“Singaporeans are becoming more politically aware and society here is more open to debate, said three former Nominated Members of Parliament at a forum yesterday” (Raw Kind Of Angst In Rising Activism, Says Ex-NMP, Miss Joy Fang).
The proliferation and accessibility of the Internet have given Singaporeans the comfort of expressing their views on economic or socio-political affairs behind their computer screens – as expressed in the article “Raw Kind Of Angst In Rising Activism, Says Ex-NMP” (August 26, 2011) by Miss Joy Fang – bringing about activism in cyberspace. Unfortunately, the increased levels of awareness have not brought about heightened involvement in on-the-ground activities, or the translation of virtual sentiments into tangible, implementable solutions for assorted issues; noticeably, this unconstructive phenomenon can be attributed to the lethargy displayed by our government.
Government Deficiencies With Online Engagement
Harnessing the vast potential of these opinions starts with proper recognition from the administration – as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted during the recent National Day Rally – of the usefulness of these perspectives and recommendations. Even though PM Lee conceded that his ministries and their corresponding agencies have been marginally successful in their communication and outreach efforts, he did not expound on how exactly this poor track record would be improved upon. More often that not, parliamentarians and administrators seem contented with pedantically sticking with the status quo; relying singularly on Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry @ Home (REACH) the feedback unit, and exercising engagement through superficial dialogue or policy discussion sessions that usually have negligible takeaways for both parties.
Echo chambers of angst and emotional responses should not be conveniently dismissed as “noise”; because if a significant population of Singaporeans feel sufficiently aggrieved to take their unhappiness online, effort should be taken to assess their authenticity. In recent times, this can include complaints about public transportation standards, the influx of foreigners, societal divisions et cetera. Nonetheless, the line is crossed when discussions and comments disintegrate into vitriolic ranting that not only do little to advance the ongoing conversation, but also makes unsubstantiated attacks on groups or individuals.
Addressing Apathy And Lethargy: It Takes Two Hands To Clap
So how can our government emerge from its lethargy? First, it has to start identifying online commentaries and writers who are sincere about making a difference or having their voices heard, and subsequently pooling these resources to have extended, focused discussions on matters on-the-ground. This can take the form of online policy forums or groups, as well as focus group discussions involving ordinary Singaporeans. Second, it should be more cognisant of the chronic concerns consistently articulated on popular websites; and instead of ignoring these “armchair critics” from the get-go, filtering through the posts will give policy-makers a good feel of the ground. Evidently, for any form of active citizenry to take root at the moment – with an added degree of sensitivity – more initiatives must be proactively rolled down from the top.
A ground-up methodology would definitely be a good complement in the long term, though overcoming a culture of fear and natural apathy would be a huge undertaking for activists and writers alike. Moving forward, as the administration begins to listen with an open mind; it would be productive for efforts to be channelled in schools, where the desire for advocacy and change can be progressively cultivated from young. As awareness levels grow, people will recognise that it takes two hands to clap.
A version of this article was published in My Paper.