From Stones to Scrolls; From Scrolls to Screens

"I fear the newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets." Napoleon Bonaparte once said.

But today I say there’s something greater to be feared: the Internet.

Every splinter of information in the world today can be yours in the click of a button. Editorials on global issues, sports coverage from the Olympics, indie documentaries, government announcements — most of what we know and what we ought to know can be accessed in a flash. This evolution in the connections between humanity to humanity produced a trending term: digital literacy.

An evolution is defined in the Webster’s dictionary as “the process of development or growth”, and the evolution of ways people obtain data is something our world witnessed. We went from hieroglyphics and stone tablets, to Papyrus scrolls that contained myths and hymns, to the Renaissance’s printing press by Johannes Gutenberg.

Enter the invention of radios and televisions to the already widened influence of newspapers. The restraint of worldly ideas shattered in the literacy this provided to even the misfortuned. People became aware of scientific advances and current issues. They even took upon their palms an inclination to poetry and sugarcoated realities.

Then came the name Bill Gates to magnify the steps to this particular evolution. If digital literacy were an ongoing forest fire, Microsoft could be one of the matches that ignited it way back. Together, humanity and awareness considered technology as their ladder towards “the more of plumes”.

Though if the creation of computers and their programs were matches, the discovery of the Internet would be the gasoline to fuel everything greater. The international databases that weaved into one another formed eyes and ears for the world. However praiseworthy anyone can make it sound, the truth only lies in that we are undeniably making use of this today.

Facebook. Just one word originally from Mark Zuckerberg’s tongue that swiftly became the word of mouth internationally. But we must know it very much symbolizes the progress — in a literary definition, anyway — we reached. Pictures, videos, even statuses, no matter how “petty” they may be at times, they all allude to this concept of digital literacy.

Blogs. Publication sites. Forums. Look at our difference from our ancestors who carved their thoughts into stones and caves. The mundane liberty to voice out sentiments is not comprised in our digital world. Writers now call themselves bloggers. The library online is one containing every book ever published, ready for downloading. There is no excuse for us not to be aware of civilization’s advances, and added to tradition, technology is set to improve our intellect. But awareness includes a footnote: we are still supposed to know our boundaries.

Photographs can be shared in the click of a folder, and videos go viral in the blink of an Internet surfer’s eye. If words have the magnitude of an earthquake, how much does the trillion in Wikipedia and Google mean? Our traditional New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today all host sites for their news articles. This is digital literacy.

"The pen is mightier than the sword." Dr. Jose Rizal once said.

But today I say the keyboard might be mightier than both of them.

Forever Hold Your Peace

The big question is, why aren’t we alarmed?

Of the 193 countries in the world, 86 are free, 60 are partly free and 47 are entirely not free — this is in terms of a nation’s political situation, significance of independent civic life, respect for human liberties and most of all, media independence.* A person with his eyes open must surely know what’s happening today; but more than that, willing lips and attentive ears are what the world needs.

As was said in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations, “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

But billions of people today cannot make use of their voices to exercise their liberty of speaking their own minds. Billions of people choose not to speak. Why? The big answer is, fear.

The notion that the inhabitants of this world are holding back rings true. In countries where human dignity is stepped upon and free speech is rendered speechless, people can only sigh and wish they had the choice to “speak now or forever hold their peace”. Imagine a world where we retained the silence of the 1600s, when all was subdued and when the very idea of freedom to showcase your opinion was begged for, laughed at. Imagine a quiet, stagnant world with nothing to gain and nothing to lose — this is where we’re from and where we’d be back to.

Now imagine the scope of space travel ideas, — “Let’s go to the moon” — and the discovery of gravity, — “The apple fell down, not up!” — and the invention of certain medicines and musical properties. What would be of them without our words and expressions?  The knowledge being imparted now would nowhere be existent. We owe the workings of the world to our own voices.

So what of the 107 nations with no entire freedom, if at all? Why aren’t we alarmed that we are holding back?

Because a much more alarming consequence looms over our heads. Just last year, 70 attacks to people of the press were reported in Libya. 47 attacks against journalists were reported in Indonesia, including a killing. And who could ever forget the Maguindanao massacre where at least 34 journalists were known to have been killed — the single deadliest event for journalists in history?

The catch is that freedom doesn’t come cheap. Our very words are the essence of our thoughts; our thoughts, the essence of truth. And so the courage of the world’s truthtellers, journalists who take the serious risk of baring the facts in front of us, comes with a price. This can only mean we are not entirely free, not really.

According to the 2010 World Press Freedom Index, the Philippines ranks 156th, down from the previous year’s ranking of 122. There is an obvious deterioration with a deeper meaning that we must open our eyes to. The blood of our heroes who fought for our independence would be shot straight to waste if the fear of fully removing the masking tapes on our mouths cannot ever be overcome. Same goes true for the rest of the world.

