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NOVEMBER 24, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 46 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK



Chris Stowers for Asiaweek.
"The Internet is stirring a social revolution.

Swift and Total
That's what the Internet's impact on Asia will be, says techno whiz Yat Siu

The Internet is changing the world. No aspect of life will be left untouched by the Net. There are, of course, the obvious reasons. New, better, cooler technologies will be developed. Practically every application will be hooked up to the Net in multiple ways. User interface will continue to improve until all our senses are wired. All neat stuff. But in Asia, the Internet's impact will be so much greater than all that. In Asia, the Internet is stirring a social revolution.

For starters, the Internet is making Asia proud. Growing up in Vienna, I remember thinking Asian products were junk. "Made in Hong Kong" meant little more than cheap. My Chinese-born parents and their relatives and friends, who had lost their property and houses during the Chinese civil war, felt that Asia was primitive. They had scattered across the world. But with the Internet, Asia is leapfrogging into the information age. Major U.S. companies are outsourcing software development to India and the Philippines. According to a recent report, almost 40% of start-ups in Silicon Valley have been launched, run or co-founded by ethnic Asians. Asia's lower labor costs and zealous work ethics are going to make the region the world leader in consumer applications for the Internet. Pure innovative drive may very well reside elsewhere. But it is in Asia that many of those innovations for the masses will be produced.

Technology knows no boundaries. A young woman I know used to live in a shanty town — basically in a box — in Hong Kong's Discovery Bay, where she used to deliver towels to poolgoers. She once told me she was trying to learn English. Just the other day, I got an email from her, saying she is studying in London. The Internet has reconnected us.

Along with technology comes opportunity for the little guy. The Internet is spreading education even to remote impoverished regions. Long-distance learning, whether it be the acquisition of reading and writing skills or the presentation of an academic dissertation, is suddenly possible. Most schools and universities can now reach homes all around the world. In Asian countries, where a shortage of good educators is common, the sharing of global resources will benefit both students and teachers alike.

Venting on the Internet is already changing the mindsets of Asians. In the past, many Asians have felt repressed; they have felt unable to talk about so many things. On the Internet, they can be anonymous. They can say they hate their boss and talk freely about sex. And talk politics, sometimes in the most peculiar forums. On a children's portal recently, suddenly people were debating the respective merits of U.S. presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush.

The reach of the Net has already had a fundamental impact on Asian politics. Across the region, political parties have set up websites to communicate their messages. From online campaigning to voting, the Internet is a medium no Asian politician can afford to ignore. As the Internet provides access to ideas and information, people develop more diverse points of view. The Net and related technologies are encouraging individuals to express their opinions more frequently, efficiently and vociferously. Asian governments that previously relied on control will be forced to concede a higher degree of freedom to their people. The Internet, inadvertently and indirectly, will soon be the foremost exponent of democracy. The power of millions of people connected by the Net will change the world, and governments will have no choice but to change too.

It's about social change, too. Collaborations, friendships, and even love affairs will take place via interactive media that do not necessitate understanding of specific languages. A colleague of mine fell in love online. Asians who were once shy are developing online a sense of daring, of taking risks — especially among younger people. The world of fun is expanding at lightning speed in Asia, too. Online games, now in their infancy, will make up entire universes of virtual reality. The future will find us playing such games where entire virtual communities will be built. Technology will be so enhanced that it will support millions of players online simultaneously. It will be as commonplace to say, 'see you at virtual worlds later tonight' rather than 'see you at Bar X.' This scene is no longer the domain of geeks but of everyone.

As Asians are more plugged in, it will become harder to get away. Forget about a 9 to 6 shift. Asia will lead the way in 24/7 thinking because its work ethic already demands that. But there is no need for Asians to grow alienated. The new technology is bringing people closer, promoting cross-cultural business and exchanges. Thanks to the Internet, Chinese companies are stepping beyond China. Thanks to the Internet, Thai companies are no longer isolated in Thailand. This is the beginning of a new society. With the Internet, Asia is joining the world. But I'm not pondering or worrying too much about what the Internet can do and will be. I'm just going to be living it.

Yat Siu is CEO of Outblaze, a Hong Kong-based information and communications infrastructure provider for e-businesses. Yat is 27 years old

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