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Reviews: What's hot in hardware Waiting for the Sim card • The power of blogging •
Reviews:
What's hot in hardware
Waiting for the Sim card
• The power of blogging
• Online dating in myanmar
price drop
Reviews: What's hot in hardware Waiting for the Sim card • The power of blogging •
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Waiting for the SIM card

By Chris myers S IM card prices in Myanmar remain among the high- est in the
By Chris myers
S
IM card prices in
Myanmar remain
among the high-
est in the world
despite repeated

promises by the government to dramatically lower costs. As yet the public’s expectations have gone largely unfulfilled since the government halved SIM card prices in 2011. That year, they dropped from about US$625 to between $312 and $250. But such prohibitively high prices are still outside the reach of most: Myanmar has the second-lowest mobile penetra- tion rates in the world, just in front of North Korea. Although SIM card prices from MPT remain high, progress has been made in opening the market to international telecom- munications firms. In January the government announced it was accepting tenders for two tele - communications licenses, which closed on January 25. They are reportedly the first of four licenses to be leased for up to 20 years, with possible exten- sions of an as-yet undetermined

length of time. However the en- try of international firms could be met with resistance from those with vested interests in MPT. For foreigners, the situation

is somewhat different. A plan is already in place to allow foreign- ers increased access to cheap

SIM cards. Currently, they may purchase temporary one-month

phone penetration rates to the ambitious target of 80 percent by 2015. The main problem besetting wider phone access in Myanmar is chronic underinvestment in the network, which is already frequently jammed. Allowing for- eign investment into the country must therefore be a central policy

photo: yadana R

The internet too has a raft of problems in Myanmar. While the government has eased restric- tions and most websites formerly banned are now accessible, the

"Myanmar has the second- lowest mobile penetration rates in the world"

SIM cards for K18,000 ($21) but from June 2013 the government will make three-month SIM’s available for US$15, in the run-up to the Southeast Asian Games, according to U Htay Win, chief engineer of MPT. The move is part of the government’s plan to increase mobile and fixed

measure to expanding commu- nications access, as Myanmar cur- rently lacks both the capital and the technical knowledge neces- sary to create a network that can accommodate anywhere near 80pc of the country’s estimated population of 60 million. A senior official at MPT, Kyaw Soe, was quoted in the Jagran Post in September last year as saying that the government had big plans to deregulate the sector. He said that of the four licenses planned to be granted, two would be reserved for Myanmar companies, one of which would go to a privatised MPT, which would be renamed the Myanmar Telecoms Company (MTC). There is also work to be done legislatively. A draft telecom- munications law currently being reviewed by government administrative departments will need to be enacted to even allow investment in and operation of mobile networks by private companies. The same applies to internet access, which also has comparatively low penetration rates.

2 Waiting for the SIM card By Chris myers S IM card prices in Myanmar remain
Editors: Photographers: Myo Lwin, Jessica Mudditt Ko Taik, Boothee, Yadanar, Thiri Lu Writers: Chris Myers, Myo
Editors:
Photographers:
Myo Lwin, Jessica Mudditt
Ko Taik, Boothee, Yadanar,
Thiri Lu
Writers:
Chris Myers, Myo Lwin,
Jessica Mudditt, Aung Si Hein,
Zon Pann Pwint
Cover & Layout Design:
Tin Zaw Htway, Ko Pxyo

Cover Photo:

Ko Taik

For enquiries and feedback:

myolwin@myanmartimes.com.mm

jess.mudditt@gmail.com

country still sits behind a nation- wide firewall that blocks some news websites periodically, as well as pornography, gambling and interestingly online dating, although social networking websites on the whole are largely permitted. However the internet too will require vast sums of investment to expand access to the major- ity of the population. But here, arguably, there is less incentive to stifle progress. As Freedom House journalist Sam DuPont ex- plains: “A cynical — though prob- ably realistic — interpretation of the new moves toward broader, lower-cost access might posit that the Burmese government foresees such a bounty of online and mobile surveillance (as already practiced in countries like

China and Iran) that the expected political cost of expanding access has dropped to nil. But for those activists with the skills to ensure a degree of digital security, the falling cost and rising speed of internet access will be a boon to their efforts at protest, organis- ing, and advocacy. In a country so long cut off from the world, the greater opportunity to access information and express opinions is an immense and positive change.” DuPont makes a good point, though maintenance of the cur- rent firewall into the future is not a certainty. Rather it will depend on whether democratic reforms continue, particularly after the 2015 presidential election. Should Myanmar find itself with a reformed and truly democratic

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Second-hand

iPhone market

price drop

 
 

growing fast

Second-hand iPhone market price drop growing fast photo: boothee By myo Lwin and Chris myers a

photo: boothee

By myo Lwin and Chris myers

a second-hand iPhone4 is priced at K300,000-

a second-hand iPhone4 is priced at K300,000-

Fo R most people in Myanmar, the high price of a SIM card alone is enough to keep them out of the communications revolution that the rest of the world generally takes for granted. In 2012 the total number of mobile phone users in Myanmar doubled from 1.5 million phone users in January to three million in December. This of course has meant the mobile phone market has exploded – and second-hand smartphones are capturing a lot of that market. Brand new smartphones, even for the compara- tively well-off, are unrealistic for most, costing up- wards of US$600 even at the low end, depending on the brand and model. Therefore second-hand handsets, particularly from Singapore, are selling in growing numbers for significantly cheaper prices that are far more reasonable for many Burmese. “on average we are selling 60-70 units a month since october last year. Before that our sales ranged from 40 units to 50 units a month”, Xenobia employee Ko Nay Linn Tun told The Myanmar Times.

330,000. iPhone handset prices tend to have less price fluctuations than Samsung’s Android phones. Ko Zeya Hlaing noted that, while there are good and bad points for both brands, the iPhone is more popular among users and retailers, despite the perception that Androids were more ‘user-friendly’. “A year ago, a Samsung Galaxy Note II would set you back about K600,000, but is now available for K350,000.” he said, adding that the price of an iP- hone 4S had dropped from K600,000 to K480,000- 500,000 in the same period. “The second-hand cell phone market will con- tinue to grow in Myanmar because people would like to spend more on better handsets as they need to spend less on the SIM cards,” he told The Myanmar Times. Ma Wut Yi, sales manager of IT and Mobile Sales in Yangon, also believes that handset sales depend on the price of SIM cards. When the government reduced SIM card prices to K200,000 per unit last year, handset sales auto - matically jumped, she said. “They bought handsets when they came to

“I think sales will increase even more when people soon will have to spend less on SIM cards which leaves them free to spend more on hand- sets”, he said.

