Indonesia and Our Way of Doing

My country, Indonesia, can be said a bit weird. We adopt the tons of technologies from the west, it is not weird. We use them daily, it is not weird. We use it our own way, in a a kind of weird way. I want to talk about the usage of internet.

Decisive Digital Identity

As I read many articles in western tech journalistic web, I understood something that is very uncommon in Indonesia: How email is very important, and it won’t just die. However, in Indonesia, our collective understanding about how important email is is very low. People here see email not as the basic of digital communication method, but as a sidekick technology where you open after registering some account. That, and only that.

I always thought that email address is one way for you to identify who you really are in the internet. Having a real name in email address is very important for serious matter which requires attention. Well, that, my friend, doesn’t apply here.

Another thing to identify who you really are nowadays: phone number. In most developed country, phone number is just like a social security number, your number points to who you really are and vice versa. Well, not here either. Many people either have one, two, or even more than three phone numbers because prepaid card is selling like crazy and neither require authorized activation (not until recently). People use different card for different purpose, like SIM A for internet, SIM B for SMS. LOL.

So, those two important identification method: email and phone number is deemed as not necessarily important. If you lose your phone, you can just change to a new number. If you switch carrier, you will automatically discard your previous number. If your email address is considered “alay” (Indonesian slang term for silly/ridiculous), just register a new email address. Nothing lasts long.

Instant Messaging

The internet and handphone in Indonesia, gain momentum circa 1997. Like I stated above, email did not boom, but SMS were very booming. The reason is simple: to email somebody, you need to have computer tethered to telephone wire (back then, internet using dial up, while GPRS did not gain enough traction), while to text somebody, all you need is prepaid balance and phone which always in your hand. Many people drained the prepaid balance down to negative (some operators allow up to some threshold), then switched to new number. Indonesian just like to talk very much and texting become normal occurence. Prepaid card were selling like hotcakes. Then, come the Age of Blackberry, when people understand how important 3G and internet are. However, as talkative as we are, we use anykind of IMs. Yahoo Messenger, Skype, eBuddy, MSN, mIRC, anything. Circa 2010s, Whatsapp penetrated our market, then others similar to WA followed.

There’s a saying:

If USA has Whatsapp,
Japan has LINE,
South Korea has Kakao Talk,
China has WeChat,
then Indonesia has the time to play them all.

Even some of us use the not-so-popular Path Talk. By now, I have asserted that many people not using email for daily communication.

The Missed Opportunity

As a Generation Y person, I somehow find that email is very important in daily life. Serious and important matter always sent directly by email. Not by IM, nor Facebook. But not many people has the same view as I do. Even many Generation X to Z fellow never consider how important an email is.

Let’s say that some email I consider important are job offer, letter of acceptance, conference proceeding invitation, financial report, and suspicious login warning. Different people of course see with different perspective to what is considered as important.

It’s just that for most people not opening email for 1 week is not as grave as not opening Whatsapp/LINE for 1 day. Even when the email might have the job offer reply that you really wished for. How much opportunity is wasted just by simply ignoring email.

I know that professors in other faculty/major in my university will ignore their email. Worse, I know one of my professor that rarely open his email even though there are some pressing matters (like defense) which require him to response (P.S. I am from Informatics, where email is norm here and professor phone number is highly private).

No One is to Blame

It’s not that I am condemning Indonesian for ignoring email. It’s just that our way of doing is very different from what the western people doing. We just like to talk, to express ourself, and to receive response more than simple text, instantly. That’s is why Whatsapp and LINE are very popular in Indonesia. The Generation Z prefer LINE because of its expressiveness (a lot sticker to convey meaning/expression), while Generation Y a bit 50-50 between LINE for the former reason and Whatsapp for its straightforwardness. Both of them are instant and free of subscription charges (exclude packet data plan).

I still remember the article how Slack want to topple email in the field of work and productivity (The Verge, TechCrunch, CNET). In Indonesia, Slack will never gain that much of attention. If things can be organized through Whatsapp Group, so be it. If it is not enough, switch to Facebook Group + Facebook Messenger. If you can post photos to Instagram, then you can also sell item and open online shop in Instagram.

There is very little place for email. Unless, you are in tech company.

I don’t think things will change soon. It’s just how it’s done here. Welcome to Indonesia.

Words of advice

  • Don’t use email for primary communication
  • Don’t use voicemail, because telco ditch them
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