Saturday, August 18, 2007

On the 'dire' state of the Singaporean blogsphere

I was thinking about writing another issue of 'famous nerds' in my blog, but
decided to write about something else instead. Mr Wang, one of the most respected bloggers in Singapore has recently wrote about his 'national service' in blogging. I am writing in response to his 'call to arms', given that he believes that the rest of the Singaporeans have not be putting their weight into blogging about the things that matters, and paints a depressing picture that if active sociopolitical bloggers like him were to depart, the Singaporean sociopolitical blogsphere will probably simply implode into nothingness.

Perhaps it may be a little be to simplistic to think that the entire blogsphere will vanish overnight even if this 'impossible' scenario were to occur. While the popularity of these key bloggers is probably a good measure of success in the blogsphere, it should not be seen as the key metric of how far we have achieved as a collective. Just because that there are a few more prominent bloggers who are more well read by others, and much appreciatively so, because it helps to put across issues to a bigger segment of population, it does not mean that less read opinions are worth any less their weight.

In order to be a good blogger, one needs to have the talent to write expressively in order to capture the interest of the general masses, which cannot possibly be everyone who simply decides to start a blog. It is the main goal for a blog to attain popularity, but if blogging is all about popularity contests, shouldn't Xiaxue be the crowning glory of our blogging success, given that she is (or was?) probably still undisputedly Singapore's most popular blogger?

I do not disagree that it is important for views to be read by others in order for a blogger to be successful, but the functions of content aggregators cannot be outweighed by just a number of star bloggers. Even though at its infancy, we do have some good content aggregators who help to provide for the 'liquidity' in the dissemination of information, be it manually, like The Intelligent Singaporean and Singapore Surf, or technology assisted content aggregation sites, like and They provide focal points for the dissemination of information that keeps the blogsphere alive, to which I think should be attributed more credit for.

Besides that, there are some social interest blogging groups like The Online Citizen, forums like Sammyboy for public discourse, and good political satire cartoonists, like my sketchbook, talented humourists like Mr. Brown and Mrs. Smoot, and many others, which is just about as important in bringing about social diversity and vibrancy to the blogsphere. After all, it will get a little dry and boring if one is to be constantly reading about political seriousness all the time.

It is also a fact that great bloggers in the virtual world of the Internet will come and go with time, with examples of that happening to notable bloggers like Kitana and Gayle Goh, but even when they do not exist in the virtual world, they are still out there in the real world, making a difference.

As I said about myself that I am partisan in my views, I am mindful not to speak much about socio-political issues, especially Singaporean, because largely, what I have to say of the 'big issues' that are happening, are usually covered by people who are usually more articulate than I am, not surprising given the fact that my expertise lies in coding, not writing, not even to mention about the sensitivity of talking politics in Singapore.

Not that I don't have my point of view on how I think things should be right for Singapore, but they probably can be summed up in a single paragraph: I do not support ministerial pay rises, our threshold for the death penalty is overly harsh, ambivalent about the pros or cons of IRs, support having better welfare for the poor, reducing financial strains for public health care and repealing unfair laws against gay people.

But do my views bring about change in the civil society? In all honesty, I hardly think it does. As an individual, I can take action only when I cast my vote at the ballot boxes, but that can only take place when there is a credible opposition to vote for. But even just to talk about opposition for opposition's sake, we hardly even have that as a luxury, due to the grotesque distortion created by our GRC system, placing an artificial barrier of entry for people to contest in, not to mention the side effect of having untested candidates to ride on the coat-tails of established political heavyweights into parliament.

While disappointing, I do see some winds of change blowing, amid periods when individual MPs start to question and debate the policies enacted by the government, and whenever they provide their own perspectives to things which may not be in line with the party's views. Politicians like MNP Siew Kum Hong, and even MPs from the PAP cadre, like Ms. Lily Neo (in terms of her views of raising social safety nets), which is a refreshing breeze of fresh air, even though it will probably be far off in the future to be able to see MPs voting on a piece of legislation with their conscience, rather than having to toe the party line.

Until that day arrives, it will be hard for me to be voting in people with alternative views like her, given that it will still be equivalent in endorsing the political views of the party she stands for. But I do believe that it is more within the power of the politicians than the population who are able to initiate change, and that it is necessary that we only endorse and support the politicians who champion our views, and pressure those who don't to do what we think is right.