4S in good condition sells for K400,000, while

buy SIM cards. Handset sales depend on the SIM card price. When the government reduced the SIM cards to K200,000 per unit (from K500,00 in March 2012), hand set sales were up with most of

government sometime in the future then the usefulness and political feasibility of a firewall will significantly decline. What is certain is that pro -

ponents of expanding internet access face significantly more hurdles than do advocates of increasing mobile commu - nications access. As neither

increased internet or mobile phone access will be easy to ac- complish, the public will simply have to continue to watch and wait.

increased internet or mobile phone access will be easy to ac- complish, the public will simply

At MobileIT, another handset retailer in Yangon, the owner Ko Zeya Hlaingsays said he sells 30 handsets a month. of these, 15 are iPhones and the remaining 15 are assorted Samsung Androids. As far as iPhones go, Ko Zeya Hlaing says the iPhone 4S is the most popular. A second-hand

the customers buying cheap brands worth about K30,000-40,000,” she told The Myanmar Times. But earlier this year, sales dropped to just three units a day. “The decline in sales were due to the news that the government would be selling SIM cards for less than K100,000,” she said.

3 Second-hand iPhone market price drop growing fast photo: boothee By myo Lwin and Chris myers
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The power of blogging

4 The power of blogging By Zon Pann Pwint W RIT e RS all deal with

By Zon Pann Pwint

W RIT e RS all deal with rejection in differ- ent ways. But for Nay Phone Latt, nothing was worse than suf -

fering day after day the agony of being knocked back by publishers. “I wanted to be a writer. I wrote several stories and sent them to pub - lishers but they were rejected so many times,” Nay Phone Latt said. He said the first editor he saw pointed at a small mountain of papers on his desk, and told him that his manuscript would be stuffed at the bottom if he wanted to leave it there. “Another editor took it on but the censorship bureau removed the important parts of the story and changed the essence of it. It was worse than having the whole thing knocked back,” he recalled of another story. The repeated failures chipped away at his confidence. “There were so many obstacles to

starting a writing career. But In 2007 I met a friend on a work trip to Singa - pore who urged me to create my own blog and post my stories on it,” he told

The Myanmar Times.

Nay Phone Latt created a blog called The City That I Have Dropped and started to post short stories, 10 of which were published in print last August. “Writing a story for a blog post is different to writing a story for a print publication, where writers have to go through rejection by an editor or cen - sorship. But bloggers have to self-edit and censor their stories themselves,” he said. Nay Phone Latt wasn’t the first Myanmar to try his hand at blogging. Before he started to blog, writers such as Nyi Linn Satt and Naing Na - ing Sanay had blogs with their own dedicated readers. “In 2007, there weren’t many internet cafes in Yangon and it still lagged behind most other places in using internet technology. I wasn’t introduced to blogging until I reached Singapore [in 2005],” he said. But Myanmar’s lack of internet ac- cess didn’t stop users from working to expand their blogging audiences. Nay Phone Latt opened an internet café

in Yangon on his return from Singa - pore, while the small, activist group of ‘netizens’, as bloggers and other frequent internet users have since become known in China, had already created Myanmar fonts to expand the blogging audience. “Two years ago, before I started my blog, zawgyi-one font was created which enabled people to write in Myanmar language on their blogs. Free blog sites had also always been offered online, so that produced many bloggers,” he added. But a great strength of online blogs

4 The power of blogging By Zon Pann Pwint W RIT e RS all deal with

Blogger Nay Phone Latt. photo Ko tai K

is their variety, Nay Phone Latt told us. No two blogs are the same; some have diary-style blogs in which blog - gers write about their daily lives, while others write long blog posts with short stories. “I wrote short stories, poems and essays on my blog. I was very happy when I was introduced to it in Singa - pore because there’s no censorship or editor for blogging. So it was very

abroad hungered for literature on Myanmar. So they started to look for stories about Myanmar authors and news in blogs that offered glimpses of the situation in Myanmar, while they hoped for change,” he said. “There was a particular community of people who supported blogs and loved to read short stories at the time. It was called the ‘blogosphere’,” he added.

formed the Myanmar Blogger Soci - ety (MBS) in 2007. Nay Phone Latt went back to Yangon and the group held a ‘why do we blog’ seminar at MICT park on September 1 that year, where they introduced blogging to local people. He credits seminars like these with the widespread international attention that the Saffron revolution received.

“The world didn’t see what happened in the '88 uprising. But they were aware of the revolution in 2007 because of technology”

harmonious and I spent most of my time writing short stories for my blog.” “At the time, youth often went abroad to study and work when the country couldn’t provide attractive job opportunities,” Nay Phone Latt explained. Those that did were quickly ex- posed to the vast array of information that the internet offered. “Those studying and working

o ne of the main strengths of blog - ging, he said, is that authors receive quick responses to their work. “Readers can give constructive criticism or comments on the authors’ work, which establishes a strong con - nection between readers and writers. It is very encouraging to see their comments on my stories,” he said. It wasn’t long before Myanmar bloggers, at home and abroad

“The Saffron revolution broke out in September, and blogging technol - ogy really helped make the revolu - tion known outside the country. The bloggers and other interested youth posted the pictures in blogs and shared them with others, so news of the revolution spread like wildfire.” During the Saffron Revolution Nay Phone Latt’s blog provided important information to foreign media outlets.

He was arrested on January 29, 2008. After being held for over nine months, he was sentenced by a specially- assembled court to a combined 20 years and six months in prison, which included 15 years for offenses under the e lectronics Act, three and a half years for offenses under the Video Act, and two years for “creating public alarm.” o n February 20, 2009 a court in Yangon reduced Nay Phone Latt’s sen - tence by eight and a half years, leav - ing him to serve 12 years in prison. While he was in jail, Nay Phone Latt was awarded Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom prize in the “Cyber-dissident” category with Myan - mar comedian and actor Zarganar in December 2008. He also received the P e N/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in 2010, which honors writers who have fought courageously in the face of adversity for the right to freedom of expression. In the same year, TIM e magazine recognized him in their annual TIM e 100 list in the “Heroes” category for people who most affect our world. After his release as part of the

  • 2012 amnesty he soon reconnected

with his fellow bloggers. By then, Facebook had overtaken blogging in popularity, but bloggers still formed a significant portion of internet activity in Myanmar. “o ur group wants to develop youth awareness of how the internet can be used. And I didn’t want to continue with MBS because it only included bloggers. So I changed the name of the Myanmar Bloggers Society to the Myanmar ICT for Development o rganisation (MID o ),” he said. MID o now provides basic comput- ing and media training for youth in remote regions of Myanmar, in an ef - fort to increase computer literacy. But until communications infrastructure improves and the government im - proves levels of access to the internet,

there is little MID o can do to increase internet exposure to Myanmar’s rural youth. “Technology is a tool for spreading and sharing information. The world didn’t see what happened in the

  • 8888 uprising. But they were aware

of the revolution in 2007 because of technology,” he said. But he acknowledges that blogging has largely given way to Facebook and similar websites. “In 2007, blogging was a popular means of online communication but Facebook’s impact is greater now.” But Nay Phone Latt said some Fa - cebook users found it hard to comply

with ethical principals when Facebook made posting and commenting easy for everyone. He is wary of Facebook’s capacity to hurt as well as help. “Some users post offensive pictures and content with deliberate aggres - siveness. I see irresponsible attitudes that are different from bloggers and blog readers,” he said. “Negative comments on some - one’s home page can provoke anger quickly, so people make quick responses and users seem incapable of making a rational decision. Their actions are entirely governed by ego and anger.”

