The Urbanisation of Burma’s Blogosphere
There can be no doubt about the relevance of blogs for the destiny of the Burmese. I am not only talking about those famous proponents of citizen journalism who reported from the country while foreign correspondents found it hard to even set foot inside and who later received both lengthy prison sentences and prestigious awards.
After decades of authoritarian rule, Burmese society needs to catch up in many ways. One of the biggest headaches of people who are fighting for genuine democracy in Burma is caused by the skeptical question as to whether overthrowing an undemocratic system is enough to trigger a lasting change. Imagine bringing ready-made democracy to Burma’s remote areas just as you would airdrop instant meals as famine relief. We all know that it won’t work that way. Democracy is not a commodity and not a privilege of the elite. It is a skill, an acquired experience, and a deep-rooted trust that lives in citizens’ hearts and minds.
So what is needed to empower, encourage and guide people to participate in politics and civil society? Huge parts of the Burmese population are overwhelmed by the mere struggle to make ends meet and to protect their tiny realm of freedom and security. Insufficient education and information, a lack of self-confidence and a degree of politeness towards white foreigners and wealthy people that often amounts to subordination prevent many citizens from taking matters into their own hands even where they could. But can a democracy movement be credible, let alone successful, without an unshakable belief in equality?
A very lively, very self-confident public space with an intrinsic commitment to equality, however, has already emerged among a technically savvy community of – mostly younger – Burmese migrants. As members of transnational diasporas it is only on the Web where the number of like-minded peers is big enough to form Burmese communities of interests. Blogs are one of the prime places where Burmese civil society can develop in a virtual space, where physical distance can be undone, the local cultural requirements overcome and social handicaps transcended. Far from being only containers that ship information across closed borders, blogs are virtual arenas of a real-world public.
What is a net without points of suspension?
When I first pondered the idea of creating this multi-blogger-site, I was quite clear about its demarcation against journalistic media. More difficult to answer is the question why one should actually bring many bloggers to one place, instead of leaving them where they are? Are they not happy out there in their own places, which they inhabit like a private apartment? Is it not possible to find them if you know how to search?
I am convinced that they are happy with their blogs. But I believe that many people could be happier if they had access to selected exhibits of this Burmese public sphere that is too easily lost in the vastness of the Internet. Among the key technologies of the Net are obviously search engines and other services that are good at summarizing, organizing and boiling down the information for a user group with a distinct profile of interests. These connectors often serve as entry points and translate our real-world needs into a list of possible answers.
But it is not only about organizing knowledge. If you browse common news sites on the Internet, you quickly understand the importance of presentation. People who are excellent at thinking and writing often lack the skills and motivation to provide an attractive and user-friendly appearance. Especially if you post from behind a virtual firewall or spend a fortune on the cybercafé, you cannot waste your precious time polishing the design. Neither can you follow up on promotion.
Information hubs for Burmese bloggers
Burmese virtual activities have reached a density where an unsorted coexistence of outputs makes them extremely difficult to handle. Think of a town that is endlessly expanding by simply adding streets and houses in a suburban sprawl. Certainly, every house is connected and can be accessed if you know the address. Starting from one address you obtain more. But where to start?
What accounts for a renowned metropolis is not its vast plains of buildings, but diligent cultural techniques that structure the resources and make them accessible, and that in a high degree of specialization of its people and facilities.
Staying with the metaphor of blogs as compounds to dwell in, I think that the time for a more systematic urbanization of the Burmese blogosphere has come. A similar development could be observed for the cases of journalist media, academic institutions, technical knowledge bases and discussion groups, chat rooms of ethnic people and networks of shared interests.
In my vision, burmablog.net would serve as gateway, meeting point and show case. The focus is on supporting and enhancing the existing blogosphere by highlighting, distilling and presenting its elements. If so desired by the bloggers, and if funding can be found, I would also like to offer training by experts.
The success of this endeavor stands and falls by the participation and input of the bloggers. It is hoped, however, that the first step is done by providing the framework with burmablog.net.