Myanmar farmers fond of Facebook

By Craig Mod, The Atlantic

Myanmar is a country of farmers. Of about 53 million citizens, approximately 30 million  are farmers. Many of them are now coming online. Rushing online, really.

Because of the military junta, mobile SIM cards in Myanmar have historically been prohibitively expensive. In 2014, the cost of a SIM card dropped from about $2,000 USD to $200 USD and then once again, to $1.50 USD. Mobile shops were swarmed. As the country has opened up, so have its airwaves and access to access itself.

The Myanmar telecommunications industry was wholly government controlled until recently. Now there’s competition, choices. Five years ago you had one choice: Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT). A farmer can now choose from MPT or Telenor or Oredoo.

Phone towers sprout wildly — matte-steel contraptions in the middle of rice plots running off their own electricity, their electronic brains housed in small, padlocked refrigerated boxes behind fences that surround the towers.

Into this technology void, Myanmar has a chance to get things right in a way that we couldn’t or can’t now in our incumbent-laden latticeworks in the West.

There is a phrase repeated over and over again in Myanmar:

From no power to solar, from no banks to digital currencies, from no computers and no internet to capable smartphones with fast 3G connections.

And these emergent economies have one colossal advantage over the entrenched and techno-gluttonous West: There is little incumbency.

There is, however, instability—in government and currency. It’s one of the reasons why a country like Myanmar is just now getting these connections, these devices. The instability significantly increases risk for outside investors and companies. But the residual effect of that instability is a lack of incumbency and traditional infrastructure.

And so there is no incumbent electric giant monopolising rural areas to fight against solar, there is no incumbent bank which will lobby against bitcoin, there are no expectations about how a computer should work, how a digital book should feel. Imagine being able to get it right, the first time?

Read Craig Mod’s feature in The Atlantic …