SUMMARY: In today’s Sounding Off column, our contributor Jose Cervera argues that the world is full of social refugees. People who do not fit into their environment, or people whose tastes and habits are unusual, or contrary to the dominant culture in which they live, or are just simply different. Today there is a new country of asylum, one in which all residents are newcomers. Welcome to cyberspace, where the oppressed, the persecuted, the unpopular and the ugly, find shelter; where every human being has the chance to be who he or she really is, regardless of gender, age, race or religion.

SOUNDING OFF: “We are all Immigrants”

An immigrant, said Ambrose Bierce in his Devil's Dictionary, is an unenlightened person who believes that one country is better than another. We can cynically argue that no good country exists, but it is also true that some are much worse than others. Even the most civilized and economically endowed country can become a personal nightmare if one’s circumstances and tastes do not match those of the majority who live there.

Today there is a new country of asylum, one in which all residents are newcomers. Imagine you live in a town with a population of 2,000, deep in the heart of Extremadura, Spain or in a Texan village of barely one hundred homes. Or in the mountains of Colorado. Imagine you have family and friends; you travel to the capital with some frequency, watch TV and are a frequent user of the local library. Imagine that your tastes are a bit out of the norm, and are not satisfied with “The Big Brother” and the latest adventures of the local football team. Imagine that you saw a British science-fiction series called The Red Dwarf on television a long time ago, and have been hooked ever since. Or that your taste in literature veers toward an extreme preference for seventeenth century French poetry. Or that your taste in cars leans toward 1950’s American models with wood bodywork. Or that you're gay. Or that you love growing orchids.

What are the odds that someone within your sphere of influence shares your tastes? That you have someone with whom you can talk about your hobbies, hopes and passions, if these are out of the mainstream? How many people have had to give up developing their passions because they are alone in their tastes?

The world is full of social refugees. People who do not fit into their environment, or people whose tastes and habits are unusual, or contrary to the dominant culture in which they live, or are just simply different. People who cannot pursue their dreams because those dreams are ignored, at best, or persecuted, at worst, in the place where they were born.

All these people now have a new home in a new country.

Welcome to cyberspace, where the oppressed, the persecuted, the unpopular and the ugly, find shelter; where every human being has the chance to be who he or she really is, regardless of gender, age, race or religion.  It is an environment which, like the Old West, is not a geographical place, but a state of mind. It is the only country where we can be ourselves; where nobody cares if you're a dog, and where you can find people like yourself, regardless of who you are, and of where they live.

The Web is just that? a rope tossed out into the darkness, a haven for the persecuted, the stigmatized, the lonely and the alienated. It is a place where you are never alone, because there is someone out there who shares your emotions and passions, and you can chat with that person, make contact, and exchange experiences and knowledge, regardless of how odd they may be.  It is a place where you can be yourself without having to worry about what others say or what your neighbors, family, or friends may think. It is a place where you can share those parts of yourself that you never reveal to others? those secret desires or burning interests that you are too embarrassed to let go of because of fear or loneliness.

It is a place where we are all immigrants, even of ourselves; a place where we are a bigger and better version of ourselves. It is a place where we can communicate, sometimes for the first time in our lives, with someone who understands us.

So when people say there is such a thing as Internet addiction…there will be more addicts than ever.

Read this article in Spanish: Opinando: José Cervera "Todos inmigrantes"

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