9/30/2007

Mexico City's Air and Burma's Internet War

I’m lounging in Gate 19 of Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport, waiting for confirmation of my flight’s departure gate—the jet’s not due to take off for another hour and a half or so. I’m bored and sleepy and still stinging from an inevitable goodbye that came way too early. And as I sit here in the airport, bickering with my brother, checking my work e-mail, and chatting it up with my online contacts, I can't help but feel melancholy. Because in between the madness that is this airport and the schizophrenic feel of a mega-crowded super-metropolis, there are beautiful moments of poignancy and intimacy I am leaving behind.

Which has left me wondering... What does it mean to live a life of relative peace and affluence in times of turmoil? Just now, as I was catching up with a friend over MSN, I was slapped in the face with the harsh reality of the 21st century. Right off the bat, my friend asked me how my lightning-bolt visit to Mexico had treated me. I responded automatically and without giving it much thought: “It’s been great. Today was a beautiful day, in fact, the smog was so light I could even see most of the buildings.” He reacted with one of those surprised smiley faces that are now ubiquitous on MSN IM chats:
“:-O. That’s a pretty intense thing to say.” Huh. I guess it is.

A beautiful day in a big city is one where I can see the sky and my head doesn’t hurt from the noisome air pollution. For me, a day with average smog levels in a Third World megalopolis can be more awe-inspiring than your run-of-the mill, postcard-perfect sunset at a beautiful deserted beach (I've experienced many of these also). Mexico City’s poor air quality offers salient authenticity. But does everyone think the same, I wonder? The world is anything but perfect and moments like this provide a glimpse at atonement.

I was unexpectedly enlightened by what at first appeared to be a cursory, ho-hum IM exchange. Yesterday--in stark contrast--I was (strangely) put off by an e-mail I received asking me to join in an online effort to chastise Burma's ruling military junta for spraying bullets over peaceful crowds of protesters, and doing so without any show of remorse of restraint. Whatever. I blithely carried on with my day. The strange thing is this: I very much feel for these freedom-seeking Buddhist monks, and thanks to the Internet, even though they are halfway around the world, I feel personally connected to their plight.

To wit: Never have I been more amazed at the power of the Web for bringing attention to a rapidly escalating conflict--especially when regional access to the Internet has been one of the most contentious issues in this tense situation--yet I felt my inbox was crudely violated by a person with whom I had a tacit agreement not to engage in politically oriented e-mail sharing. My reaction to this e-mail might be on par with that of a 5-year-old, but I feel that my take on the civil unrest in Burma has been tainted by unwanted digital correspondence. Yes, yes, I care. And yes, along with the world, I am also watching--but watching only.

At the moment, I’d much rather do something to improve the air quality in Mexico City than help fight for civil rights in South East Asia. After all, as far as global digital media, it's all eyes on Burma. They've got all the limelight they need. Buddhist monks don't desperately need my e-mail signature right about now... I wonder if they even need yours?

21 comments:

John Greiner-Ferris said...

I always feel melancholoy on leaving anywhere...it's the leaving part...I think there's a visceral bit of grieving that goes on...

as far as the situation in myramar, i feel the same way you do...i'm watching intently, but the government there isn't going to care about my online signature on any straw poll...I wish my government would worry more about situations in places like myramar where the citizens are actively asking for democracy, as opposed to places where the administration feels it would be in its best interest if there were democracy...

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