites to visit in order to find out more about education opportunities abroad. The first such site that comes to mind is www.collegeboard.com which aside from being the authority for the SAT exams (you can register online there for SAT's) also rates and ranks all colleges in the United States. Not only that, they also provide you links to almost all colleges and universities in the Unites States so you can visit the webpage of your favoured college and uncover every possible information- from teacher-student ratio, to total acres on campus and faculty list. Local universities also have their own websites which, although not as informative as foreign colleges still carries almost everything that you would wish to know. As far as online registering for university courses go AIUB and IUB in Dhaka have already started the process and other universities are slowly but surely following suit. Finally, technology has advanced so far that now you can even do correspondence courses over the internet.
Forums/ Games : Another phenomenon that's perhaps more popular in the West and the Far East, but slowly catching up amongst the young people here, is online role-playing in MUD (Multi User Dimension) sites like www.gaiaonline.com . This involves assuming an identity (it could be your own, or you could just reinvent yourself), which you can express through a small icon or 'avatar'. You can customise your avatar to look a certain way. Then you join in forum discussions on different issues, or gain points by playing games or joining in certain activities specified by the site you're using. This is a lot similar to visiting chat-rooms, but with the added flavour of interactivity and avatar customisation.
Internet forums work in much the same way. The ability to share opinions on issues with a diversified group of people who live probably thousands of miles away is a totally new aspect in communication- a breakthrough of sorts. Forums are of different genres. Music and Sport are the most popular ones but there are also forums for stuff as obscure as architecture and believe it or not, concrete cities (whatever they mean!). It's impossible to go into details about online gaming without exceeding the word limit for this article. But for a huge variety of free and fun online games, we recommend visiting the Yahoo and MSN game pages. It's a good place to start with. Who knows where the game craze will lead to in a few years?
Love: “Scour the internet for your perfect lover” is a motto commonly found in websites and search engines. The reason? Love has expanded and overflowed onto the cyber world. The greatest success of the internet even in today's interactive world of Instant Messaging and Live Streaming Video conferences, is anonymity. You can be whosoever you choose to be. With such generous protection it is no wonder that the amount of abuse carried out is abundant. But there are success stories. I know of friendships bonded through MSN, marriages between people who met for the first time in cyberspace (does that sound enchanting?) and even quite ludicrously of people who met their significant other through websites advertising your perfect lover. Although, the tales may seem larger than life they are actually fact. You have everything from free online dating sites to the ever so popular love-o-meter. But the fact is that dating has really changed in the last few years and meeting people online isn't so uncommon any more. And it's not just for the younger folks, either. People over 30 are turning to the internet to find each other. But then you hear the story of a 55 year old woman who posted an ad online saying she wanted a man with a good heart, who was kind, and "tall." The lady started out circumspect but she had received 2000 responses in the last half year alone and still now receives 25-30 emails a day from places as far slung as India and Russia. Her problem now- how to decide who to choose? In Bangladesh we have our very own Dhakahotties- a site that has received its fair share of publicity. (the link is www.dhakahotties.com for those who don't know). Also networking sites like Zorpia and Hi5 are increasingly popular and it allows you to stay in touch with an extended number of people. Love, after all, can blossom from everything.
The above points are enough to show you just how far the internet has taken over our lives. It has come to the point that now your answer to every question is as simple as, “…just google it up.” We'd like to end this article with a neat site called www.colorsofbangladesh.com which has everything from newsy articles to tour/travel information, and even a virtual art/photography galleries. Bangladesh is really getting wired!
By Sabrina F Ahmad & Quazi Zulquarnain Islam
Illustration: Sabyasachi Mistry