4 The power of blogging By Zon Pann Pwint W RIT e RS all deal with
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5 KBZ's Senior General Manager Zaw Lin Htut. photo boothee KBZ to launch mobile banking app

KBZ's Senior General Manager Zaw Lin Htut. photo boothee

KBZ to launch mobile banking app

By Chris myers K BZ bank has started devel- oping a new mobile banking application,
By Chris myers
K
BZ bank has
started devel-
oping a new
mobile banking
application,

which it hopes will make banking more acces- sible in remote rural regions as well as cities. e xact details of how the app will work are fairly vague at this stage, but the priority will be to allow small payments to be made by consumers, either to individuals or businesses, ac- cording to Zaw Lin Htut, Senior General Manager of KBZ bank. He acknowledged that Myanmar’s comparatively low rates of smartphone owner- ship would hamper access to the app, however he added that: “The government plans to expand the mobile network and to reduce [simcard] prices, which will mean everybody will soon be able to afford to buy simcards and more users will then have access.” The Central Bank of Myanmar has not yet written up regula - tions to govern mobile banking, and this is currently the main constraint on the expansion of such software amongst the existing smartphone market.

However Mr Htut also said the bank was considering ways to allow access to banking technology independent of smartphones, again to target

rural areas where smartphone ownership rates are much lower than in urban areas. Such

plans were still in development, so details are scarce, but Mr Htut referred obliquely to the technology being rolled out in “other ways”, possibly indicat- ing the development of web browser online banking. This

He expressed optimism that the development pricing would mean the app will be free to download for Myanmar consumers. “While we can’t yet say whether it will be free to download for consumers, ease of access is important, so we are looking to make it free to down- load, and may charge on a per transaction basis,” he said. In developing mobile bank- ing software, KBZ is following in the footsteps of their sister bank

"The Central Bank of Myanmar has not yet written up regulations to govern mobile banking"

too is currently unregulated and thus not yet allowed. KBZ bank is currently ac- cepting tenders from foreign software companies to develop the app, but has not yet de - cided on a winner and a closing date for tenders has not been announced. When asked about how much development was expected to cost, Mr Htut said only that he was satisfied with the projected cost, jokingly de - scribing it as “not too expensive, nor too cheap.”

CB, who plan to host mobile banking services from June. “our timeframe is for release this year, subject to the regula - tion of the Central Bank,” he said. “We will be competing with other banks but we are not competing as rivals. We aim to compete cooperatively, so early features will be the same and later on we will differenti- ate based on the response of consumers.” According the emerging

Markets website, Myanmar currently has some of the least developed financial infrastruc- ture in the world; it is thought that less than 1 percent of the population has a bank account. But as reforms continue, so too is the development of financial infrastructure; Visa announced in August last year that they would be introducing electronic payment services through selected banks in places such as supermarkets, but nothing further has been revealed. At this point, this particular app is planned to work “only with local currency, so it will just be aimed at locals, but later we want to open it to international currency transactions, subject to the regulation of the Central Bank,” U Zaw Lin Htut said.

5 KBZ's Senior General Manager Zaw Lin Htut. photo boothee KBZ to launch mobile banking app

Three minutes with

Htun Htun Naing,

Managing Director of Blue Ocean Operating Management (BOOM)

BOOM was established in 2009 and within two years it launched three new services in Myanmar: a mobile application store, a SIM card rental service for tourists and Yatanarpon Call Centre.

5 KBZ's Senior General Manager Zaw Lin Htut. photo boothee KBZ to launch mobile banking app

What made you decide to work in the telecommunica - tions industry?

It’s a niche market at the moment. There are a lot of opportunities in Myanmar, especially in the telecoms sec- tor – and not only as operators but also in other services.

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?

Providing a service for people. We run call centre services in Myanmar and help answer people’s questions. o ur motto is “Customer satisfaction is our business.”

What is the one gadget you cannot live without and why?

My mobile phone is essen - tial to my life.

What’s your favourite holi - day destination?

A beach resort.

d oes your work involve a lot

of travel?

Yes.

What’s your favourite res- taurant in yangon?

Green e lephant – Located on 3 (H), Block 801, 27th Street, Aung Daw Mu Quarter, Yangon.

What was your very first job?

Small-scale ICT services.

d escribe yourself in three words.

Visionary, innovative, ambi - tious.

What was the last book you read?

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different, by Karen Blumenthal.

What is your advice for young people who seek a

successful career in the tele - communications sector?

You need to find a niche market, concentrate on customer services, and have a

long-term vision.

5 KBZ's Senior General Manager Zaw Lin Htut. photo boothee KBZ to launch mobile banking app
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Online dating in Myanmar:

a pursuit of peril or promise?

6 Online dating in Myanmar: a pursuit of peril or promise? By Jessica mudditt T RUe

By Jessica mudditt

T

RUe love is elusive – some would say illusory – and as Valentine’s Day approaches, the chances of finding it

can feel depressingly slim for singles. It’s therefore no surprise that since the world’s first online dating website, Match.com, was launched in 1995, millions of people have turned to the internet to increase their chances of finding that special someone. The stigma initially associated with online dating – that is, being judged “desper- ate and dateless” – has largely melted away. Unfortunately though, several risks remain. Technology analyst firm Tekrati estimated that the online dating market in the United States generated US$932 million in 2011 and in 2009 The Guardian stated that, “Fifteen million people in Britain are single, and almost five million are shopping for love online.” In India, traditional matrimonial sites may soon be overshadowed. A Decem- ber 2012 article in Business Today titled, “online dating business is India’s new love interest” reported that dating sites have some 25 million active members in India. “[Indians] are now embracing a more progressive view on many things - in this case, dating, relationships and marriage,” said the founder of TwoMangoes.com, Anita Dharamshi. China’s online dating market has existed for a decade and is expected to be worth $315 million by 2014. Business Today reported that the in- dustry is worth about $4 billion globally. Some dating sites use highly specific membership criteria to stay ahead of the competition by increasing compat- ibility rates. For example, veggiedate. org requires “a declaration of vegetarian strictness” before setting up a personal advertisement on their site. In Myanmar, by contrast, online dat- ing sites such as online-dating.org were blocked until at least as recently as last year. open Net Initiative (oNI) said in its october 2012 report that there was a “drastic” reduction in the number of filtered sites since testing in Myanmar began in 2005. only five out of 541 tested URLs cat- egorised as political content remained blocked. Interestingly, almost all of blocked URLs belonged to oNI’s ‘social’ category. “out of 132 total URLs found blocked, 104 belonged to the pornography and alcohol and drugs category. Also found blocked were gambling websites, online dating sites, sex education, and gay and lesbian content.” However the dating websites listed as blocked by oNI, including adultfriend- finder.com now appears to be accessible. Denise Strete, the director of Kaus Media Group, which designs and hosts

