This post isn’t about the Burmese junta’s suppression of the people, although something on that later. But first…

Out on my morning walk, I noticed several people indulging in the same activity (I think a morning constitutional along the beach can be described as indulgent). Many had mp3 players, closing themselves off from the world. People complain that society is becoming more isolationist, while at the same time the world is a global village. Technology helps this social inversion: ATMs, recorded telephone services, email and SMS; they all remove us one step further away actual human interaction. We complain about this – then stick earphones in while we go for a jog.

Perhaps we feel we need to shut ourselves away because we can communicate with others so easily. I belong to a generation that knows how special it is to get a handwritten letter from a friend. In my salad days we didn’t change plans at the last minute because we got a better offer: we didn’t have email and SMS. With this technology though, we’re as much a STABO (Subject To A Better Offer) generation any high schooler.

I thought about this long ago, but I only got around to writing about it because of what I saw on my walk. Shortly after I passed a jogger avec earphones, several cyclists also passed me. A second or two after, I heard the tinny cling of their bells, warning the jogger they were behind him. A warning he wouldn’t have heard.

It strikes me that Newton’s laws apply socially as well as physically: for every way we can communicate, there is an equal and opposite way to avoid it. The problem becomes when, trying to avoid aggravating intrusions into our head space (like marketing), we miss a communication that could save us from danger.

Back to Burma… A few minutes ago, I heard on the radio that the United Nations should step up to the plate apropos of Burma, which is officially named Myanmar. But think: Rwanda; Bosnia Herzegovina; Zimbabwe; Cambodia; Iraq. Historically, the UN seems to have had as much positive effect as a glass hammer, but I’ve never paid much attention to political affairs, nor to the news: both are depressing. Besides, in Australia we don’t hear the particulars about international events unless there’s an Australian involved, such as David Hicks or how many gold medals our sports teams win [1]. (‘Parochial? You keep saying this word: I do not think it means what you think it means.’)

That being as it may, the radio then continued to report Alexander Downer as saying that the country with the most clout in this particular affair was China. I mean, really! China, rescuing people from human rights abuses? Do these words ring any bells: Mao Zedong (aka Tse-tung); tank; Tiananmen Square; Christianity; Falun Gong… and Nepal. Not to forget the malapropic name of the nation: The People’s Republic of China, which means, as Sir Humphrey Appleby noted, it is a Communist dictatorship. Not that Communism itself is necessarily a bad thing, but combine any type of oligarchy with atheism – practical if not ideological – and freedom disappears faster than a cat at a dog show.

Next up: Peter Garrett votes to strip-mine Kakadu for bauxite.

[1] Australians think of the medals, as I think Graeme and the Colonel said, in terms of glorious gold, mediocre silver and shameful bronze. We treat all gold medals as belonging de facto to our teams; not just before the event, but even before the next host country has been selected by the IOC. We ignore silver and bronze medals.

Copyright 2007 Troy Grisgonelle.