The Burmese military government’s recent move against democracy is ‘hi-tech’. It has cut off the phone services of activists and journalists. This developed as the government had feared that another wave of popular protest would unfold through mobile phones. Because of speed and cost efficiency, campaigners have resorted to mobile phones as indispensable tools to spread information aimed at social mobilizations.
Actually, the government showed “a bit of democracy” by announcing the warning first. And then right after that, the cutting off of the mobile services. Of course, members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) were not exempt from the measure. Even their office’s landline phone was disconnected.
I can’t imagine myself living in Burma when my mobile phone would suffer that fate. It’s like having an accident in the middle of the road without any way to call for emergency. Besides, a mobile phone has been a work gadget, without which I would deliver practically nothing.
Catching up with the digital age, activists consider mobile phones as extensions of their hearts and minds. They are their last resort in tough times, when it becomes impossible for them to reach out to their constituencies. But digital age threatened by the ghost of feudalism has to bear with the “glitches” like what Burmese government did. I call it glitch because government will surely think of ways to retain the business of mobile phones while effectively curbing popular protests. (I wonder if Philippine government would do the same disservice to Filipino activists of all hues without any pressure from telcos which would incur loss from it.)
The problem facing the pro-democracy movement in Burma is that government has the monopoly over the telecommunications through Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications. And it will use all its military machine to stop others who’ll attempt to break it. In fact, in 2006, government successfully launched a crackdown on “illegal” importation and use of cheap China-made mobile phones. Even business people use Chinese mobile phones because of the better services.
Let me digress a bit. Can Filipino activists of the second millennium go on with their political lives without their mobile phones? Look, mobile phones do not only provide quick and cost-efficient delivery of information; they also provide a relative security for the info senders in terms of anonymity. I’m not saying that mobile communications are the only way. Mobile phones are tools and they must be seen as only complementing “offline” tasks of activists.
But I’m interested to know whether new-generation activists can really dispense with their mobile phones. Can they instead use a landline, a fax machine? Can they use what they predecessors loved doing–spreading copies of a piece of onion-skin or palara paper folded many times to avoid attention from the police or enemies because such paper bears incriminating information?
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