6 Online dating in Myanmar: a pursuit of peril or promise? By Jessica mudditt T RUe

Ei Mon San and Sai Aung Zaw Tun met online. photo: supplied

websites in Myanmar as well as many other parts of the world, told The Myan- mar Times, “We haven’t been approached [to create an online dating website in Myanmar]. Denise said the company is unsure whether such a business venture would be “accepted by the local internet user population or if it would it be seen as something so different and wrong, eat- ing away at local traditions.” Despite the absence of local online matchmaking sites, a variety of more casual forums exist: notably Tagged.com, G-Chat and what is arguably the world’s most popular site for romantic introduc- tions, Facebook. All a person really needs is access to the internet and, as an anonymous online dater told The Myanmar Times, a sense of “curiosity.” “Thiri” (not her real name) signed up to Tagged.com in 2009 and met her boyfriend through the site a year later. Thiri said that Tagged “is a lot like us-

As Thiri scrolled through Tagged on her smartphone, I noticed that her profile has been viewed more than 4000 times and that she has 886 pending connection requests, the vast majority of which are from men. She said “A lot of people try to con- nect with me, but I don’t choose people who I think might be nasty. I keep my profile private, so I haven’t had any problems with harassment.” She also keeps the number of her connections fairly low, at a total of 60. Thiri and her boyfriend waited three months before meeting face-to-face. She said that after chatting online for a while, “He asked for my phone number and when we talked, I could tell he had a great sense of humour.” He called Thiri four times a day for two months – “in the morning, then around lunchtime, dinner and bedtime. He seemed very kind and really cared about me.” Nevertheless, Thiri knew firsthand

and have been introduced to each other’s parents. Plans for their marriage are underway. When it comes to online dating, Thiri’s advice is “not to believe everything you see on the internet.” She added, “The internet isn’t always safe. I never lied about myself, so I was a lucky one.” Her friend then chipped in with a giggle, “But you are beautiful and wealthy…” Some of Thiri’s friends exercised less caution: some set up dates shortly after meeting online and most of their experi- ences weren’t positive. Some were heart- breaking. one of Thiri’s female friends fell in love with someone she met online and the two started making wedding plans before ever meeting face-to-face. When the man eventually came to meet her in Myanmar, he wasn’t American as he’d claimed but Myanmar – and at least 25 years her senior. Another friend met a girl online while

“Many people lie about their marital status, age and looks”

ing Facebook.” Members can create a free pro- file containing photos and personal information and can search for other members by name, email address and even schools where users may have attended. However Tagged, which based in San Francisco and was launched in 2004, distinguishes itself from Facebook and other social networking sites because, “While other offerings focus on existing relationships, Tagged has established the category of social discovery.” Tagged’s website also states that it has more than 100 million members in 220 countries (oddly, that’s 27 more countries than the number that actually exist) and its “Meet Me” feature creates 2.4 million matches every day.

how easy it is for people to create a false impression in order to entice people into a romance. “Many people lie about their marital status, age and looks,” she said. She was thus pleasantly surprised to discover that the object of her affections looked exactly the same in real life as he did in the photos he’d sent via Gmail – and that he really is a doctor and the same age as her. When Thiri told her father that she had met someone on the internet, he reacted calmly. “He was okay with it because I explained the advantages of using [Tagged] and also told him I hadn’t been using it every day.” Thiri and her boyfriend celebrated their two year anniversary last month

studying abroad and they developed a relationship that lasted for months. “But the girl turned out to be as old as his mother!” she said. one of the most popular forums for meeting new people (usually through a mutual friend) in Myanmar is Google Talk (also known as ‘gchat’). one user said that many people in Myanmar create al- luring email IDs to increase their chances of being noticed. ei Mon San, 24, and her husband, Sai Aung Zaw Tun, 26, were complete strangers until they met through Google Talk. The couple dated online for two years while Sai Aung Zaw Tun completed his studies in the US. ei Mon San said, “We were friends for a long time. After talking for months,

he sent me photos of himself on Gmail. Straight away, I thought he was hand- some, but I didn’t believe it was actually him because a lot of people use fake photos. Later, I saw he hadn’t done that.” The two fell in love after chatting online for eight months. “We talked a lot about our family, our education, our problems. We shared a lot,” she said. ei Mon San decided to tell her mother about Sai Aung Zaw Tun four months after she’d fallen in love with him. “At first my mum didn’t like it that I’d met someone on the internet. My mother let me call him – and she spoke to him too. Actually, she interviewed him! everything was okay because my mum liked him – and now treats him like a son.” When Sai Aung Zaw Tun returned to Myanmar, he came to Mandalay to meet his girlfriend in person. “on the first day we met we went to Mandalay moat. We talked for a long,

long time – we didn’t even notice it had gotten dark! Then the police came by and we had to run away.” The couple dated “offline” for two years in Myanmar and were married in

2011.

Like Thiri, ei Mon San considers herself lucky to have met the love of her life – she said none of her friends found lasting relationships on the internet. “The disadvantages of online dating are that you don’t know whether a per- son is real or not. We can’t really know their attitude or character. Some people pretend to be good, so there’s a risk of meeting bad men. You should protect yourself,” she said. Wise words indeed: a 2007 study by the University of Texas Health Science Centre found that “women assumed a false degree of safety while looking for love on the internet, which exposed them to stalking, fraud, and sexual violence.” Such attitudes may have likely changed over the years as familiarity with the pros and cons of online dating has improved, but many still fall victim to deceit. And although an increasing number of online dating sites conduct back- ground checks on members, nothing in cyberspace can be considered foolproof. Guardian journalist Tania Gold believes that, “When you meet people conventionally, friends or colleagues introduce you, or you have interests, or a lifestyle, or a city in common. Subconsciously these factors create boundaries, so you tend to behave bet- ter. This doesn’t exist on the internet; it is profile meets profile in a vacuum.” Sociologist edward Laumann from the University of Chicago believes that, “A real person – whatever his relation- ship to you, be it friend or kinsman or co-worker – is still far and away the most reliable way to meet someone.” While some people may consider online dating too risky to be worth- while, deciding whether to give it a try is ultimately a matter of individual choice. As the Persian poet Rumi once said: “out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I will meet you there.”

