By Kyaw Myaing
It is common knowledge now that we have already passed the “Information Age” and that we are now in what the experts call the “Knowledge Age”. In this age where knowledge reigns supreme, the internet has become very important for all those who wish to take the fullest advantage of this “Knowledge Age”.
While the rest of the world has had ample opportunity to reap the benefits of the internet, the people of Myanmar have not been very fortunate. Let us take a brief look at our recent history to understand this point better. Myanmar gained her independence in 1948 and for a brief moment enjoyed what has been called “a parliamentary form of government”. During that time Myanmar was called the Union of Burma and the people enjoyed the freedoms of a democratic form of government although this period was short-lived. From 1958-60 we were under the Caretaker Government of General Ne Win. After that we had a brief moment under the Clean AFPFL Government of U Nu. However, beginning from 2 March 1962, we once again came under the rule of General Ne Win and from that moment on, the people of Myanmar had been under the rule of various forms of military dictatorships.
Fast forward. After the 1988 people’s uprising, Myanmar was ruled by SLORC – State Law and Order Restoration Council and then by the SPDC – State Peace and Development Council. The SPDC was headed by Senior General Than Shwe. In 2008 the present Constitution was adopted by a public referendum which brought into power a quasi-civilian government under the leadership of President U Thein Sein, a retired General. He was inaugurated on 30 March 2011.
As far as the Myanmar people were concerned, they lived under strict censorship and internet connectivity was practically non-existent. As far as cell phones were concerned, the sim cards were way too expensive for the general population and the cell phones themselves were way above the price range for ordinary citizens to even dream of buying. Thus while the rest of the world enjoyed internet connectivity, and smart phones, the people of Myanmar lived in a relatively dark age having to rely on a few government controlled newspapers and a radio and TV station owned by the government.
However, things have been changing gradually. During the administration of President U Thein Sein which can be credited for a number of political and economic reforms, Myanmar citizens began to get better access to the internet and the price of sim cards and smart phone became relatively cheaper. Later when the monopoly of the government on internet connectivity and cell phones was broken with the advent of Telenor and Ooreedo, the life of Myanmar citizens really began to change with better internet connectivity and less-expensive smart phones.
Let us look at the situation now. At present we have a democracy government led by the NLD which has a majority in both houses of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw. This government which has the full support of the majority of the people is more responsive to the voices of the people. From the side of the government, they have tried their best to have better communications with the people. To do this, the government set up better channels of communications using internet websites and digital technology such as “Viber”. Thus the people feel much closer to their leaders.
Enter Facebook. Facebook has been quite popular with the Myanmar people as this social media website has empowered the Myanmar citizens. FB as it is affectionately called, allows its users to not only post pictures and comments about their daily lives but most important of all for Myanmar citizens who have been yearning for a more democratic form of government, it gave them the opportunity to post and share their thoughts about political matters. Thus, as far as the Myanmar people are concerned, it was a sea change for them.
For the Myanmar people, rights come with responsibilities. Just because we have internet access does not mean that we can behave like irresponsible children. As Myanmar moves into the modern era with better internet access and smart phones (we now talk about 3G and 4G), we need to understand what is appropriate and what is not. Also, we need to understand that very soon, each smart phone user will be totally responsible for how the phone is being used.
The title of this editorial reads “Connecting to the big brain”. In the opinion of the writer, the internet is like a virtual brain that covers the whole globe. Once we are connected to the internet, we are connected to all the people in the world who also have internet access. Thus the opportunities for sharing knowledge and researching for information on the internet is mind-boggling. With search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing and with video websites like Youtube, the youths of today have a tremendous advantage over the youths of the older generation. So, since we are now connected to the big brain, we have the ability to connect with the best brains on this planet and even make life-long friends with people all over the world. How we use the power and connectivity of the Big Brain will determine how we will develop as a nation. Our citizens will be able to educate and train themselves to become better citizens by learning from the experience of other countries and getting the best technologies in every field of endeavor. Let us get the best advantage of the Big Brain by taking the best that modern technology can offer while at the same time keeping our traditions and cultures intact.
By Kyaw Myaing