Aug

30

 Economic high times in Peru during three short years since my last visit in 1999 has put 100 times as many keyboards under the fingers of the citizens who have blossomed a fresh consciousness about town. The changes are sharp in the minds of 500,000 of this largest city in the Peruvian Rainforest. In with the computers, out with the old jungle charm that has defaulted to a new middle class efficiency.

Cheerfulness has always been endemic in Iquitos and it is the most relaxing place in the world to take a walk. The children grin and gawk- they used to gawk and grin- and the dogs run out to play. I have never been bitten and there is virtually no violence in the town history. If you smile at a person the he´ll say buenos dais every morning after.

The difference now compared to three years ago is in people´s faces registering what they see followed by a flicker of calculation. There used to be no past or future tense in the minds of the natives, and they remembered only the last thought until jolted into the next. Now it´s smooth mental sailing.

The dominos of awareness on the streets, in shops, homes, on waterways and in the people's minds are amazing. Whether they access computers or not, by speech, newspapers and non-verbal cues, critical thinking is sweeping the town. This enables inspiration in an individual by a great purpose, some extraordinary project, and all of his thoughts break their bounds. He is able to hold not one but two or three thoughts at once, and others see it. I think a new, great and wonderful world has opened in Iquitos. Dominant forces, faculties and currents have come alive in the discovery of self.

What´s more curious is that instead of adults teaching children the art of consciousness in the traditional style throughout world history, in this computer revolution the machines are teaching the kids first and they then their parents. The kids flock to fifty internet cafes- nearly all new- before and after school, at lunch, and just before bedtime. Thousands swarm the internets that in the first month I was here in June slow them from a usable USA 2010 pace to a near standstill at prime hours. One expat here was accustomed to winning six simultaneous games of computer chess at a USCF 1850 rating until last year when he started losing one in six when his clock flag falls as the computer is slow, and his rating fell so drastically that he quit. I pay a daily advance for ten hours at $.60 per hour to hold the highly prized chair through the busy times including a 7- 9pm night session for ´computer romance´ that has replaced strolling the town plaza for amour.

What do the kids do? They don't care if the systems are up or down; they´re addicted to the noise and game hunger. When the computers are up they cruise Facebook and play online games. When down they switch to canned hard drive games. It´s a musical chairs of gleefully shouting children, and often I give mine up to go hike, eat, read or nap in a private booth with a nonworking computer.

As the kids jam the cyber cafes the adjacent soccer fields that used to be busy with anaerobic games lie barren for the first time in history. In parallel the children are growing little hunchbacks with enormous hands and delicate fingers to resemble Edward Scissorhands. Romances bloom in the cafes and especially in private booths that rent for an extra dime an hour. The teens hold hands and visit their friends on Facebook or Skype double date.

The daily ratio of computer use across the city is: Facebook 45%, Games 45%, and 10% schoolwork, surfing or other. Yet it doesn't matter where their fingers walk because one way or the other computers teach users to think like them in raising their consciousnesses. Children computer schools are popping up everywhere, and a chain called CompuKids offers twelve station rooms for primary and grade school children at $.30 per hour for group lessons three times a week from an itinerant professor. In turn, the kids run the family cyber businesses outside of school and commonly a ten-year-old installs programs, fixes glitches and takes money, while the parents sweep and mop.

The children are the vanguard of a wave of critical thinking obviously due to the computers as the only strong variable, aside from boom money, introduced to Iquitos in the last three years. For every computer then there are about one hundred today, children learn them in primary school, and the more affluent university students use laptops. Many businesses have installed systems to record books, and along Putumayo Street where the established line of one dozen self-appointed notaries for decades have for set up sidewalk typewriter tables to hunt-and-peck at $.50 a page for letters or legal forms to the partially illiterate society, now two use laptops and printers.

Critical thinking has been described as reasonable reflection focused on deciding what to believe or do. It is the predecessor of self-regulatory judgment. It is the ability to chew up and spit out what you don´t believe in this story, and swallow the rest.

What of innocence in a computer revolution? Here was a place, a time, like a dream a rule of subconscious in the most remote thickly populated region on earth. Nevermore. For me this means the citizens look me directly in the eye rather than from a haze of unconsciousness and fear of the persistent Pela Cara, or face peeler. Every child for a century used to be told that one night a gringo called a Pela Cara was going to snatch him from a river bank and peel the skin off his face and body, squeeze out the oil, and… then this variation of the legend… send it back to the USA to be used as missile fuel for rockets with nuclear bombs. Many adults also feared the Pela Cara. Once I was introduced to a group of mechanics as a visiting Pela Cara who instantly vacated the shop. A few years ago a father-in-law of an expat was sent to prison for two years for aiding a gringo who was doing this to an aunt.

It is believable that computers may alter individual and world consciousness from a stronghold of centuries, but for it to happen in one place in three short years is incredible.


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