6 Online dating in Myanmar: a pursuit of peril or promise? By Jessica mudditt T RUe
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7

Google and Facebook remain tentative in Myanmar

By Chris myers G oo GL e and Facebook are proving hesitant to make efforts to
By Chris myers
G
oo GL e and
Facebook are
proving hesitant
to make efforts
to expand their

audience in Myanmar, despite government measures to ease access to communications technology – especially the internet. The internet has been avail- able in Myanmar since 2000, though it remained heavily censored until 2011. Although Facebook and Google were never banned, several websites were, including Twitter, CNN, BBC and exile media organisations such as Democratic Voice of Burma. Patrons at internet cafes – which didn’t exist in Myanmar until 2004, were required to provide personal details before logging on, which included their home address, the name of their school and a teacher, as well as

which are then regularly quoted in newspapers. However the draft Myanmar Telecommunications law could result in a step backward for

internet freedom and act as a further disincentive to communi- cations firms looking to enter the

market. Among other things, the law – which is currently being reviewed in parliament – man- dates 7-15 years imprisonment for committing an offence which may “offend community peace and tranquillity,” and up to three years for “sending or distributing indecent or undesirable informa- tion”. Google’s Head of Commu- nications and Public Affairs for Asia Pacific, Amy Kunrojpanya, noted that such broadly-defined offences could be used to stifle free and open public debate. “Myanmar needs to build an internet system rapidly, but this is unlikely to happen if people don’t know what they can and can’t say online, while those who host content online aren’t clear on how much they are respon- sible for comments posted on their sites,” she said. According to the state-run

7 Google and Facebook remain tentative in Myanmar By Chris myers G oo GL e and

CR edit: a F p

currently stands at five. The cost of setting up an internet connec- tion is lower than in the past but remains steep at (a minimum) of about US$600 – which is why internet cafes now number in the thousands. While anecdotal evidence suggests that Facebook is the most popular social networking site in Myanmar, Google and Facebook were unwilling to divulge any statistics of searches or users from Myanmar, and no other reliable source of data is currently available. Yemoe Aung, 15, goes to an internet cafe every day. “I always come here after school for an hour, and for two hours on Saturdays and Sundays,” he said. He splits that time evenly between Facebook and video games. Tinoo, 63, uses an internet cafe daily for his work at a ship- ping company, but says he only browses Facebook casually. Although Facebook has Myanmar language settings, eth- nic minority languages – which number approximately 100 and include some 3 million Shan speakers – are unavailable. Facebook’s regional spokes- woman, Charlene Chian told The Myanmar Times that while Face - book is “interested in the country, there are currently no plans to

expand services” by opening a local office. The closest regional office is located in Singapore, which is a major regional hub and thus allows Facebook to facilitate advertising deals with local businesses, which are tar- geted at specific users using data gathered from ‘likes’ and other Facebook interactions. Google is yet to provide a Myanmar-language search en- gine, which means that although some results are in Myanmar, the search term itself must be entered in english. In 2009, a bilingual Myanmar-english lan- guage search engine powered by Google was set up. The site is called myanmar-myanmar.com and according to a Myanmar Times report, the site was receiv- ing an average of 4000 hits a day almost immediately after its launch. Whilst it also offers a directory containing 2000 Myan-

mar websites, it cannot rival a behemoth such as Google. Google’s representative, Ms Kunrojpanya, told The Myanmar Times that “while Google is always exploring opportunities to expand our services, making them available in new locations and in as many languages as possible, we have nothing to announce at this time regarding Myanmar.” Perhaps the biggest deterrent for giants such as Google and Facebook is Myanmar’s subdued online advertising market. Jon Burke, the ads lead at Automattic, which owns and operates the blogging service Wordpress, told The Myanmar Times: “There is no set price for an ad impression in online advertising. It operates just as a stock market, with prices rising and falling in real time and with prices for visitors from different

countries being dramatically dif- ferent. That’s why in regions like this, prices can be low because there is little competition [to place an advertisement].” Nonetheless, with a popula- tion of about 48 million, locally targeted advertising could soon represent a significant income stream in a country whose growth is set to explode in the coming years. Myanmar’s low rates of internet penetration could also offer a significant opportunity, particularly for Google. In 2012, Google constructed a fibre optic broadband network in parts of the United States that offers speeds of up to 1Gbps, or 100 times the current standard download speed. Myanmar’s internet infrastructure will un- doubtedly need to be upgraded in the future, so entering the country early and establishing relationships with the gov- ernment and local business should be high on the agenda if Google wants to succeed in this untapped market, whether in building infrastructure or expanding its search engine audience. With the passage of an as-yet unfinished foreign direct invest- ment (FDI) law, international investment is expected to pour into Myanmar, and the commu- nications sector arguably stands to gain the most. Myanmar has already shown that it’s desperate to get on the internet – but are Google and Facebook as keen to build a strong base in Myanmar? For now at least, it appears to be a case unrequited love.

7 Google and Facebook remain tentative in Myanmar By Chris myers G oo GL e and

“while Google is always exploring opportunities to expand our services… we have nothing to announce at this time regarding Myanmar.”

spoken languages. Yet today’s Myanmar is embracing everything the internet has to offer; particularly social networking sites. It is not uncommon for high profile politicians, such as U Ye Htut, the Deputy Information Minister and spokesperson for President U Thein Sein, to post political views on personal Facebook pages,

internet provider, Myanmar Post and Telecoms, Myanmar has around 400,000 internet users, representing about 0.8 percent of the population. The vast majority of these users are in Yangon and Mandalay, with only 10,000 located in other cities. These numbers are slowly increasing, as are the numbers of internet service providers, which

7 Google and Facebook remain tentative in Myanmar By Chris myers G oo GL e and
7 Google and Facebook remain tentative in Myanmar By Chris myers G oo GL e and
8
8

Reviews: what’s

The variety of cool and convenient gadgets hitting the shelves in Myanmar stores is reporter Chris Myers has tried, tested and reviewed a number of produ

8 Reviews: what’s The variety of cool and convenient gadgets hitting the shelves in Myanmar stores

Headset: Beats by Dr Dre Price: K12,000

Sliding it out of the box, I was slightly surprised to see that the somewhat unwieldy headset actually comes folded down to a much more reasonable shape for storage or travel. This factor was immediately appealing – too often headsets lose out to consumers based on their size. However clicking it into shape was initially nerve-racking because the plastic, while light- weight, seems somewhat flimsy – but once you get more comfortable with the material it easily clicks into place. After plugging the headset into my computer, I was instantly rewarded with significantly better sound quality than that of my tinny laptop speak-

ers. The bass in particular was exceptional, and in an age where too many headphones lack decent bass it was a delightful change. I could almost feel the sounds thrumming against my ears. Having said that, it’s magnificently controlled, and it’s not overpowering in the slightest, balancing well with other tones. Surprisingly, it also had a reasonable level of noise cancellation – it wasn’t perfect but the earpieces of the headset have enough padding to put them ahead of the majority of other headsets. I soon realised that the fit wasn’t quite right, which is a common problem in headset design. The one-size-fits-all approach is an unfortunate necessity that makes it difficult to find a good fit, particularly at a reasonable price. While not actually being uncomfortable, it never quite sat

right, so if a good fit matters most, it’s definitely worthwhile to check out smaller earphones. It was slightly disappointing that the ear-pieces can’t flip over to face outwards, meaning it’s impossible to share music with anyone else. This is a pretty major omission, as most headsets these days offer this feature. on the whole, it’s a pretty reasonable head- set and significantly cheaper than the smaller earphones available - though with the drawbacks that come with a bigger, less flexible design. Good for home use but for going mobile, there are bet- ter buys.

