When is the Internet not the Internet
Friends are often surprised to see how often I tweet or how frequently I’ll email back home. And in ways I find it amazing how I can know what’s happening in almost real time all over the world from my room, not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Peace Corps. But its a fact of the modern world that communication technology has permeated all aspects and all areas of life throughout the world. However, the internet I get here is most defininetly not the same internet I got back home in Virginia. Yes, technically it’s the same webpage that is served up – well almost there is quite a lot of redirection so www.google.com goes to www.google.co.za and www.amazon.com goes to www.amazon.co.uk and my facebook ads are about South Africa, other than that its all the same – but it’s still not the same internet because the bandwidth is limited both in quantity and quality (speed).
I connect to the internet by tethering my cell phone to my computer, something your not actually allowed to do with most phones back in the States because cell phone companies don’t want you sucking up copious amounts of data. However, here we don’t have unlimited data bundles like back home. I buy a set amount of data and when that is up I have to buy more, or if 2 months goes by and it’s not finished I lose it. Because the pre-paid model is so ubiquitous here it’s really easy to check your remaining balance and thus insure that you don’t unexpectedly run out.
Since every single byte that leaves or comes to my phone counts, I’m meticulous about where all my data goes and keep a close watch on the current usage throughout each session (ifconfig ppp0 | grep byte is by far the most used command on my terminal). There are many ways you can conserve data and I like to think I’ve got it down to an art. The first week I was here I switched over from IMAP to POP email, which means that all of my mail for the last 5 years can be viewed offline where I can read, replay, and compose before connecting my phone and sending email. When I browse not only is all flash off, but pictures as well – thus the internet I see is most definitely not the one you see, even if all the text is the same. With all my hacks to decrease my data usage I can normally get by on just 250MB in one month (that’s 1/3 of a CD) and when I splurge on data I use 500MB in a month. Back home I could go through 500MB in 30min. Below is a graph the data left on my bundle each day from March to June of last year.
As you can see, my day to day use of the internet barely uses any data. With that I can read my email 3 times a day, follow my top 10 favorite blogs, check twitter and facebook, and browse a few other random pages each day. Every now and then there’s some program I want, or someone sends me an email with pictures attached, or (and these are the worst) I get an email from someone pointing to a Youtube video. What I normally do is put the link in a list of things to maybe check online if at the end of the week I didn’t go over my data allotment.
Yes I could just buy 1 or 2 gigabytes of data each month, but then I’d spend all my hours watching Youtube videos and not actually getting out and experiencing the community. Plus to be fair about once every 3 months I get package from my Mom filled with about 4GB of podcasts that range from TWIT, FLOSS and a few others from Leo’s network to NPR’s Speaking of Faith and This American Life all of which make hand washing laundry, 4 hour taxi rides, and long walks much much better. You might think it’s crazy for my Mom to send me podcasts all the way across the ocean when I can download them right from my room. But I did the calculation (see tables below for Vodacom data prices): for me to download 6GB of data it would cost just over half of what I make in a month R 1200 or $160, the average price of a package from Virginia to South Africa containing a few magazines, DVD’s of podcasts, a letter or two and a few other surprises is less than $15, plus the knowledge that my parents put the package together is priceless.
Vodacom Data Bundle Prices
|Data (MB)||Coast Rand||Rand/MB||$/MB||Cost For 30min Youtube|
Obviously it pays to buy the larger bundles, and if they can really give me data for R0.20 a megabyte I don’t know how they get away with R2 a megabyte for no bundle. And I know plenty of people who don’t buy bundles, I’ve tried to explain this chart to them but spending R88 at one time sounds more expensive then spending R150 in R2 intervals. Part of the problem is that many people I work with have know concept of what a megabyte is and how much data it represents.
The best metaphor for explaining megabytes is to compare them liters. Just like water takes up space, so to do all the pictures, text, and videos you download or have saved on your computer. A 4MB of data will be twice as much information as 2MB just like 4L of coke is twice as much as 2L. Still a little abstract but at least it gets the concept of data taking up space across.
I’d be interested to know how these prices compare to data costs back home. I never actually used internet on my phone when I was in the States (Peace Corps opens up your world in so many ways!) so I have no idea if pay by the byte/megabyte plans are comparable to these. If I’m not mistaken the iPhone unlimited plan is around $60 which would get you 2GB on this plan. It’s going to be interesting going back home because I’m definitely used to having internet on my phone, but really like the prepaid model since I can control how much I spend – in 2MB chunks if I so please.
This entry was posted on Monday, January 18th, 2010 at 6:44 pm and is filed under A Day In My Life, Peace Corps SA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.