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The Influence of the Internet on Cambodia

By: Norbert Klein Posted: October-09-2010 in
Norbert Klein

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 684

During the weekend a week ago – 25 and 26 September 2010 – the third Barcamp was held I Cambodia: a meeting of mainly young computer enthusiasts, with 941 registered participants. It was a self-organized meeting, organized by 40 volunteers – no big business or NGO or government agency achieved this, but enthusiasm and dedication of many individuals made it possible.

It is a long way since 1994, when I started the first Internet service in Cambodia. I would like to use this occasion to reflect on the history from 1994 to 2010. As I am asked often to share my own reflections, I want to do it with an interview I gave in 2008 at the Internet Governance Forum in Brazil, responding to a number of questions: Imagining the Internet.

Imagining the Internet-IGF 2008: Norbert Klein

But when I share this now, it is not so much about to look back, but it is about to compare and consider where we moved already by now.

In 2007, when the first Blogger Summit was held in Phnom Penh for two days with almost 200 participants, it became obvious that many people in Cambodia began to share their own words publicly. I saw in this not just that some people had technically mastered to use a new communication technology. In an interview which was published in several international media at that time, I had said that I consider blogging – to write publicly, expressing oneself on the Internet – to be “a kind of cultural revolution now happening.”

I am still convinced that the Internet did not only bring change by making a wast amount of information accessible, but the possibility to express one’s own observations, feelings, and thinking brought tremendous changes to society: it ushered in a democratization of public opinion, and it provides many people with a wide audience, something which never existed before.

But what is most important: many people actually started to use this opportunity.

One aspect of this development is also that many women in Cambodia started to write a blog, now no longer restrained by traditions to be quiet and often subservient. This will continue to change Cambodian society.

Chak Sopheak wrote in December 2009 in Global Voices about Cambodia: Female Voices in the Blogosphere. The examples she collected showed that blogging provided especially to Cambodian women easy facilities for public self-expression, something really new in Cambodian culture and society.

At the BlogFestAsia, held in Penang in Malaysia from 1 to 3 October 2010, another Cambodian woman, Keo Kounila, won the First Prize at the international blogging contest, praising Penang for its combination of different cultures and people, “an Asian melting pot where I can find Chinese, Malay, Indians, and many non-Malaysians,” while maintaining at the same time important elements of its heritage from British colonial times.” And she continues in her winning blog, energized by Penang and inspired to bring home what she saw: “My jaw dropped when the car passed countless buildings built in colonial-style. ‘Why did the government decide to retain the buildings?’ I remember asking myself. In contrast to my country, short of more than innovation, there is no initiative to keep the colonial-style buildings the way they have been. No doubt, though Penang has been very well developed, it has tried to maintain its originality and root.”

The Internet not only provides women with new possibilities to express them selves. It also opens the view onto the multi-cultural histories of neighboring countries, positively building not on separating and competing nationalisms, but on mutual cultural enrichment and cooperation.

This article was first published by The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 684 -Sunday, 3.10.2010
Have a look at the last editorial - you can access it directly from the main page of The Mirror.

Norbert Klein is the Editor of The Mirror – The Mirror is a daily comprehensive summary and translation of the major Khmer language press - More about The Mirror


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