“Despite the launch of 5G services, India still has over 300 million 2G data and non-data subscribers, which constitutes 1/4th of the overall wireless subscribers in the country.”Mansi Taneja, Economic Times.
As a young teen growing up in Kerala, the internet was still new. We never had a PC or internet connection at home. Forget watching YouTube – even loading simple web pages took ages. We could only afford a postpaid mobile connection. That, too, was 2G/GPRS, and internet usage was expensive. I had a limited data package per month. It wasn’t easy, but I always found ways to be online.
Internet Cafes were an option, but me and the boys spent money there to play video games, browse orkut, or, hmm..watch adult content.
That’s when I discovered Wikipedia. It became my biggest lifeline to the world outside. The entire encyclopedia was packed in just a few kilobytes of data. Text loaded quickly, even on glacial 2G speeds. I spent hours reading all sorts of topics, from history to science.
My friends would ask me random questions, and I always had answers ready by searching on Wikipedia. It greatly improved my general knowledge.
But the main use of Wikipedia was for entertainment when I got bored at home or college. I would open random pages and get lost following links between topics. One minute, I would read about computer science, and the next about ancient Romans. It was better than TV with all the exploring.
Of course, not everything on Wikipedia is accurate. I still remember believing mummies were made of chocolate for the longest time! But it was a great starting point for any topic. It was better than nothing when paid streaming was a luxury.
Many informative YouTube channels are readily available for streaming now. But we only had low-quality pirated songs and movies downloaded on pen drives back then. Even they would take hours to pirate on a shaky 2G network. Wikipedia was the only proper online content I could access.
Those were simpler times. I had no social media, no online gaming, nothing. Just SMS, MMS, Nokia, and Wikipedia. It taught me so many things before smartphones and high-speed internet arrived.
More than anything, it sparked my curiosity. Clicking links to learn more about related topics endlessly. Not just staying on a superficial level but diving deeper into the subject. That helped shape my thinking and made me who I am today.
Of course, the mainstream education system in India back then didn’t encourage independent learning. It was all about mugging textbooks and scoring high marks. Wikipedia gave me a taste of accessing limitless information, which schools never could.
My parents had no idea about the internet or what websites I visited daily. All they saw was me glued to a small Nokia phone for hours researching something new.
The truth is, I was having the time of my life exploring the entire world from that tiny screen. Practically lived in Wikipedia during my pre-teen years. It was an oasis during boring summer days.
I still remember reading the plot of some Hollywood movies I had no way to watch (unless they aired it on HBO or Star Movies). Or reading about the latest gadgets and technologies that seemed like science fiction. Wikipedia fueled so much curiosity in me.
Those rare occasions (and hacks) when the internet pack lasted a whole month were days of celebration. I made most of those megabytes by non-stop Wikipedia browsing without any distractions. Pure bliss.
Many hours were spent daydreaming about the future after going through pages of trending tech topics and breakthroughs. Felt connected to the global world of ideas beyond TV channels or newspapers.
For example, I first heard “artificial intelligence” in the 8th standard through Wikipedia. A few years later, it’s now defining technologies of our time; who knew back then that I would end up working in tech too one day?
Sure, it led to some silly beliefs and facts which turned out untrue later. Like my mummy chocolate theory! But I’m glad that the foundation it laid for life-long learning through self-education on the internet.
People nowadays take fast, unlimited data for granted. They don’t realize struggling teenagers of the 2G era grew up on Wikipedia to quench their thirst for knowledge. It was more important than any official education.
Even today, sometimes, I get nostalgia to re-read random articles from those times. I wonder what topic teenage me got lost researching on late Saturday night exactly ten years ago. Good times.
So, in summary, thank you, Wikipedia, for being a guiding light in the dark era before smartphones arrived. You opened the entire universe to curious village boys like me stuck with shoddy internet packs. It helped shape who I am today. The true unsung hero of the millennial generation in India.
Misc: 4 The People (2004) by Jayaraj captured young people’s imagination by portraying how online forums and websites could be used for social change. As someone who had just started exploring the internet around that time, it blew my mind to see how technology was utilized for activism in the movie. I’m sure it inspired many young Malayalis, like myself, to see the internet’s potential to give ordinary people a voice. Shankar’s Anniyan (2005) was the first film in Tamil Cinema to have its own website (
www.anniyan.com, now defunct) for promotion.
PS: Yes, books are great. But come on, man. Who needs a physical (costly) encyclopedia when you can browse information on the World Wide Web at your fingertips?