A local group of Net users comes of age
By AHMAD SAYUTHI
Features, In-Tech, The Star. Page 25.
Tuesday, June 11th, 2002.
That’s one of the Internet’s most famous truisms, and no wonder … it’s true to a great extent.
The relative anonymity which the Internet offers, in enabling users to hide behind nicknames and from being identified, is a two-edged sword, depending on how the individual utilizes it.
The downside to this anonymity is that it also presents an opportunity for some to engage in irresponsible and dubious activities, knowing very well that they’re shielded from having to answer to or face the repercussions of, their acts.
That should explain why you meet all sorts of fakes and conmen, egoistical types, racists, bigots, loons and assorted abusive people on the Internet, especially at newsgroups, discussion boards, mailing lists and chat groups.
The Internet, for some of them, is just another medium and chance to indulge in actions that, in all likelihood, reflect what they are in “real life” too – downright jerks and people with an attitude problem.
Take heart, however … there are the online equivalents of knights in shining armour in cyberspace too … decent, helpful and caring people who have taken to the Internet to seek out friendship, and who are ever willing to lend a hand to those in need of comfort and solace.
And to have fun.
This is the story of Malaysians who have turned the tmnet.communities newsgroup into a place where real friendships are forged, through mutual respect and understanding and where there is a place for everyone regardless of race, religion, age or sex.
Things, however, were not as easy-going and cosy in the earlier years for the group – one of the few started by TMnet upon its launch as an ISP (Internet service provider).
Dr Liew, a doctor from Kuala Lumpur and a long time regular participant of tmnet.communities – whose users affectionately call themselves “Kommies” – remembers how things were and what it once was.
“The discussions at that time were mostly technical chats. We were trying very hard to educate newbies. Those lucky enough to find out what a news server was, posted their questions on tmnet.communities. Some went to tmnet.support.
“Everyday you’d see the groups flooded with foul words and messages.”
This, he added, came about due to the ignorance and misconception harboured by some when it comes to using the Internet.
“Some people thought they were anonymous by using nicknames. This created the belief that they could use the anonymity as a shield or to hide behind.
“And they’d use the group as a convenient place to release their tension or fury by acting abusive towards others,” Dr Liew said.
The situation, however, gradually improved when the more mature and responsible users took it upon themselves to deal with the abusive types, who disappeared over time.
And along the way, rules and understandings were agreed upon through consensus.
Another Kommies veteran, manager Patrick Lu from Lahad Datu, said this give-and-take attitude was a key factor in shaping the group into its present form.
“The group is not moderated so anything goes. It’s like a teh tarik stall. You get to talk about everything under the sun and no one will stop you.
“However, there’s an unwritten understanding among Kommies that we don’t do much political topics and we take a lot of care not to offend others when it comes to sensitive issues.
“Kommies respect and tolerate each other and accept them for what they are regardless of their background, race, experience, etc.
“Users can come to the group with the certainty that they’ll not be bullied for any reason. Unless they insist on being a jackass despite reminders,” said Lu, who uses the nick “Wombat.”
So what makes tmnet.communities so special and endearing to its regular users?
One of them, Raja Kamarul Azzahar from Shah Alam, has this to say: “It’s the people there. You may just see names and nicks on the screen, but there are real people behind these.
“And these are a bunch of nice people,” he said.
“Once in a while you’ll get invitations to a wedding, announcements of newborns, promotions, etc. It’s like a real community and all these people are my neighbours.
“Heck, I guess most Kommies know more about me than my immediate neighbours,” said Raja Kamarul, who goes by the handle “Rkaru.”
Kommies certainly act like a real community, treating each other as real people and friends.
And they certainly do not regard their involvement and interaction as a mere virtual experience and play-acting, as some are wont to when it comes to the Internet.
This is a group where users have grown to trust each other and feel confident enough to discuss about their personal lives and problems, with the secure knowledge that they will not be laughed at, scorned or humiliated.
And a recent episode that centred on the Sabahan Lu showed how caring these Kommies are and how the group has come of age.
It all started on Christmas day last year when Lu suffered from what he thought was just a fever and a bout of asthma.
Extensive checks revealed some bad news: a heart problem that required treatment at the Institut Jantung Negara (IJN or the National Heart Institute) in Kuala Lumpur.
Stunning news for him and Kommies.
However, it also brought about a chain of events that left a memorable experience for those involved.
Right from the start, the group was utilised as a sort of control centre for Lu’s stay in KL, with Dr Liew playing a leading role as the coordinator.
Kommies suggested and debated on where Lu, who was to be accompanied by his wife, should stay before and after the treatment at IJN (Vistana Hotel was decided upon).
And several in the group gave an undertaking to meet him at the airport and also to visit him at the institute.
Lu recollects what had gone through his mind as his plane touched down at Subang.
“I was thinking that, okay: There’s a bunch of virtual friends out there and they all say they will fetch, visit and help us when we get there.
“We sort of didn’t really believe or place too much hope that will happen. I mean, they may just tell us they have some appointment at the last minute and what not, and we did not take their offer that seriously.”
But to his pleasant surprise, there they were … his “virtual” friends in the flesh and with a few cars waiting to whisk he and his wife to their hotel!
And several more would later visit him at the institute and during the culmination of his stay in KL after he was discharged – a gathering of Kommies which took place during the King’s Coronation Day earlier this year.
“Meeting them all in the flesh was a miraculous moment for us. Even the missus was moved. I mean look: Here are a bunch of people who had never seen each other, do not owe each other anything, and had absolutely no reasons to need to see each other … yet they all turned up,” Lu said.
It was certainly a memorable experience for the rest too when names and nicks that they’d only known on computer screens materialised in person … Dr Liew, Rkaru, Hassan Thean Abdullah (aka Mysticman), Lim Wing Hoe, Dana Chow, Calvin Foo (Kancil Killer), Zami Zahari (StratMan), Jantan Kuat, HCND, Yala … .
And some had also brought along their family.
“It was amazing,” said Dr Liew. “Everyone just sat down around the table and started talking as if we had known each other from high school.”
For Kommies – including those who could not attend or were too shy to do so – this event will long be remembered and recalled over and over at the group.
Already, a few are hatching plans and trying to come up with an excuse for another gathering; half-jokingly teasing and persuading the singles at the group to provide them with one by getting married and inviting everyone.
It was indeed something that they could be proud of – Malaysians utilising the Internet for useful purposes and getting positive results from their involvement.