Earlier this year, on February 4, I sat on a sofa in my fiancee’s family home in Hanoi, Vietnam, and created a Facebook page for something I’d decided to name the Asia Digital Life Project. Part of the reason I did this was because, for the previous four years, I’d taught a course at RMIT International University Vietnam called Asian Cybercultures, and I’d been forever on the lookout for news items and developments that could help my students better understand the material we studied: the impact of the Internet and digital technologies on Asian people and societies. But, in four years, I’d discovered those kinds of stories are actually rather difficult to find; I’d always had to sift through hundreds of articles in the technology sections of newspapers and e-magazines to find anything that wasn’t merely cheerleadery product placement for the next new digital gadget or geegaw or uncritical celebration of the tech industry and its endless assembly line of start-ups, fundraising rounds, acquisitions, and associated business reporting. None of that mattered to me, because very little of it said anything about how these technologies were changing people’s lives. But there were useful articles and reports out there if one was willing to dig a little.
“I’d been forever on the lookout for news items and developments that could help my students better understand the material we studied: the impact of the Internet and digital technologies on Asian people and societies.”
Finally, I decided it might be useful if I could actually compile all this ongoing research into a single, central repository where I could link to what I found and maybe write a few words about it once in a while. Facebook seemed like a good platform because — although I have many concerns and grievances with Facebook (its user experience, its ambivalence about my privacy, its business model, its leadership, its soul-crushing uniformity, etc.) — the fact is, everyone uses Facebook, and it invites engagement better than many other platforms (I’m talking to you, WordPress). I keep a mirror of the Facebook page at a Google+ page, though it doesn’t attract many eyeballs. And of course there seemed room for other platforms as well: my Twitter account, for example, @psharbaugh (which I decided to use because creating and maintaining a separate Twitter feed is something I’ve tried before and found hopelessly time consuming, to say nothiong of redundant). This WordPress account, of course, because although blogging these days may seem like something our grandparents did when they weren’t learning to use an abacus, blogs are still the best platform for longform writing (although Medium is pushing hard to change that). And for four months, that’s what I’ve done: post 4-5 items per day to a Facebook page, Tweet about it when I remembered to, and knock up a longer blog post about a story once every few weeks.
And then, last weekend, I noticed that the little ticker of Likes on the Facebook page had flipped over to the 3,000 figure. Which was nice, given that the only people who noticed anything here at all for a long time were my former students (who had not a whole lot of incentive to care about this stuff anymore, so bless them).
“Last weekend, I noticed that the little ticker of Likes on the Facebook page had flipped over to the 3,000 figure.”
A readership of 3,000 may not sound like much, but we’re growing by nearly 400 a week at this point. So much, in fact, that I’ll be adding a new platform to ADLP very shortly: a weekly podcast, where I’ll serve up quick, bite-sized interviews and conversations of ten minutes or so — just enough for you to wash the dishes by — with some of the most interesting and smartest people I know.
Incidentally, the word “project” is in the name for a reason: I don’t know exactly where this is going, nor exactly what I want it to be. That’s up to you as much as it is to anyone. So this thing is up for grabs — it’s evolving and developing, and I expect it to keep doing so and to enjoy watching that happen. I’m pleased you’ll be here with us.