Facebook, as a company, has had its share of challenging publicity and even negative press over the years. It seems to me as though the company doesn’t exactly feel compelled to devote vast amounts of time and resources to making sure its own social image is just right—which is pretty ironic given that it’s the company that created the social image platform where over a billion people are creating, cultivating, curating, and updating their own personal profiles! Well, if the company ever changes its mind and is looking for a clear-cut, feel-good case of Facebook’s offerings providing extremely valuable services for people across the globe, there’s a great story waiting for them in Chuuk!
These photos all come from a few hours spent at Chuuk’s only cyber-center, iSolutions’ cyber-café, in March 2013. Bruce Baikie, from Inveneo, and I spent an afternoon there, working in the back office with TR Mori, iSolutions’ co-founder and co-owner. TR is also co-leading a number of ICT4D projects with us in Chuuk, and we were doing administrative work that day, but I kept popping back in to the computer room in front, to see how many customers came in and what they were doing on the computers.
As you can see from these pictures, nearly all the customers were using Facebook. In fact, of all the customers throughout the entire day—and there was a steady stream of them—there was only one person using the computers for anything other than Facebook! And she was checking her Yahoo email—but of course, that could have been either before or after she had checked in with her Facebook account.
It is no exaggeration to say that in Chuuk, Facebook provides a real lifeline for those who use it to communicate with loved ones who are far away. In previous posts you can read about the site survey visits we carried out at 6 island schools during this trip. At each school, every single teacher and every single student that we spoke with told us that they had relatives who lived not only off-island, but outside of Micronesia. Due to the Compact of Free Association between FSM and the United States, Chuukese citizens are granted unlimited stays in the US, which makes it impossible to accurately estimate how many are living abroad. The USDA estimates that at least 20% of Chuukese currently live abroad, but local residents claim these numbers are much higher—as high as 30-40% or more Chuukese are living or spending significant amounts of time abroad.
You may have already noticed that the majority of the computer users in the pictures are female! We asked the employees at the cyber-center about this, and they told us that women are more likely to stay behind in Chuuk while their loved ones travel abroad in search of higher incomes, so they are also left with the responsibility to stay in touch with family and loved ones who travel abroad. Facebook is the preferred social networking service for chatting, sending news and updates, posting pictures, and in general, communicating long-distance from Chuuk. It truly provides a lifeline.
And I know from experience that this phenomenon isn’t exclusive to Chuuk! I’ll never forget being at an airport waiting room in Papua New Guinea three years ago: devoid of any creature comforts except some wooden benches lining the edges of the room (and all of them occupied long before I arrived!), no visible technology in sight to those of us who were waiting; hand-printed boarding passes, an old-fashioned iron scale to weigh our luggage and subsequent weight calculations done by hand, no public address system, no signs or updates regarding our very delayed flight….and then when we finally boarded, we all walked past where the gate agent sat, on a well-hidden computer, checking her Facebook page!
So, Facebook, if you should decide it’s worth your while to have someone documenting the quality-of-life improvements that your social platform is enabling, even and especially at the far corners of the earth, I’m in!