This week we have been talking in class on how text messaging affects culture, and language. I feel we have all, myself included, been focusing on the surface level, and perhaps petty ways that the technology helps or hinders us. Do we get annoyed when someone in the bathroom stall next to us is talking to loudly, or when we are in line at Starbuck’s and the teenager in front of us is engaged in a “deep” conversation and doesn’t know it is her turn to order.
Most of us see the cell phone as a given, and requirement for emergency communication or for our self-image and popularity. I wonder if people in Myanmar ever look at heir phones this way, or do they see them as lifelines, and the only means of communication to the world outside of their suppressed society?
Right now as I type, there is a revolution occurring in a country called Myanmar, you may know it as Burma. This country, one of the largest in South-East Asia, is under tight control by a military government that seized control in 1992. A peaceful revolution led by Buddhist Monks began a few weeks ago, but now that revolution has turned violent due to the government crackdown.
Media outlets in the country and Internet access has been stifled and stopped by the government, so the revolution is being largely transmitted and televised via mobile phones and devices.
The Wall Street Journal reports that as the country’s ruling military junta attempts to keep out foreign journalists and unplug Internet servers, “citizen journalists” armed with cell phones were beaming news of the protests and crackdown to the world.
“Citizen witnesses are using cell phones and the Internet to beam out images of bloodied monks and street fires, subverting the Myanmar government’s efforts to control media coverage and present a sanitized version of the uprising,” the paper reports. [CBS]
On Thursday of this week, the Myanmar military opened fire on thousands of protestors and at least nine people were killed, including a Japanese journalist. Pictures and video of the bloody incident were transmitted by the only available means… the cell phone.
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We are witnessing the application of a technology and a device in its best form: giving a voice, providing an expression outlet, to oppressed individuals. Would the Berlin Wall have come down sooner if cell technology had been as prevalent in the 20 or 30 years ago?
This morning instead of turning to the pages of the New York Times, of the local paper I logged onto FlickR to see the latest images from Myanmar.
Mobile devices and Internet communications technology are pushing the globalization of information and creating a new transparency that is opening up the eyes of the world like never before. Mass media is in the hands of the individual and more and more governments and censors cannot quite their voice. This is a good and important thing.
We should not be so caught up in the marketing and fashion of the technology that is pushed my Apple and other producers. We should step back and look at the greater issues and ramifications that each new technology brings forth.
Through the cell phone, we see the oppression and violence suffered by thousands. Images and sounds, that before would have been left in the bloodied gutter along with the bodies of people that are looking for freedom that we take for granted. We use the phone to video someone skateboarding off a roof, or someone being punched in the face for fun. Others, who do not have the same luxury, use it to show their plight and suffering.
I do not want to sound sanctimonious or judgmental; I too have watched my share of skateboarding follies. It just struck me as a bit strange that we are discussing the texting habits of people in the bathroom, while other people are dying in the streets of Burma, for the right to use a cell phone.
It is easy for us to take all that we have for granted; cell phones, dvd’s, computers, electricity, water, food… but maybe before we decide whether or not cell phones are a trend we should put our selves in the sandals of a monk in Myanmar.