Earphones: iBeats by Dr Dre Price: K21,000

These earpieces are K8000 more than their larger cousin – so at first glance seem a slightly pricy buy. But if mobility and convenience are your priority, these definitely take the cake. once out of the box, choosing a snug rub - ber cover should always be the first step, but thankfully, this set comes with plenty. Try a few to decide which is the best fit – you’ll thank yourself later for avoiding the discomfort that comes from prolonged use. Surprisingly, I found that the noise cancellation was actually much better than the larger, padded headset – yet another reason to choose a good- fitting rubber cover. But while the noise cancellation was a boon, the sound quality was ever-so-slightly inferior, possibly due to the smaller size of the speakers. The built-in microphone and volume control is also a great addition, particularly for those with a smartphone, and anyone that uses Skype – how- ever the volume control didn’t work well on my

8 Reviews: what’s The variety of cool and convenient gadgets hitting the shelves in Myanmar stores

computer. The microphone in particular is fantastic – small, inconspicuous and most importantly, sensi- tive. This also makes it nicely adaptable – unlike the larger headset, you could have these and not need a separate microphone for your computer if online chatting is your thing. Ultimately, the size, flexibility and its inher- ent inconspicuousness compared to the bulkier headset made this a much more appealing buy. The ever-so-slightly-worse sound quality didn’t really bother me because I only noticed it when I tried one straight after the other, and the better fit in my ear made the experience much more comfortable. This earpiece is definitely my preference.

LED sign boards popular in Yangon

By myo Lwin ANG o N City Devel- Y opment Committee is encouraging L eD display
By myo Lwin
ANG o N
City Devel-
Y
opment Committee
is encouraging L eD
display boards under
certain conditions as

their popularity con - tinues to increase among advertisers, according to industry sources. A senior official from the YCDC said

it had approved 11 large L eD (Light emitting diode) digital display boards inside the government-owned com- pounds in Yangon and more proposals are set to be approved. “our section deals with those who seeking to install L eD display boards inside ministry compounds – there are many more registered with another YCDC department, which handles L eD display boards in public areas such as roads, streets and parks,” he told The Myanmar Times.

We accept proposals to install L eD display board and then submit them

to the mayor, who normally agrees if he deems it appropriate, he added. “We encourage these L eD displays because the aesthetics are great and the boards create international

standard advertising. It provides light at night and can advertise many prod - ucts and services in one place,” said

the YCDC official. The committee charges K25,000 for one square foot for one year. Another senior official from YCDC’s roads and bridges said it has been allowing the companies to erect L eD digital boards under certain condi- tions. “L eD boards should not be posted facing the directions of drivers and pedestrians as their attention to the screen could deter vision. We want the boards to be erected at higher places and not at eye level of pedestrians,” said the deputy head of the roads and bridges department under YCDC. There are a few motor vehicles with large L eD boards and they are allowed to turn on the screen at football fields and parks so that the traffic is not af- fected by their ads, he added. He said those kinds of cars could be seen at the cross roads on the state lottery opening day.

8 Reviews: what’s The variety of cool and convenient gadgets hitting the shelves in Myanmar stores

photo: Ko tai K

one of the major L eD board install- ers in Yangon, Puto L eD Company said the electronic boards had become popular in Yangon in the past three years and even more so in 2012. Ma Hnin, the manager of Puto said there were at least 20 big outdoor L eD boards in Yangon, which was not the case three years ago.

“our company alone has sold nine big ones already and has received or- ders for four more. We have installed a L eD display board on Pansodan Bridge, which measures four metres by three metres and another one on Junction Square measuring six metres by four metres,” she said. Installation takes about 45 days and

costs K200 lakh for one measuring four by three metres. Six meters by four metres costs K300 lakh. The media owners accept adver- tisements from various companies for their products and services. Though rates vary depending on the size and location of L eD boards, a 10-second appearance during prime time costs K500 for a digital board such as the one near Ruby Mart in downtown Yangon. Popular locations also include Junc- tion Maw Tin, Taw Win Centre, Yangon International Hotel, Dagon Tower, Sule Railway Compound, Junction Square and Dagon Centre 2 in Yangon with a few others in Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw and Taunggyi. As they are like television, they receive more attention than billboards with a still picture. Puto offers a one year warranty but this does not in - clude natural calamities like fire, wind and thundershowers. L eDs do not consume much elec- tricity, said Ma Hnin. Though Yangon has a limited number of huge L eD boards, there are numerous smaller electronic boards at restaurants, cafés, shops and some shopping centres.

8 Reviews: what’s The variety of cool and convenient gadgets hitting the shelves in Myanmar stores
9
9

hot in hardware

increasing by the week. The choice can seem overwhelming, so The Myanmar Times' cts made by JXD, Apple and Dr Dre to help you pick the perfect gadget.

9 hot in hardware increasing by the week. The choice can seem overwhelming, so The Myanmar

Tablet: JXD S9000 Price: K120,000 (16GB), K90,000 (8GB)

Tablets are a relatively recent addition to the consumer electronics market, but have quickly carved out their place as the prominent platform for mobile digital entertainment consumption. So,

to see how some of the less-expensive tablets fare,

  • I tried out the S9000 by JXD. The tablet-essential touch-screen was intuitive, particularly for those accustomed to Android. The standardised layout, like Apple’s, makes it easy to pick up new devices, although at times I won- dered why I was being forced to flick between two different menu screens. Moreover, getting out of sleep mode proved difficult, seemingly requir- ing me to both press one of two buttons on the side and jump through invisible hoops with your fingers on the screen. But as far as apps go, Android has it all – maps, internet access (particularly easy access to Google and Google maps, a definite edge over Apple) and games. everything was there. It even came with a voice-recognition feature, although for some reason it demanded internet access before doing anything. However the lack of a central button on the tablet itself that would take you ‘back’ made navigating out of apps sometimes difficult, since it seemed hard to get the ‘back’ icon to appear. Like getting out of sleep mode, I found myself going through an obstacle course I couldn’t see.