The blogsphere from a perspective, has probably taken more credit than it deserves for its role in society than it really has. To me, when it causes a stir, it is nothing more than just a tempest in a teacup: just as with the many other issues that bloggers write about, mine will just be another voice and opinion among the others. In the grand scheme of things, it probably won't account to anything much by itself. And as much as Mr. Wang believes that 'thought affects reality', I believe that reality can only manifest itself when it is backed by real, concrete action.

Action through civil disobedience, such as the case of Dr. Chee Soon Juan, is probably an example of how not to go about bringing change, as I think his brand of American-styled civil movement tends to alienate and rub Singaporeans the wrong way. That said, I still believe that it is in civil participation, rather than firing up the text editor to write a few paragraphs on your views about things that will have much more effect in the way of making a difference.

I believe that true heroes, are the one who are actively on the ground to achieve something, people who are of a certain mettle, like J.B. Jayaratnam, Chee Soon Juan, Alex Au and Marytn See, people who keep pushing the envelope are the ones who are most likely to bring about change. Bloggers like me, are just akin to commentators on a Saturday night game, or the occasional armchair critic, or at best, a conduit of thoughts which may help galvanize people into taking action.

In all fairness, the Singaporean blogsphere does provides the necessary alternative views to what reality really is, even if it currently does not have the reach of the mainstream press. Given sufficient momentum, it will get there. After all, things like the American Civil Rights movement didn't start and end over the course of a single day, but rather, it is the culmination of perpetual struggle. Like everything else in this world, change only takes place in little baby steps, which may not be as perceptible as we may like it to be.

And of course, if you liked what I have to offer in my opinions on how things should be set right, feel free to subscribe to my blog, and I'd love to have few fans of my own to share my place as being a popular blogger. But to count on just my opinions to bring about change to the social-political environment, it will certainly take more than just that, something which must require the will, gumption and engagement of the entire Singaporean population as a nation.


Unknown said...

Hi Vince

A really thoughtful and interesting post, and I totally agree with you about Alex Au and Marytn See.

To be honest, and I think this is a tangent/diversion from your post because I understand you are focusing only on socio-political blogs, I think there is a tendency here in Singapore for everyone to take themselves a bit too seriously.

I think that reflects a cultural immaturity (**duck the bullets**) and tends to breed a fairly negative online vibe.

I'm not denying we have all kinds of social and political problems to discuss, as I'm sure all countries do, but if you discount all the chirpy "kaki" blogs, we do have a large number of writers here who fancy themselves as sociopolitical commentators and interpret that as being to find the negative.

You find it a lot in conversation here (comprain, comprain) and you find it a lot in blogs.

To be honest, I find it a lazy and kind of unthinking approach. It's easy to pick at policies and people. We can all do it.

I think where Alex Au and Marytn See stand out, and where you are seeing them as being a quality read, is that they don't usually take that approach. Despite the hard-to-swallow subjects they deal with, there tends to be a thread of positivity, or at least a semblance of objectivity.

As we (that's the royal "we", totally generalised and homogenised, but you know what I mean) mature a little in the coming years... and we have matured a lot in the past few years so I don't think that's a large assumption... I suspect we'll start to move out of this negative zone and into more interesting areas.

This should bode well for stronger and better sociopolitical Singaporean blogs I think.

So the future is bright.

Great writing, enjoyed reading your stuff very much... looking forward to reading more of your thoughts!

=) Marc

Unknown said...

Hi Marc,

First of all, welcome to my blog and thank you for spending your time in penning a response, and the feedback I had is well appreciated.

Just to add on the definition of why I think of Alex Au and Martyn See as heroes, is not just because that they are objective, they are much more than that in the sense that they have pushed the invisible boundaries set up by the authorities and challenge the
legality of such boundaries in real life, and not just as anonymous figures taking potshots behind
the covers of the World Wide Web.

They are there to define our rights as citizens in this land, the right of freedom of speech and to point out what the faults in our system. Others challenge the other rights of the citizens that most
Singaporeans have readily given up like the rights to free assembly, such as Dr. Chee Soon Juan, which gets curtailed with excessive police force.

All I hope for is for Singaporeans to be a little more socially aware, and help speak out on the little things that are wrong, and set them right. Little changes will amount to big differences with time, and I'm sure we will all be better for it.

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