Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Expats and the Internet - don't be (too) afraid!

It never ceases to amaze me that even in the 21st century there are still large numbers of people around that claim to have never heard of the Internet.

There are even larger numbers who know of it, but avoid it like the plague because of all those nasty things they’ve read about viruses, id-theft or spy-ware and of course it is a known fact that just about everyone trying to do business on the net is a crook looking to rip people off!

I blame the TV myself. The amount of negative publicity put out by some sections of the media, notably some consumer affairs programmes, is truly disproportionate to the problems involved. Much of this negative publicity is very poorly informed, inappropriately researched and many of the cases covered show a total absence of investigative journalism in the sense that the claims are simply never put to critical evaluation.

Nobody denies that there can be problems when dealing over the Internet, just as one can have if dealing by post or via telephone, yet the Internet gets the bulk of negative attention. In reality, with some modest spending on security software and the adoption of some good common-sense practices, the Internet can be a safe place to find information and trade.

It’s hard not to wonder sometimes if the fact that the Internet poses a threat to TV advertising revenues is not a possible contributory factor in the coverage it gets, but perhaps that’s just too cynical!

Now, at face value this may not be anything directly related to expats, but it can be.

Expats overseas are in constant need of information and advice, particularly in the early months or years after their arrival. If they are unfamiliar with the language or live in a rural area, they may also need to purchase items from far afield. As a group they also frequently need to identify some unconventional (by local standards) ways of generating income through business.

In all these areas the Internet is at face value the obvious answer.

Yet sadly, some of even the younger expats are put off by all the negative coverage. In a recent expat forum meeting one woman, who was probably under 40, said she would not use the Internet to find information;

“…because of all the Trojan’s on it”

No, she had nothing against the ancient inhabitants of modern Western Turkey, and she did not know what a ‘Trojan’ was in technology terms, but she had been scared-off using the Internet by TV coverage throwing around frightening terminology.

This widespread fear is a pity. For example, it is always regrettable to see people paying far more for items than they need to simply because they have been frightened off the Internet by often exaggerated and unrepresentative stories.

In terms of finding information, the Internet is a must for expats. Just one example from today alone when trying to advise someone on a legal aspect of living in France (a subject I know little about) I found a site called

http://www.frenchlaw.com

This is a mine of information relating to all aspects of the French legal system and they can also put you in touch with an English-speaking French lawyer immediately.

There are literally dozens upon dozens of similar sites available to help expats in almost any country of the world. There is no need for any expat to feel cut off and alone.

Of course if you’re reading this then you presumably don’t need to be told how useful the Internet can be! Do though spread the word locally – let’s get all expats on-line and sharing their experiences if nothing else!

2 comments:

buildingthelifeyouwant said...

Great post, Jamie - but yeah, in terms of congruence, it's not your blog readers that need convincing! :-)

I've heard from so many people they're overwhelmed by the internet's functionalities, they don't know where to start to get a blog going, when really all it takes is a gentle nudge from the kids (or neighbors' kids) to check out blogger and start writing. We all know someone who knows about the internet, so when are you going to call them to help you out?

What I love most about the internet is the platform for sharing information and experiences it provides. Especially expats can appreciate the learning that goes in to international transition, and how beneficial mentors are. Blogs and websites are taking the place of local scouts, and so much is available for free - you just have to invest time to search for it. Yes, you have to take some of the information with a grain of salt, but people can lie to your face, too, if they're so inclined.

So - use it to your advantage, and make sure you don't get distracted by all the applications and games... everything in moderation. ;-)

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Good post. I live on an island in the Aegean and couldn't have managed to do it without the internet. My son and I both work online, I for a UK company talking to dozens of people every day who never suspect where I am unless I tell them. It's an interesting job too and I have fun chatting to colleagues during the day via messenger and our company blog.
And then there's entertainment, and shopping and our social lives on social networking sites and forums. I've actually become closer to my brother in England since moving here and re-established contact with many old friends some of whom have been to visit me. We talk several times a day and have even collaborated on a creative project.
Expats I meet are indeed suspicious just as you describe. Only those with young families seem to have caught on.
I lived out here 20-odd years ago and loved it but felt terribly cut off from so many things. Quite honestly it's no exaggeration to say the internet has literally enabled a revolution in my life and I am so happy about it.