Just when you turn your back on facebook.

I’m trying something out today.  I’m reminding myself of what life used to be like before facebook and twitter set so much of my daily ‘news’ agenda and gave me an ever-ready outlet for my musings.  I’ve been wondering what I might get done without them that I don’t get done with them.

But I hit the Guardian site to catch up on the Julian Assange story (I bought a paper paper this morning to avoid that too but as David Cameron almost said, “stuff happens”) and there it was.  Even when trying not to let anything on facebook get to me, facebook got to me anyway with this map that you’ve maybe seen already.

Look closely and you can see Rangoon / Yangon in Burma / Myanmar. Click to Enlarge.

Paul Butler at facebook made it; it’s a visualisation of pairs of facebook friends around the world. He said this of it; “My curiosity was the locality of friendship. I was interested in seeing how geography and political borders affected where people lived relative to their friends. I wanted a visualization that would show which cities had a lot of friendships between them”.

The Guardian suggests it shows a map of the world with great holes in it, holes in Russia, China, Africa and South America and that facebook is very much a western beast (with the very obvious exception of India).

But look beyond the biggest, brightest lights and you can pick out some of the smaller, yet visibly identifiable stars in this social-network-milky-way.  Just to the right of India there’s an almost Y-shaped cluster that has Bangkok at its centre.  Just to the left of the Y there’s a small lonestar.  That’s Rangoon that is.

Rangoon has a population of five million and it’s not even as facebook-bright as The Faroes with its population of fifty thousand.

But it’s there and that’s a good thing.

The government in Myanmar is not internet-friendly, never has been.  Most people cannot afford to spend 20% of the average daily wage on an hour in an internet cafe and cafe owners have to report regularly to the authorities (and reportedly are now required to install and record CCTV).  If you want to use WordPress, or a lot of other sites, you need to know how to use a proxy server, but facebook (contrary to Guardian reports of its being banned) gets through and is allowing some small number of Burmese people to reach beyond their closed (to them) borders and to make international friendships in cyberspace.

That’s the good thing.  And a point in favour of facebook.  Even today.


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