Between speaking now and forever holding our peace, truth and real concord both lie on only one end of the spectrum. Billions of people today cannot fully own the liberty of expression but those of us who know we can must keep on upholding it. If not, then everyone will never realize that the consequences can be overcome by courage and credibility.

In the world, 86 of us are “free”. We must try. We must dare. We must learn. We must dare to try and learn if we seek the chance for the rest to speak.

[*Information from the 2011 statistics of Freedom House]

A Job More than Well Done

Our birth is nothing but our death begun.

From the era of the dinosaurs to (perhaps, someday) the period of flying cars, from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s time to Lady Gaga’s reign, from pirate ships that navigate the “square” Earth to airbuses, from several room-sized computers to 5-inch tablets — the one worldly constant technology hasn’t touched is death itself.

Last October 2011, Apple CEO Steve Jobs passed away of pancreatic cancer and left in the hands of countless millions his legacy. More than his contributions to the world of technology, he also reminded today’s citizens that life is too priceless and short — with his words delivered and his dreams fulfilled. More than touching the daily lives of daily people with this creations, Jobs was a man of and in himself.

Steve Jobs was always known for being chief executive officer and cofounder of Apple, Inc, — and for having “created” the iPod, iPad and Macintosh, more renowned now as the iGeneration. But in the 56 years of his life, he didn’t just jump straight to his innovations and inevitable success, he knew all the steps he had to take.

As a college dropout from Oregon working on technological inventions in the 70s, life was pretty far-fetched. But Steve was always too determined, using the calligraphy class he enrolled in college to format the proportional fonts of the first Macintosh. Now the entrepreneur that he was, he always encouraged college students in his speeches, including the most acclaimed one in Stanford, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. Stay young, stay foolish.”

In the 70s, he worked on his passion step by step, taking a job as manufacturer of video games at Atari, Inc., founding Apple in 1975, leaving the company ten years later when the board of directors removed his original duties, working for Pixar, Inc., and returning to Apple by 2000. He knew everything he had to go through and everything he was capable of.

Beneath the multimillionaire exterior the world sees, Steve Jobs also had another side to him. After living a private, almost reclused life, Jobs authorized Walter Isaacson to write his tell-all biography just seasons before his death last October 5th, a wonder to many people. In one interview, he even spoke of his children, “I wanted my kids to know me. I wanted them to know why I wasn’t always there for them and to understand what I did.” Behind every genius of our time is still deeper humanity, “mistakes” that usually serve them as lessons.

Research says that more than 70% of his innovative work was done in the last seven or eight years of his life. Jobs always believed that life is only a journey but with one sole destination — so he made the most of it in his chase towards his dreams. The legacy he left stays not only in the “1000 songs in your pocket” feature of his iPod, but the advocacy he had lived with.

"Remembering I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

A Paradox of the Starving and the Petty

Hunger \ˈhəŋ-gər.* An urgent need for food or a specific nutrient. An uneasy sensation occasioned by the lack of food. A weakened condition brought about by prolonged lack of food. There’s a common denominator among these definitions: food.

How many of us throw a fourth of the food in our fridge simple because they had rotten unnoticeably? How many ‘spoiled brats’ among our society refuse food simply because it’s not hot or pretty or appetizing enough to them? How many choose a life of coughing out food simply because they want to maintain their weight and look good?

The answer, indirectly, lies upon the case of global hunger.

Come to think of it, the United Nations, the World Health Organization and other committees regarding people’s concerns have been aware of the issue for quite a time now. Surely they must’ve done something. Sometimes, though, just something is not enough.

In 2009, hunger affected one billion people - a sixth of the world’s entire population. Every 3.6 seconds, someone dies of hunger. Every day, 40,000 hunger-related deaths occur. To know of a remotely close solution to this undeniably humongous problem, one must trace its roots.

The infant mortality rate is closely linked to inadequate nutrition among pregnant women. Malnutrition is implicated in more than half of all child deaths worldwide — a proportion unparalleled by any disease. If this is any indication, one step to ending this issue is to target interventions where they will do most good — among pregnant and breastfeeding women and children in their first few years of life.

To satisfy the world’s sanitation and food requirements, it would cost around 13-15 billion US dollars — what the people of America and the European union spend on perfume each year. The assets of the world’s three richest meen are more than the combined economy of all the third world countries. I would not know what this tells us of humankind, but I do know its implications. We have to address the underlying causes and possible solutions to malnutrition, including poverty, inequality and conflict.

Children and adults alike are affected. One out of six elderly people in the US has an inadequate diet. About 183 million children weigh less than they should for their age. One out of ten children go to bed starving every night.

Whatever this says about us would not matter now, but there is something else we could do. Engage, empower and support those working at the local level to improve nutrition. Some say extreme additional food production would be necessary but how can people work more on an empty stomach?

