Dialogues and forum series are excellent platforms for the exchange and interaction of ideas or concepts; and also serve as avenues to raise awareness on issues and build capacity on campaigns and causes. However, the proliferation of the Internet has not only made information and all forms of knowledge more accessible to individuals, but has also supported the growth of websites, blogs and discussion sites where commentaries and opinions are aplenty – facilitated at a lower cost and reaching out to a greater assortment of people. So where does this leave vis-a-vis, physical dialogue sessions?
With the advent of globalisation, more and more issues are brought to the fore, presenting an assortment of concerns and causes that can prove to be overwhelming for the individual. From cancer awareness to human rights issues to environmental action; there are just too many subject-matters competing for our limited bandwidth and overall capacity. Hence, people are just spoilt for choice over which dialogue or session to attend. The convenience of online platforms has also turned self-proclaimed “experts” who are well-versed in the various issues away from these physical forums; instead raising awareness through writing, podcasts and videos.
In terms of sharing information, many believe that there is no point heading down somewhere just know more about something; when that knowledge can be easily developed through the availability of print materials and online resources. Exceptions do arise – such as when the issue concerned is a special medical expertise or with regard to educational courses such as personal college experience and recommendations – but they are far and few between amongst the myriad of dialogues. Quintessentially, dialogues must no longer be the mere supplements of information; but platforms for networking, debate – and starting points for courses of constructive and genuine action.
Limitations of the Internet
The exchanges on the Internet are often pointless and messy, and are often angry rants and ramblings that go nowhere. Selectively, many commentaries are becoming more didactic and insightful; but virtual interaction amounts to very little in the real world. Ideas and thoughts can be impetus for efforts and calls for action; nonetheless, they must be tangibly realised and actually carried out for improvements.
Just like the amount of information available, biased and prejudiced opinions are so common that the facts and truths are often blurred or even blatantly ignored. All forms of statistics and data are tampered with to show certain perspectives to be a certain way; and since there are so many sources for “facts”, the line between “right” and “wrong” is no longer clear or properly defined.
The Way Forward
Many grassroots youth organisations, especially the National Youth Council (NYC), have organised a multitude of sessions on the pretext of engaging youths. On the surface, it seems that these are actually rather constructive; but in actual fact, a lot of money are spent for the blank, one-way transfer of information that amounts to very little. A flood of dialogues would only inundate individuals, because the the key is quality, not quantity.
Complementary roles should be sought between dialogues and online mediums. An excellent idea would be for a discussion forum to be set up before a specific session, and maintained a few weeks after the dialogue. Prior to the dialogue, the online space can be used to disseminate resources and reading to make sure that participants are sufficiently prepared for dialogue, instead of going in with a blank slate. After the dialogue, the discussion forum would be an avenue for moderators to encourage individuals to develop proposals (if it is an awareness-based campaign), submit questions (for answering by the guests, if possible) and to clarify details. Twitter and FaceBook can be used beyond the means of getting participants per se.
More importantly, dialogues should seek to encourage the exchange of ideas, for facts to be clarified, and for motivating participants to take the extra step to turn rhetoric into concrete action.