The only major let-down was the camera. At just 2 megapixels for the rear camera and 0.3 at the front, I felt I’d be better off if I taped a Polaroid to the top and rotated it when I needed it. While

  • I couldn’t expect top-quality for such a bargain

price for a tablet, it was still a bit of a disappoint-

ment. The screen, however, had solid resolution, and this is undoubtedly the more important feature, especially since cameras are easy to come across – good, mobile screens aren’t, especially since you were always going to be better off using this as a portable TV than you are a camera anyway. At K120, 000 for the 16GB version and 90, 000 for 8GB, it’s a surprisingly affordable gadget in a market dominated by high-end, and high-priced, competition. If the lack of a quality camera doesn’t bother you, it’s definitely a great buy. mp4 player: JXD portable media player 698 With music becoming more and more acces- sible via smartphones, mp4’s are struggling to de - fine their place in the market. However currently prohibitively high costs associated with simcards mean that, in Myanmar at least, their time has not yet come. This small, camera-shaped mp4 will set you back K20,000; significantly less than any

smartphone, so for music-lovers it’s a relatively cheap way to go mobile with your tunes. It comes complete with a touch screen, which is a cool idea but it’s so unresponsive it took me 20 minutes to realize it even had one. However here there was a bit of a design flaw; despite having a menu that is a 3x3 square, the key options are only left and right, meaning you have to cycle through

everything, which was somewhat annoying and I thought could have been easily fixed with better software design, or alternatively a more responsive touchscreen. But one particularly neat feature was the combination of AV in and out jacks, meaning you can play music or video through a TV, which was a great idea that should be more widespread, provided you don’t have a TV that’s replaced tradi- tional analogue jacks with a USB port. Unfortunately the pre-loaded games were average at best, but seemed to have been altered to use the unresponsive touchscreen which made playing them more frustrating than entertaining. But it does feature a camera that is 1.8MP, which is a neat feature for something that aims mainly to just be an mp4 player. Normally I’d find this lack of a quality camera hopelessly underde - veloped, but since it’s not really essential to what it does its lack of quality isn’t a major drawback and I (surprisingly) found myself appreciating it. Being an mp4, sound quality mainly comes from the speakers and quality of the track you’re playing, so be sure to get good earpieces (like the iBeats we reviewed above). At 4Gb it’s got space for several hundred songs, which is more than enough for all your favorite tracks. For the price, it’s

a pretty good buy – though if you have a bigger budget you can do somewhat better.

mp4 player: JXD A2000 Price: K38,000

Seemingly designed off Sony’s PSP, the JXD A2000 represents a significantly cheaper and more accessible version for the Myanmar market. Retaining the sleek, intuitive design, it main- tains good screen resolution for the price, and the menu layout is also economical, with all features neatly displayed across two pages of menu op - tions. It also came with some other cool features – a calculator, ebook, browser (if you can get a wireless internet hotspot) and from there you can download some more software. These sort of things you’d expect to see on a smartphone were good additions, and seemed to be a reasonable attempt (for its price) at making it more than just an mp4 player.

But unlike most of JXD’s products, it doesn’t do quite as well at what it sets out to do; being based so heavily on the PSP, I expected it to be more than just an mp4, and the Games were hideously disappointing. The first one I played was from 1996 and, after watching credits spaced with 8-bit gameplay for twenty minutes, I discovered I had somehow died and had to go through the whole thing again. But the camera, like all JXD’s products we’ve reviewed this week, is hardly high-definition, which by now was no surprise. Again, for the price of many of JXD’s gadgets I don’t know what I ex- pected, but with camera’s becoming more integral to how we communicate through mediums like social media, it seems like a poor choice of areas to leave underdone. But learning how to navigate through the thing is easy and the touchscreen is responsive which, after the last one, a relief was. While the display looks a little dated and the pre-loaded games are average at best, if it’s just a portable mp3 you want that can play music and movies it’ll do well.

So, there you have it – five products, five reviews. Keep your eyes peeled on the market

9 hot in hardware increasing by the week. The choice can seem overwhelming, so The Myanmar

though; these aren’t necessarily the best the mar- ket has to offer, or even perhaps the best value, and if you look around long enough you’ll find the perfect gadget at the perfect price. So good luck and happy hunting!

9 hot in hardware increasing by the week. The choice can seem overwhelming, so The Myanmar

photos: thi R i lu

9 hot in hardware increasing by the week. The choice can seem overwhelming, so The Myanmar
10
10
10 photo: boothee Tackling film and music piracy By Aung Si Hein M eMBeRS of Myan-

photo: boothee

Tackling film and music piracy

10 photo: boothee Tackling film and music piracy By Aung Si Hein M eMBeRS of Myan-

By Aung Si Hein

  • M eMBeRS of Myan- mar’s music and film industry are calling for tough legal reforms to address unprecedent-

ed levels of piracy. A lawyer representing Myanmar Music Association, Letpandan U Win Myint, described existing laws as “vague” and thus ineffectual. Along with the Burma Copyrights Law, which was enacted during British colonial rule, the lawyer said that the Video Act and code number 468, apply to counterfeit album covers for videos. The sentence for violating code 468 is a seven year prison term, however he said it is never enforced. The penalty under the Video Act is a fine of K50,000 to K100,000. Letpandan U Win Myint said that a new copyright law is expected to be passed in July 2013. The draft law proposes a three year sentence for piracy. Many are dissatisfied that small

fines are currently being imposed because it fails to deter those involved in the highly profitable and illegal industry. Some also believe that there is a degree of collusion between the

profiteers and law enforcers. “Some of the people pirating music have strong connections with the police, so they can make hundreds of thousands of copies of our album

virtually under the protection of police,” said the well known singer Thar Soe. one of his albums was pirated so

widely that only two genuine copies were sold in Mandalay, the second

Saing and Khin Maung Toe’s albums were the most commonly pirated in 2012, out of a total of 655 piracy cases and seizing 168,953 albums and 125,021 films. Thax Soe said, “Nobody realises how much damage this causes to the lives of musicians, as well as their families. Genuine albums rarely sell out while the pirated ones are sold out by the

careers in the creative industries. “We don’t need to make the sen- tence equal to that of drug trading. If the jail term was six months that would suffice as a deterrent. We aren’t in a position to bribe police, so we can’t strengthen the rule of law,” U ohn Win said. Movie producers pay tax to the min- istry of information to receive validated

“Nobody realises how much damage this causes to the lives of musicians, as well as their families.”

largest city of Myanmar, and 1000 nationwide. He became fed up with piracy play- ing havoc with his livelihood and after declaring himself bankrupt, he opened a silk shop in Lanmadaw township in Yangon to try to recoup his financial losses. According to data from the Myan- mar Music Association, singers Sai Htee

million.” U ohn Win from Lucky Seven Movie Production questions why the punish- ment for piracy is very lenient, unlike selling opium, which can result in a life sentence. He spent 20 million kyats to produce a movie and his losses were astronomi- cal. He believes that piracy deters many talented individuals from pursuing

censorship stickers for CDs, but several claim that the money spent doesn’t deliver results. Producers pay K17 for every VCD or disk. U ohn Win believes that more hu- man resources are needed to tackle the problem effectively and believes that Myanmar should follow the example set by Thailand’s film industry, which strictly enforces copyright laws to

protect local artists. “Some may pirate Western movies and music because they are very ex- pensive, but as for their own country’s music and film products, they never dare to pirate,” he said. Thax Soe said that if the police catch someone with pirated disks, they face a single charge with a penalty of two months imprison - ment - however singers now plan on filing individual law suits so that the consequences will be tougher on the person responsible for pirating the albums of multiple singers. “The public doesn’t seem to realise that they are encouraging the pirates by buying cheap copies of our albums, while the government fails to be aware that they are losing tax revenue for each genuine copy sold, so they cannot in turn help musicians to make a living from their profession,” he added. This awareness prompted the Myan- mar Music Association to establish a Copyright Protection Committee four months ago. The committee will raise public awareness by creating a short film about copyright issues. “Piracy is an issue that concerns almost everyone in society. We must put an end to talented singers chang- ing their careers or going bankrupt,” said the composer Myint Moe Aung, who is a member of Myanmar Music Association.

