June 20, 2012

The power of networking can never be underestimated. Never. As no man is truly an island upon himself. We are all without exception relying and depending on others even if we think we aren’t – man is after all a social animal – he was designed by mother nature to marinate with other human beings. Otherwise why did providence design our faces to have 43 muscles to express every hemisphere of our thoughts and emotions? Why didn’t mother nature create us with a frozen smile like a dolphin or give us the vacant look of a crocodile? If we were meant to be loners and marooned from our own species. Why did mother nature bless us such an impressive range in our vocal cords? Why not just give us the single cord of the lone owl or the murmuring rush of a cobra when it raises and fans its head for the kill? Even the human hand is designed to socialize as it can sense temperature, texture, shape and gradations.

When we understand the reason for our human form. Then we will know how to live a purpose driven life. When we are blind to the obvious, then it is very easy for us to take pride in the false belief – we don’t need anyone, that we can do everything by ourself.

How wrong we are.

Darkness 2012


“one day I am going to write a book about the Singapore blogosphere.  Now this is not going to be your run of the mill IPS or cherian George comatose inducing, “why did I decide to be an academic instead of a real journalist.” This will be a blockbuster. It will definitely out sell those sappy love stories I write by acres of paper. 

Somewhere in this book. There is a chapter prosaically entitled, “PAP’s ten lost years in Absurdistan.” That is exactly what happened. For ten long years PAP did not know how to communicate with netizens – they had absolutely no idea what to do except what they have always been doing since independence lah. That why when you look at their return on investment and energy in all their efforts to neutralize the net – it’s a pretty lousy innings. But that is sadly what happens when a hegemony, institution or even a firm doesn’t have a good feel of a thing. It can only confound them and stress out their way of doing things.

We were watching all this. And at some point, it dawned on us, the PAP had no idea how to respond to this emerging social political blogosphere – so what they did was, they collated data and statistics, we know this. But our lips are sealed. But all this only added to the fog of war instead of beaconing out the murk. It may even have lulled them into a false sense of security that what they were really dealing with here was an inconsequential collection of shrills from the wilderness – like a couple of misfits fighting over who won the football world series in 1965. I think that emboldened them to reinforce failure. They believe they could punch a hole through the wall of noise in blogosphere and still get their message across – but they couldn’t. What disturbs even today is what we are witnessing here is a complete breakdown of the response system in officialdom – there was no sense of urgency to understand this thing called the social political blogosphere beyond data collection and very rudimentary analysis – such as character profiling (oh this we know as well lah) – again all this only served to reinforce the PAP’s belief – we have this matter under control.

But what stupefies is HOW these series of failures to scale the problem accurately and to respond to them effectively was virtually non existent in PAP’s game plan. Some of us were alarmed by this – you see it is very dangerous to play the game, when the other side doesn’t know how to play the game – when the rules of engagement are foggy, it is very problematic – that I think was the point when we realized, it was best to pull the plug from the intelligent Singaporean. Most people do not not realize this, but the exit was a well choreographed curtain call. This time we did not participate actively. We merely watched as our stat counters dwindled away – but yet nothing happened. The PAP for some reason couldn’t find a way to reinvent themselves to prosper in the digital age.

I think many years from now when our kids have all grow up and when we realize teeth are not supposed to last beyond 60. Many of us will read this chapter called the ten lost years of PAP and laugh out loud – in the way we probably laugh at people who think that lobotomies and radioactive whitening cream was as good as mothers milk. Because the real irony was the PAP did not really have to go through 10 years of mumbling and wondering how they should best deal with the emerging social political blog scene. All they had to do was to make a face to face connection.

Face to face met is the gold standard. I mean, I mixed with farmers in the Internet long before I was actually farming. I even visited their plantations. My point is, there is only so far you can go in the Internet to foster anything meaningful, if you want to keep your mask on. Even those who elect to remain anonymous online realize the limits of having a meaningful discussion under those conditions. They know it only too well for very obvious reasons – but how do you defeat anonymity? Do you treat it as a character flaw like perpetual masturbation in the way the PAP did towards anonymous voices that regularly criticized them in blogosphere? Now if you do that, then in my book, you’re not giving the conversation a chance. Perhaps a wiser thing to do is to start by respecting the idea of privacy and personhood and to create enough trust to even pitch the idea “Hi, I want to be your friend.” I think Facebook did certainly without a shadow of doubt ease PAP’s transition into the digital realm. – it was a very congenial platform that brought a lot of netizens face to face with each other – but I don’t believe that PAP had to wait for Facebook to knock on their door before responding to the challenges of the social political scene – they could have responded earlier – and I really think they don’t fully appreciate what the cost is when a hegemony falls so far back in the game for 4 to 5 years. The cost for Singapore, has been monumental. The only reason why it doesn’t seem expensive to us is because we are so accustomed to seeing a gain or loss in terms of financial metrics such as GDP and GNP. But when you consider the cost of how slow the PAP were at getting up to spend with managing the new media; and how that led them to bleed good will and trust. Then it is easy to understand why this was really a game changer of PAP – as Internet years are like space year, one year is an eternity, one year on earth is just a year, but in space time that period of time could well be 59 years or life time depending on how close or far you are from a black hole. So Internet years should be seen in those terms to truly appreciate what PAP lost in those ten years.

My point is PAP could have gone off line and just picked up the phone and said, “I am throwing a BBQ, do you want to come?” They could have done that through a liaison officer like when we project into distant and faraway galaxies in our own game – we create a I get to know you and you get to know me better conduit – and through that platform PAP could have made meaningful connections. I think many years from now, another generation of Singaporeans will learn from this brief timeline in our nations history. The lessons will be powerful and instructive – try to connect face to face – sit down for a meal if possible, don’t make it official. You don’t even need to talk about politics, it could cars or football – you just really into the conversation about this whole idea of how we are all barreling like a bullet train into this brave new world and we are still stuck on first gear playing police and thief – surely, there must be more to this! I mean this doesn’t even make sense does it – all we are doing is working towards a better tomorrow in Singapore. Yet why is there so much grief and strife? Regrettably these thought provoking questions could only have transpired in a face to face conversation. A conversation that never took place for ten years. Now the conversations seems to be in earnest. Everyone from Andrew Loh to Mr train driver Gintai is suddenly having a conversation – all seems to be well huh?

Not quite, look closer… don’t see it do you? Do want to waste another ten years?

I really don’t want to hold out. But I must. However, I will say this. Whether there are any measurables to be gained from having a conversation is not important – the most important thing is connecting first. The rest will come after that. Of that I am very sure. But you’ve to be the one making the effort to connect first.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: