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The rise of a youthful chattering class

The rise of a youthful chattering class

rise.jpg
rise.jpg

Cat Barton

Seventeen-year-old blogger, Keo Kalyan - or Dee Dee - poses during a session on video blogging at the Cloggers Summit on August 31.

Tapping away on their shiny new laptops and yakking on their gadget loaded phones,

about 200 young computer enthusiasts made geek history with their first ever Cloggers

Summit.

Organized entirely by students, the two day conference at the end of August aimed

to bring together many people who had only met previously online.

But a communications professor at Pannasastra said behind the smiles and exaggerated

punctuation, a social revolution is underway.

"Blogging is one way of empowering Cambodia's younger generation," said

Ray Leos, dean and professor at Pannasastra's Faculty of Communications. "It

helps them develop more critical thinking skills, builds confidence, and creates

a future generation of people doing things by themselves."

As citizens of a heavily aid dependent country, young Cambodians are used to having

foreign "technical experts" tell them what to do, said Leos.

"At some stage," said Leos, "the younger generation has to say 'No,

this is our country.' " "Blogging is helping to break down the stereotype

of the passive Cambodian," he said.

Although the cloggers summit was organised without foreign NGO assistance, that doesn't

mean it did not attract international attention. Several U. S. information technology

companies donated piles of goodies - digital cameras, digital video cameras, and

sound recorders for pod casting.

"The US tech companies obviously seem to think that these wired-in kids

are worth some attention," said John Weeks, an American blogger in Phnom

Penh who spoke about the importance of content in blogging.

Clogging is currently limited to urban middle class Khmers who tend to blog in English.

Although its expansion in Cambodia is slowed nationwide by low literacy, the lack

of Internet penetration and slow connection speeds, Leos predicted that clogging

will explode in the next few years.

"It is one of the few forms of self expression for young Cambodians," he

said.

"At the moment they like to blog in English, both to improve their language

skills and communicate with the world. There is always a tension with globalization

- how to be part of a global community without neglecting one's own culture."

Unicode, which has enabled Khmer-language software applications and made blogging

in Khmer script possible, could help mitigate this tension, Leos said.

"Language is a key part of a culture and society," he said. "If these

kids all blog in English - which is important for them to reach out to the world

- they risk neglecting an important part of their national identity."

At the Open Society Khmer-Language Software Initiative, which has been creating Khmer-language

software applications available to users for free, Javier Sola said a country "cannot

develop unless it has technology in its own language."

The Open Society is making Khmer-language ICT applications available to all upper

secondary schools.

Under an agreement with the Ministry of Education they plan to put computers with

internet access in at least one school in every province of the Kingdom.

"We want to teach people how to blog, how to use Wikipedia, how to be a part

of online culture, how to use e-learning systems," said Sola.

The current generation of Cloggers, such as Keo Kalyan - or Dee Dee - learned English

first and mastered the arts of blogging second. Having to write in her second language

doesn't detract from her love of blogging, she said.

"I use both photos and text and I write about everything," she said. "My

life as a Cambodian student, my travels, my school work."

But writing in English, even though it allows Cloggers to access a far wider global

readership, can compromise their ability to express themselves, said Leons.

Most Cloggers play it safe and write - as Dee Dee does - about their personal lives,

steering clear of politically sensitive topics.

Leos said political blogs will come in the future, but even now the blogs are political

in some ways. For example, he said, "having women blog and express their opinions.

This could slowly change Cambodian society."

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