If you have been to or have lived in Myanmar before 2010, you must have seen some people on the corners of the streets sitting out with one or two telephones on the chair in front of them. It used to be the major communication system for us before “affordable mobile phones”. There were two types of telephone service providers; government and private sector. Government assigned staffs on the major roads, assembled them with uniforms and telephones but they couldn’t cover the need of everyday uses. So, private telephone owners from the public who lived on the ground floor simply bought a chair and a table to sit out and charge people with communication needs. Service fees was about 100 kyats (USD 0.06 cents) per minute. It’s not too cheap but it worked.
A friend of mine had to visit a distant relative’s place at the remote areas of Yangon and with confusing address, his only hope of finding the family was to call them in the area and have them pick him from where his location. So, his plan changed to finding a phone place instead of finding a family. He found one and started dialing. The number was busy for at least 5 times so he went outside again and looked for the address on his own largely betting on luck until he realized it was possible to find it. He came into the telephone place again and started dialing. Still no luck, the other end was busy again. Wiser now, he asked assistance from the telephone owner and showed her the number he was trying to reach. The woman looked at it and said it was their own telephone number so she turned out to be his distant aunt. He found them. A couple of hours late. But he found them.
Only a handful of people had mobile phones back in the years before 2008. Legend says the cost of applying for a mobile phone started at 5,000,000 MMK (approx. USD 3,267) 20 something years ago. There was even a phase when people had “Chin Phone” (Telephone in the basket) that they took with them everywhere they went but I truly believe that invention was only to make fun of rich people carrying baskets in the television later in the years.
Around Year 2010-2011, mobile phones came out at the price of 1,500,000 MMK (USD 1,000) to much relief of middle class yet it was too expensive for average households. Then the price gradually fell down to 1,500 MMK (USD 1$) in 2013. Two words we yelled: fuck yes. We went out and purchased two sim cards for each and forgot all the other struggles in life. Also, this cheap price kind of created different classes in people depending on the numbers that come with it. It goes like this:
09-5****** àRich and Powerful
09-4******* àMiddle class/ very ordinary
09-7/9$%&**#@! àFreaking assholes that use fake accounts on Facebook or expatriates
There are also some people who have all of these above and they are probably the most powerful of all people here.
With a mobile number, comes the internet access and our people have used it very wisely. Instead of waiting for a printed weekly journal that to read the news and transfers of football players, we now have mobile phones to check and share latest rumors every second. It’s how far we have come in terms of telecommunication. 5 years after the major price changes of mobile phones, we are now being discussed at US Senate for the way we are using or being used on social network. That’s when I thought “Man, we are killing it”. It’s probably because we still have hangover from when the mobile price dropped on 2013.Our people have waited 20 years to have own mobile phones to play with. We have heard stories of trash collectors from Singapore having able to afford a mobile phone; we have stories of how easy it is to get a simcard in any foreign country. And now we have it as our own. After 20 years later. That’s very late but we have it. We are still rewarding ourselves for being patient and hard-working during those without-mobile-phone days.
So, it does not matter to some people that we are being used or manipulated on Facebook because we have earned the right for this. Perhaps they are right. Just like my friend’s story above, we have a tendency to go around confused, being outdated, miss out yet catch out quick and make it big in the news. And it looks like we are now at being confused phase as a country. So, Why stop now.
Zwe Oak Soe