What happens when leaders speak a language that followers don’t care for?

November 29, 2014

Who really wants to live, work and play in a ‘smart’ nation where everything is just a digital tap away. Want to take care of the dry cleaning tap away….want the best char kueh teoh, tap away….want a prescriptive cure for erectile dysfunction tap away….want instant friends tap away….if only it is possible to tap away for a way to live reasonably and affordably in the worlds most expensive city.

No such luck lah…it seems.

May have to join Singapore’s first sports millionaire Fandi Ahmad to find out the app for that.


‘I guess what Fandi Ahmad meant when he said, there is no kampung’s left in Singapore and everything is just too expensive and he much prefers to retire across the Straits – is that he yearns to return back to the simple and uncluttered way of life.

You know back to the analog period when life was slower and much more predictable and even stable….I can well understand that crie de couer. As since I’ve lived in Singapore before and now turn the wheel of life in a real life kampung. I consider myself imminently qualified to speak about this subject.

Because if you were to ask me about what I really think about where Singapore is heading by positioning itself as the world’s most expensive city to live in where everyone is under happy (whatever that means….along with right sizing??) and now this initiative to remake Singapore as a smart city, it will always be somewhat closer to a dystopian future than salvation….to me.

You know what’s the greatest paradox of the digital age….it continues to hold out the unfulfilled promise – life will get better….technology will free us from the mundane, we would have more free time to spend with our families and to do the things we really want to do under our own terms…..we will be more empowered….will be in position to make informed decisions etc etc.

But in truth with each upward progressions of Moore’s law – life actually becomes that much harder. Workers end up staying longer in the office. They’re expected to do more with less and that whole idea of individual emancipation fritters away unnoticed – as these days everyone is trying so hard to keep their head above the financial waterline and staying connected 24/7 that they don’t even realize…they no longer have any control over their lives any longer or for that matter have that elemental right to disconnect themselves any longer.

I realize this may sound like another rehashed technophobic rant. But it isn’t – as what I mean to say is money and connectivity is really just a means to an end for me…for it to acquire the agency of power to improve quality of life it needs to be put in the correct scale…it needs to be respectful of the individuals space…his right to privacy by provisioning a means for him to actualize a way to live, work and play under his own terms….in certain cases it even needs to go offline to remain relevant and coherent.

That’s to say for me, technology is never an end by itself and what this really means is there will be some things which I much prefer to be untouched by the metallic claws of technology.

For example. I don’t for example care very much for SMS’s…much prefer an old fashion conversation…face to face over coffee or a meal is even better. The gold standard. Some of my best business deals are only cut this way….offline where I can detect the worth of a man in his voice the slightest perfidy in the way he carries himself….to me these things will never ever change…they’re timeless.

I am not saying SMSing is necessarily evil…. All I am saying is, if one is not mindful of it’s many inherent shortfall like facebooking, tweetering or clicking on Potemkin village sites like Singaporedaily and five stars and the moon, without ever bothering to ask so much as even once ‘what’s their goal?’ – there is a tendency for technology to debase rather than add any real value to peoples lives – as the understated reason why so many people much prefer to SMS than have a real conversation is because they don’t ever need to invest one molecule of themselves emotionally…it’s a primitive way to communicate via proxy, on the cheap or with grunts. As it makes possible the whole idea bovine communication by allowing someone to experience something at a personal level vicariously – like watching a porno flick and jerking off. And if you must know, that is why people these days have the confidence to type out, I love you finished off with a smiley icon. But when it comes to actually verbalizing it in flesh and bone, they don’t nearly have what it takes to say they really mean – that to me is a summary of the pithy pathos of what I term debasing…chelating or reducing humanity, as that sort of transaction subtracts rather than adds.

So if you mean to sell me the idea SMSing culture is the best thing since sliced bread or having a conversation with a robot over the phone is tagged as gainful human progress…then in my book. I just call it, what I believe it really is….making progress by going backwards.

I remember one particular day back home in Singapore many years ago. There I was standing on a train platform feeling like Will Smith in that movie – I am Legend. As when I looked around me. All I could see were rivers of humanity going around in a hermetically sealed ipod bubble. I remembered experiencing that rare moment of stepping outside myself and saying to myself – if this is going to be the lietmotif that presages the advent of the glorious digital revolution where everyone looks like a spaced out zombies, as if they are all suffering from mass hearing impairment or where whole masses of people are just playing Tetris on their smart phones instead of making eye contact, talking and wearing that expression, ‘it’s such a beautiful day.’ – then that’s not the place I want to call home.

I Dowan lah!

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regard technology as perdition. I think it’s nifty to get pics of people I love and care about from back home in one press of a button.

But I also happen to believe very strongly – when everyone thinks something is good, then it certainly raises the possibility, no one is thinking really hard about the repercussions or wider rammifications either. They’re just going with the flow without out processing the information to derive at the collaborated truth.

Not too long ago while traveling out station with a friend to visit a plantation. Mid way, he started to get all flustered and agitated. The reason.

He had forgotten to bring along his mobile phone. I had to spend a whole hour assuring this friend that everything is going to be alright. It’s not the end of the world.

When we finally reached Telugu Estate since it was ringed by high limestone mountains. There was no digital coverage. Communication in the estate has hardly changed since the period of the colonial planters.

During the time we spent in Telugu estate. I could sense a profound change in my friend. The color of his skin returned. Gone was his sickly grey parlor. He even slept deeper and sounder despite just being kitted out with a ceiling fan and a mosquito net. His appetite improved and all in all he was a much more enjoyable and relaxed person to be with. Gone was his nervous tic along with his bad temper and nervous disposition.

One week after our trip. I came across my friend again and asked him why he had not answered his cell phone the night before. He recounted to me in the tone of a man who knew a good thing – these days he only accepts calls from one in the afternoon to three as he no longer sees the need to be connected all the time.

I was happy. As my real reason for inviting him to Telugu estate was because his wife has been telling me, ‘my husband is turning into a man who I don’t love any longer.’

I am sure there is an instructive moral somewhere to be uncovered in this story….only one may have to be rather stupid and slow like moir, when everyone else is smart and fast to truly understand it.’

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