Cellphones rocket Bhutan into Information Age

2014-03-24 08:32
HTC 8X Windows Phone. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

HTC 8X Windows Phone. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Thimpu - Sitting in his office in Bhutan's sleepy capital, newspaper editor Tenzing Lamsang muses on the dramatic impact of cellphone technology on a remote Himalayan kingdom known as the "last Shangri-La".

"Bhutan is jumping from the feudal age to the modern age," said Lamsang, editor of The Bhutanese biweekly and online journal. "It's bypassing the industrial age."

As the last country in the world to get television and one which measures its performance with a "Gross National Happiness" yardstick, Bhutan might have been expected to be a hold-out against mobile technology.

While monks clad in traditional saffron robes remain a common sight on the streets of the capital Thimpu, they now have to dodge cellphone users whose eyes are glued to their screens.

It has a largely rural population of just 750 000, but Bhutan's two cellular networks have 550 000 subscribers. And the last official figures in 2012 showed more than 120 000 Bhutanese had some kind of mobile internet connectivity.

Lifestyle change

Wedged between China and India, the sparsely-populated "Land of the Thunder Dragon" only got its first television sets in 1999, at a time when less than a quarter of households had electricity.

Thanks to a massive investment in hydropower in the following decade-and-a-half, nearly every household is now hooked up to the electricity grid.

The radical change in lifestyle has coincided with an equally dramatic transformation of the political system, with the monarchy ceding absolute power and allowing democratic elections in 2008.

The second nationwide elections took place last year, bringing Tshering Tobgay, a charismatic former civil servant, into office.

In a recent interview, Tobgay underlined how he regarded technology as a force for good and not something to be resisted.

"Technology is not destructive. It's good and can contribute to prosperity for Bhutan," the prime minister said.

"Cellular phones became a reality 10 years ago. We adopted it very well, almost everybody has a cellular phone, that's the reality."

The prime minister's own Facebook page has more than 25 000 followers who can get updates on everything from his talks with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to photos of police recruits in training.

Smartphones

Lamsang said social media had "a largely positive role" to play in the fledgling democracy as a way of raising awareness in government circles about a range of issues.

He said there were now 80 000 Facebook users and the number was rising by the day.

"That gives you an idea of how popular the internet has become in such a short time, he said.

As the number of households with internet connections remain limited, Bhutan has seen a proliferation of cyber cafés.

Jigme Tamang, an employee at Norling Cyber World in Thimpu, said the best time of year for business comes when students need to check their exam results and then register online for courses.

"We are a little bit worried about the rise of smartphones, because if people can connect through them they will not come here to use our system," he said.

Eighteen-year-old Suraj Biswa said his smartphone was a fundamental part of his life.

"With my smartphone linked to the internet, I can use Facebook and various software for editing photos," said Biswa, a high school student from Samtse in southern Bhutan.

"I use Facebook to exchange with friends or relatives abroad. For example I have cousins in Nepal - without internet and Facebook I cannot communicate with them."
Read more on:    internet  |  social networks
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Health
 

LOL! Best outdoor girl fails

It’s not only guys who have FAIL moments! Here are some of the funniest outdoor fails where girls are the victims!

 
 

Where were you when you last felt alive?

90-year-old's incredible travels
10 facts about swimming you didn't know
Halloween night run
Exciting new zipline for Cape Town!

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Save up to R2100 on electronics! – As seen in the catalogue

Wishing for tech gadgets this festive? Save up to R2100 on hot tech products at kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

Toys 4 for the price of 3

Buy 4 toys and get the cheapest FREE! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Seen something you like in our catalogue?

Find the perfect gift and save up to R5000 – As seen on the catalogue. Hurry and shop now!

Mind blowing deals on electronics!

Save up to 35% on electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Hot offer: Up to 50% off irons

Save up to 50% on all Philips irons. While stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

There may be some tension that is caused through social conflicts -- personal interests versus obligations. You may feel an...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.