My colleagues Emily Jacobi and Mark Belinsky from Digital Democracy gave an excellent guest lecture yesterday. They presented their findings from their Burma project to undergraduate students in my digital democracy course co-taught with Josh Goldstein. There excellent slides are available on Slideshare here.
Mark and Emily began their presentation with a reference George Orwell who served in Burma as a military officer. It is striking that every Burmese who has read Orwell claims the author wrote not one but three books on Burma: Burmese Days, Animal Farm and 1984.
Here are just a few insights from the two-hour presentation that I found particularly interesting:
- Based on 90+ surveys carried out, Mark and Emily found that young Burmese who had access to the Internet were more likely to identify themselves as activists.
- The Bangladeshi cell phone network extends well into Burma so activists can use phones from Bangladesh to relay information.
- Monks have access to the Internet and to mobile phones because the Junta provided them the technology as part of alms giving.
Mark and Emily shared some fascinating anecdotes on digital activism in Burma based on their field research. Some are somewhat sensitive and not blog-able but others are less so yet equally eye opening. For example, Mark recounts a visit to a Burmese refugee camp along the Bangladeshi-Burma border:
I had five minutes of idle time and so decided to check my Facebook page using my mobile phone. I was soon approached by one of the refugees who looked on curiously. Before I could explain, the person enquired, “Do you wiki?” I was stunned as he pulled out a much fancier phone and proceeded to show me his favorite Wikipedia pages which were on fancy sports cars.