Monday, October 08, 2007

*Which* Action Day?

It was not long after I made a post about Blog Action Day that events in Burma* stole a little bit of thunder. Blog Action Day, an experiment to see what kind of impact a unified, blogospheric focus on a particular subject might have – in the case of Blog Action Day, the subject is the environment. Well, it seems that regardless of happens on October 15th, it is clearly evident that the internet, and blogs in particular, can have a tremendous impact on public awareness. Whether it is a global issues such as the environment or human rights abuse or a more localized concern, we are in the early throes understanding this very powerful form of communication.

Despite a subsequent blackout on information coming out of Burma, what did arrive on the international “news” scene before the plug was pulled, was both unstoppable and historic. The distribution of news occurred at light speed and there is no way these ruthless oppressors will ever be able to squelch the evidence – no matter how hard they might try to claim shooting Kenji Nagai, a Japanese journalist, was an accident. What is historic about this event is that this was a major piece of evidence that even though it is not being reported by professional journals, the international community shares a common watchdog notification system. Connect the eyes on the ground to the internet and no violation can be hidden from the rest of the world.**

I said we are in the early throes of understanding how this medium can be used. Some might argue that we are already aware and in many respects we are – we know that we can get information out to the public very quickly and it’s replication makes it impossible to destroy. However, what we have now in it’s current manifestation can be equated to the very first few printing presses – solitary, one-way, mechanical devices for materializing printed ‘information’. However, what we have not achieved is the leap between Gutenberg’s printing press of 1450 to the desktop publisher of the 1990’s. Carrying my analogy into the science-fiction predictive model, it is not just an 12page per minute, collating laser printer on the desk of a home office, rather, it is that printer churning out pages in a place which is half Quaker meeting house, half Roman forum.

In the present case of Burma, and potentially countless violations to human rights occurring around the world, we are serving as a watchdog against bad behaviour. However, not all is doom and gloom and I predict – or at least I hope – that as we learn to harness this medium, we will begin be more proactive about situations around the world so that university students no longer need to be run down by tanks before someone steps up and says “Hey, that’s not right!”.***

In my dream, sometime and I hope not to far from now, my congressional representative will begin to expose their choices, their issues, their goals openly in their politi-blog and soliciting their constituents opinions. Eventually, maybe through this type of medium, we may actually see democracy… real democracy… occur. Or call it something else?

Naturally, there are challenges to this. Not everyone has computers. Not everyone is interested. Not everyone can form an intelligent decision when presented with the facts. However, whatever challenges may be before us, the sacrifices and silenced voices of the Burmese monks should be saluted, not only for their bravery to benefit themselves and fellow countrymen, but the remarkable step of progress for humankind.

*I call it Burma because it is BurmaMyanmar? I’ve yet to meet a Burmese person who calls themselves Myanmar-anese.

**There are plenty of cases already where internet-distributed information has either been squelched, confiscated and/or censured. However, the days are not many when people will realize this is not right – how would you feel if your government came and took all the Post-It notes off your refrigerator?

*** The situation in Burma is NOT a domestic issue. Beating monks, shooting journalists, and planting evidence of weapons in a monastary is an international issue. If the UN is too insipid to apply pressure, it is up to the people of the world to stop buying Burmese teak and heroin until the junta is ousted and the legally elected National League for Democracy Party is given their elected due.

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