Reconnecting with the Internet generation

Or not as the case may be.

Rather up beat article about how the blogosphere and the PAP are embracing each other, slowly.

The Singapore government is trying to replace the current bottom-up citizen generated discourse with a top-down consultation exercise. As more and more blogger posts continue to be shaped by the daily stories of the Straits Times, while aggregator blogs continue to ignore the very same issues that the Straits Times ignores, while the blogosphere tries to gain entry into the distorted world of the mainstream media and vis-a-versa.

The Peoples Action Party can rest easy.

INSIGHT DOWN SOUTH
By SEAH CHIANG NEE

The government is now taking tiny steps to win back a young, not-too-friendly Internet generation which it lost when it ignored them in the last general election.

LIKE one dipping his toes before stepping into a heated tub, the government has taken several tiny steps to engage a young, not-too-friendly Internet generation.

This appears to be a departure from its previous “ignore them” strategy that was shown during the last general election to be outdated and politically dangerous.

Months before the May election, it launched its own singaporegovt.blog to counter an opposition offensive that subsequently won a surprising 33% of the votes.

Secondly, a group of 12 new People’s Action Party (PAP) backbenchers, all born after Singapore’s independence in 1965, started their own online diary (http://www. p65.sg/) to bond with their peers.

It is a small, belated foray to wrestle back the blogosphere ground lost through long neglect.

Early this month, it moved a step further. A Cabinet minister met several young Singaporean bloggers for the first time in a TV discussion on blogging, something considered improbable a year ago.

The chat that Foreign Minister George Yeo had with some young critics was not confrontational by Internet standards but it represented a milestone of sorts.

“I must say that I felt younger after the session, provoking and being provoked. Without that altercation, there is no communication,” Yeo later blogged.

The PAP has always viewed the free-talking, critical Internet with suspicion and dislike. What was termed “the first Internet election” gave the party hierarchy a glimpse of the future.

The birth of the digital generation in Singapore has largely been the result of government policies, the first being the creation of a “smart” cable city and, second, pushing the use of computers in all schools.

On their part, Singaporeans, with the exception of the elderly, have enthusiastically embraced it. Today, 66% of the homes have access to the Internet.

A recent survey here has shown a blogosphere expanding faster than most people had thought.

Half of all Singaporean teens aged 15 to 19, and 46% of the 20- to 24-year-olds are on the Internet, blogging or podcasting.

This adds up to 120,000 young Singaporeans reading and writing on websites that, according to one PAP member of Parliament, are “80% anti-government”.

Among the 20 to 24 age group, some 46% do so, while only 18% of those aged 39 to 49 are bloggers, according to the official Media Development Authority of Singapore.

In fact, net usage is highest – 90% – among children between 10 and 15 years old, a consequence of the schools equipped with a computer for every two students.

All these figures are set to rise in the coming years as Internet literacy grows and costs come down.

To put things in perspective, not all surfers and bloggers talk politics, let alone oppose the government.

A majority in fact uses it for non-political activities, including school projects, social networking, games or exchanging music videos.

But the interest in current affairs is definitely growing. Its political reach has dramatically reduced the government’s almost-total control of the channels of information.

That Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been loosening up on society is attributed in part to this phenomenon.

In last year’s National Day Rally speech, Lee spoke of the Internet benefits and problems, including spreading “half-truths and untruths” as well as “good views, also bad views, extremist views which will divide our society”.

Many global corporations and politicians were using blogs to communicate, he said, “so we have to update, to try these out and move with the times ? We can’t do (everything) the old way.”

He said Singapore’s laws would have to change, including those that ban political podcasts and videos during elections.

It has also led to calls by government backbenchers to loosen up on the mainstream media, saying that regulations are driving readers towards an uncontrolled digital media.

In line with global trends, more young Singaporeans have been abandoning the 162-year-old Straits Times and turning to the Internet.

(Since 1998, its daily circulation has fallen from 391,612 to 381,934 despite a population rise of a million people to 4.5 million and its near market monopoly.)

Readers who believe that Singapore’s mainstream media is an official mouthpiece have given up reading it and are opting instead to congregate in the blogosphere to get their news and opinions.

They have formed a virtual sub-community of disenchanted youths who talk among themselves, taking only a perfunctory interest in what the government says through the mainstream media.

This is also propelling younger PAP leaders to try and reconnect with them.

By ignoring and regarding them as threats, rather than engaging them, the government has lost this community by default.

So far, web opinions, however rational and well-written by professionals or businessmen, have no recognition. This includes those whose names and identities are known. In government eyes, they simply don’t exist.

Two years ago, I suggested that Lee Kuan Yew – who is active and with a sharp mind – start his own personal blog (with technical help, of course) to fulfil his wish to pass on values and advice to the young.

They may not agree to everything he has to say, but his vast experience will generally benefit all.

Will it happen? At 83 and still busy winging round the world on state matters, the chances are rather slim. But one never really knows!

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About soci
Lived in Singapore for 6 wonderful years and has been blogging since 2003, under various names but always on Singaporean issues.

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