One of the most characteristic features of Filipino culture is the extreme value placed on relationships and social interactions. This is apparent in the home, the work place, and just walking down the street. A “typical Filipino family” is often characterized by at least 3 generations living together. At work, no day is complete without a morning and afternoon pamahaw (snack) break to catch up on the office/community chika (gossip). Anywhere I walk in my town, I’m greeted warmly, and often by name. Thus, it is no surprise that many Filipinos love the connections made possible by social media.
Back home in the US, a substantial 62% of adults have a social media profile. In the Philippines, the percentage is a bit lower, just below 50%. However, we should keep in mind that the Philippines is a developing country, where 26% of the population lives below the poverty level and 13% of households do not have access to electricity. Still, even with a lower proportion of users, Filipinos rank #2 in terms of hours of internet usage globally, spending 2.2 hours more on average on the internet than Americans (8.4 and 6.2 hours, respectively). Of those 8 hrs, 47% is dedicated to social media sites.
When I was back home, I would shamefully admit to spending too much time on Facebook. Leading up to my Peace Corps service though, I wasn’t worried about it, assuming I would be become all but cutoff from the rest of the world as a volunteer. Of course, I was wrong. As it is, using Facebook is more convenient, even necessary, then ever and for many Filipinos is the primary means of communication. Here, if you have a smart phone, Facebook is actually free. So, even disconnected from WiFi, if I have a 3G signal, I can access the social media site in “free mode” (without pictures/videos) and the messenger service without consuming any data.
I live and work in an urban barangay where 3G access is ubiquitous. This is not the experience of all volunteers in the Philippines, but it seems to apply to most of us. Of course there are many benefits my set up. It’s fairly easy to stay in touch with people at home (except for difficulties due to the 13hr time difference) and other volunteers. So, even being one of 3 Americans (that I know of) in my municipality, I never feel isolated. It’s even useful in making new connections with people I meet here at site. Still, I can help feeling a bit disappointed at times. It’s easy to romanticize joining the Peace Corps and unplugging from the modern world. Turns out, I’m now as plugged in than ever. So it goes.