Tuesday, August 10, 2010

David Sasaki: [Friends in Movies] Bhutan, TV and the Internet

[Friends in Movies] Bhutan, TV and the Internet
by David Sasaki
El Oso


“The Last Place” is a fascinating and well-produced piece, and a reminder of the strangeness (and evilness) of Western television programming. It underlines Clay Shirky’s assertion that far too many of us wasted the 80’s and 90’s watching terrible sitcoms.

From my own elitist ledge, I think that importing foreign television programming into Bhutan was a net bad. Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley says that the one positive effect of bringing television to Bhutan is that the Bhutanese began to realize just how peaceful their country is compared to most. But it also led to youthful fanatics of WWF and a quick transition from isolated Buddhism to capitalist consumerism.

But what about the internet? From my same elitist ledge can it be judged as a net good or net bad for the country? I have no idea. I’ve never been to Bhutan. But I am intrigued by the thoughts of Sonam Ongmo, Global Voices’ inspiring Bhutanese author. She was born and raised in Bhutan where she worked as a journalist and then moved to New York where she is now, in her own words, “a displaced stay-at-home mother of two.”

In 2006 – just six years after the internet first arrived to Bhutan and the same year as freedom of press was guaranteed – she published a piece in the Bhutan Times that speculated how the country would react to the network of networks. She recently re-published that piece on her blog.

In a country with limited resources like ours, individuals will have to play a more decisive role in managing Television and Internet but the State has to help them. The west as a long media history and the public are very familiar with how a free press functions and it impacts them. Their people have matured with it and so management of the media has come with a certain amount of education and exposure to it. While we often claim to be in a position to learn from other’s mistakes we have seen that it is only when the elephant is in the room that we are scrambling for solutions.

Nearly four years later and it seems that Sonam still doesn’t know how to weigh the positive and negative effects of the internet on Bhutan. Like most of us, she feels that there is simply not enough time to reflect on all the information that passes by us:

Bhutan has seen drastic changes within society – good and bad – but the fact that it is happening all very fast is indeed very disturbing. Much of the time the problems that have come with such exposure have made the problems run ahead of themselves allowing hardly any time for thought. We are a nation now, in some ways, like a deer caught in headlights.

For Sonam’s own life it is clear that the internet and social media has been a blessing, but she’s also aware that there is too much of a good thing, and that we need to step away to regain our balance, to regain ourselves.

I agree. I told myself that I would stop using my computer and ipad after 10 p.m. But last night I broke that rule. So enchanted was I by “Travelers and Magicians” that I read through every link I could find on Global Voices about Bhutan. I got to know Tshokey, “Penstar“, Dorji Wangchuk, Tshering Tobgay, and Unagi. I was amazed by how thoughtful the discussions were in the comments that followed. It reminded me of the good old days of blogging in 2004 and 2005 when the majority of posts would inspire in-depth conversations with 15 or 20 or more comments. More than a sense of conversation, there was a sense of lasting community. These days we hardly have enough time to align our lives for long enough to participate in one coherent conversation. More than half the people who started reading this post don’t have the attention span or the interest to make it this far. I hope that Bhutan’s blogging community isn’t headed down the same path.

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