10 photo: boothee Tackling film and music piracy By Aung Si Hein M eMBeRS of Myan-
11
11

Online addictions: is Myanmar at risk?

11 Online addictions: is Myanmar at risk? By Chris myers I T ’ S a curious

By Chris myers

  • I T ’ S a curious prob - lem that despite the unprecedented levels of communication the internet provides, millions of people around the world are plagued by the psychological problems associated with it. Ironically, the internet has simultaneously become both the most socially connecting and socially isolat- ing phenomenon of this generation. And while internet use isn’t nearly as widespread in Myanmar as it is most other countries, increasing use in some cities is sparking fears that inter- net, social media or gaming addiction could become a problem in the future. Social media attracts much of the attention, largely due to its relatively mainstream use. With some estimates putting the number of Myanmar internet users who also have a social networking account upwards of 80 percent, many fears revolve around this one facet of internet use alone. Partly, the distinction is informed by trends developing in the West as well as much of Asia. A study com- missioned by UK hotel booking firm Travelodge in 2010, found that seven out of ten Britons were using Facebook instead of sleeping, which carried a risk of long-term memory problems. Whilst not strictly limited to social networking but electronic use more broadly, the study noted that social networking attracted most users just before they go to sleep, which made the risks even worse. However internet addiction, social networking addiction or gaming addiction can have far worse con - sequences than merely losing a few nights sleep. In 2010, Yonhap news agency reported that a South Korean couple who were addicted to the internet let their three-month-old baby starve to death while raising a virtual daughter online. The couple spent 12 hours a day at an internet café and fed their own premature baby just once a day. Chinese media is regularly inundated with reports of beatings, suicides and sometimes murder from the effects of such addictions. Last year, international and Chinese news agencies reported several cases of staff beating patients at internet addiction ‘treatment facilities’, where parents paid up to US$6000 to send

11 Online addictions: is Myanmar at risk? By Chris myers I T ’ S a curious

photo: aung h tay h lain g

their children for programs lasting several months, to cure them of real or perceived addictions. At one of these facilities, a 14-year old attempted suicide after watching a fellow patient being beaten by staff. Nor is China alone; Japan Today reported last November that 327 requests for counseling for online gaming addiction were made in less than a year. In one case, a 19 year old racked up debts of 50,000 yen ($550) from online gaming, money which was entirely spent on improving his virtual character by buying costumes

However being vigilant about the possibility of it arising in the future is important, particularly as alarming trends are already visible. Aye Aye Su Mon, who works at Royaltech Internet Cafe on Anawrahta Road in Yangon, told The Myanmar Times that: “most of our customers are students. They frequently play com- puter games - sometimes for up to six hours. And most also use Facebook for about an hour during their session. The average time customers spend here is two hours.” Moreover, during The Myanmar

that up to 11 percent of students are at risk of becoming, or already are ad - dicts, while in Greece 8.2pc of internet users are thought to be addicted, the vast majority of which are reportedly male and play online games. South Korea also has an estimated 2.5 million people who are addicted to smart- phones alone – including some as young as three-years-old. Whilst Myanmar is far from reaching figures like these, trends in the devel- oped world need to borne in mind as Myanmar experiences rapid develop - ment in the coming years.

“most of our customers are students. They frequently play computer games - sometimes for up to six hours.”

and weapons. Fortunately, extreme cases such as these are relatively rare worldwide. The most common side effects of online addictions include lower school performance, more intense attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in addicts with ADHD, be - havioral problems and, unsurprisingly, social development. Myanmar’s low rates of internet use have thus far prevented online gaming or social networking addiction from becoming a source of public concern.

Times visit to Royaltech Internet Café, most of the people online were teenagers. Given that it was 2pm on a weekday, it seemed odd that they weren’t at school. A 15-year-old said he comes to the internet café every day. “I always come here after school fin - ishes, and on Saturdays and Sundays I stay for two hours,” he said. Globally, students and young adults make up the vast majority of those with internet or other technology ad - dictions. In South Korea, it’s estimated

Dhendarwin, 23, who works at Royaltech, said that most customers are between 10-15 years of age. “They come here mostly for gam- ing, while the 16-25 year olds mainly use Facebook or YouTube. They usually stay for two or three hours, sometimes more on weekends,” she said. She added that 35-60 year olds usu - ally read news online or use Google Talk. Perhaps due to the fact that online addiction is a relatively new phenom- enon, the status of internet addiction

amongst psychologists is still debated. Currently, there is no universally ac- cepted definition of what constitutes ‘addiction’, or even agreement as to whether or not it exists. Largely, it’s left to individual psychologists, and many of those who see it first-hand are college or high school counselors who have little or no specific training in the area. And despite the media’s ironic ad - diction to the topic, published studies from reputable sources are rare. What few studies do exist are mostly sur- veys, tarred by self-selected samples and a lack of control groups. Many others are theoretical papers that speculate on the nature of internet addiction but have no data to support their theses. Some psychologists, like Dr Ivan Goldberg in New York, have called into question terming the phenomenon an ‘addiction’ at all, largely because the lack of research into the area means little has been done to determine whether internet addiction is its own phenomenon or whether it’s a mani- festation of underlying psychological issues. “There’s no question that there are people who are seriously in trouble because of the fact that they’re over- doing their internet involvement,” he said, but added that “the problem is a disorder, not a true addiction.” It’s widely reported by users, partic- ularly ‘addicts’, that online gaming or social networking provides a feeling of achievement or connection that is perceived as lacking in their real life. In o ctober last year, Japan Daily Press quoted a 19-year-old online gaming addict as saying that he wanted to quit but couldn’t because:

“In the world of online games, my character is continually growing and developing, and I feel a sense of achievement that I never feel in the real world.” Yet what isn’t clear is how the inter- net makes people happy in the long- term. Research has overwhelmingly focused on the negative side-effects, while completely ignoring the posi - tive psychological effects of increased access to information and easing communications between friends and families, particularly for those who live far away from home. Unfortunately, what problems that do occur because of the internet are likely to worsen worldwide. Internet companies like Facebook have realised how much money is in their busi- nesses, which is fuelled by promoting constant online interactions to drive up advertising revenue. Quite simply, in- ternet addiction is great business – but who will pay the ultimate price?

11 Online addictions: is Myanmar at risk? By Chris myers I T ’ S a curious
11 Online addictions: is Myanmar at risk? By Chris myers I T ’ S a curious