100 million deaths could be prevented for the price of ten Stealth bombers or what the world spends on its military in two days. For the price of one missile, a school full of hungry children could eat lunch everyday for several years. If this is any indication yet again, are the defenses of the countries against one another stronger than their necessity for food?

To state the almost ridiculous mumblings of politics in several countries, why redo roads and infrastructures over and over again? Why fix what’s not broken when there is clearly shattered glass right next to us? One of the steps we must take, if not a very important one at that, is to make nutrition a political priority. Encourage the international community to take action on this issue.

Now you say, why are there millions of words pretentiously regarding the circumstance and so many plans unofficially heard? That is one truth, and the harsher other is that these words would be nothing, if fallen to deaf ears and unwilling hands.

Solution \sə-ˈlü-shən.* An action or process of solving a problem. An answer to a problem. A coming to an end or into a state of discontinuity. These are official definitions of the word but at the end of the day, perhaps there is only one definition that would matter. Unity.


[Word definitions from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary. All information can be found from worldhunger.org and library.thinkquest.org/C002291/high/present/stats.htm]

Searchlights for Lalang

You are not a Filipino if the name ‘Lolong’ does not ring a bell.

Either that or a crocodile the length of 21 feet which is speculated as the largest in the world today hasn’t caught your attention for even a second. The eyes of the Philippines were sultry on the discovery of the 100-year-old creature about several weeks ago that there was a paradigm flashing continually that I dare say we fail to notice.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) had interesting perfervid reactions. The townies had an equally severe sentiment. Onlookers had the biggest sparkle of interest. Crocodile dundees were all set on finding Lolong’s supposed companion, whom they theorized as even bigger. I often wonder how these people hadn’t found Lalang yet when I’m just a high school student in Bataan (about many, many miles away from Agusan) and I know exactly where it is, what it’s doing, who it’s terrorizing. There are others like me, of course, and I hope you are.

Some crocodile swamps are muddied with ceaseless numbers and crumpled receipts, ‘unlisted’ thousand peso bills and more utter filth. They’re brought to their wooded hideouts by red plates and into the wildlife of where the ‘wastage’ goes. Oh, I bet you’ve already seen such signs but overlooked them.

Hard skin. A large mouth. Claws never seen until in front of you. We know this much from Lalang.

From second grade we learned that these reptiles are carnivores. They feed on the flesh of those who work hard and strive on their own, for their own humanity. Predators of the most fearsome kind in the nation - because what beasts live with their conscience, really? Sources of theirs include those local highways and city establishments (they built, perhaps?) that it’s such a paradoxical fascination to me why some people aren’t scared of being eaten alive.

Then, there are the lizards. They will grow to be larger reptilian monsters sooner or later, but for now I suppose they’re satisfied with clawing at and swallowing whole the food from “under the table” and little amounts worth of their diet from the streets when someone walks a wrong way or is blinded from a red light. They take what leftovers they can but they’re still spawns and allies of the bigger ones.

It’s cruel to wish for the extinction of anything at all but some liken these creatures to the oldest cancer of society, preying on our richest resources without anyone ever wanting them to steer clear simply because they’re very powerful.

100 people were needed to pull Lolong from the swamp in Agusan. It is a certainty that that great strength and a greater risk for the people who bore the responsibility and braved the muddy waters. To find and encage 'Lalang', it would be an even huger risk. There’s no going back. We don’t need flashlights. We don’t need safety suits. We don’t need thick metal chains or thicker ropes. We don’t even need hooks.

Because where is 'Lalang', really?

She isn’t the one we’ve been trying so very hard to hunt. She is just between our line of vision. For several decades in the Philippines, or even centuries, she’s been preying on us without causing the townspeople to act upon it. Because the crocodile bigger than the biggest is not in the swamp. She is seated in the most influential thrones of our country. 'Lalang' is the very embodiment of corruption.

Studies have shown that the Philippines indeed is one of the nations in Asia at the top of a corruption case. If Lolong needed a whole 100 people to pull him away, what will Lalang require?

"He is the star in our park." Elorde, supervising the wildlife conservation center in Agusan, pertained to Lolong. "This is in hopes of turning the threat into an asset."

And most of us are proud. The male crocodile is presumed to be an imminent submission to the Guinness Book of World Records. I wish it can be as easily laughed upon if we entered the more dominant crocodile in our country, at least then we’re taking a step, all ridicule aside. Even our own president, Mr. Noynoy Aquino, has promised to be a captor of this reptile. We hope to hold him true to his words…

…Unless we aspire to have a worse entry in the Guinness for today and the impending tomorrow of our nation. You are not a Filipino if the name 'Lolong' does not ring a bell but you are even less so if you haven’t yet seen the implication of this.