Disclaimer : This essay is not intended to be understood as the best possible answer to the question.
My country, Singapore, is one of the most wired states in the world. Many people, young and old, have a mobile phone and many households have one computer – at least. Like many developed societies, Singapore can be described as rather gadget-crazy judging by the winding queues at the launch of new tech-toys and devices. One of the many questions that arises from observing such a trend is this : With all this technology, are the people better off as a society, or have they become worse off and more divided ? I think divisions in society as a whole have become more pronounced, even though there a few emerging trends that give hope for unity.
(1) Technology divides because more information on the internet will offer varied opinions, and people begin to take sides. Technology can even be used to incite hate among the communities or interest groups.
– In Singapore, there have been occasional outbursts online against people of other races, religions and nationalities. One recent case involved a scholar from China who called Singaporeans ‘dogs’ in his online rant. Such irresponsible behaviour naturally invited tit-for-tat mud-slinging from local netizens, and clearly does not help in building ties between immigrants and locals.
– In some of these cases, the authorities have had to step in. In September 2005, the Sedition Act was first used in Singapore on individuals when three men, including a teenager, were charged for making seditious and inflammatory racist comments on the Internet
(2) Technology has helped spread anti-government feelings which may not be good for the country as a whole.
– In Singapore, alternative political opinions thrive online because the local media is only nominally privatised, but is in fact tied to the government in many ways. This means that more often than not, the opinions of the ruling party and views that do not jeopardise the status quo get more airtime and space in the newspapers.
– However, with a more educated, and well-travelled population, there is a growing thirst for critically constructive views, and an increasing disdain for pro-government group think. This is why websites such as The Online Citizen or those belonging to opposition parties, as well as blogs like Diary of a Singaporean Mind and Yawning Bread have enjoyed a surge in readership in recent years.
– Furthermore, the foreign press is sometimes prone to write about Singapore or its government in a less flattering light especially in the light of Singapore’s abysmal ranking for press freedom in the world.
– The mainstream state-controlled media lose some of its influence. All the above creates more tensions within society, especially since the government also has it fair share of supporters with their online writing that they feel will add balance to any debate
– Moreover, when the state tries to manage these tensions with more restrictions, there is backlash
– The division that stemmed from greater access to internet technology and social networks even contributed to a dip in support for the government during the 2011 elections.
– In 2013, when welfare group Transitioning.org successfully promoted a peaceful demonstration against the government’s Population White Paper via the internet, it turned out to be the largest such protest
(3) However, despite specific kinds of conflicts that have arisen, the pursuit of technology is itself unifying.
– On the whole, the people of Singapore are knowledge-driven, and tech-ready rather than technophobic. Using technology has become part of our daily lives, thus, in this sense, the common experience has a subtle unifying effect that can perhaps best be seen when Singaporeans spend time abroad and make comparisons between what they have, especially in terms of technological advancements, and what other countries do not have
(4) In addition, the use of the internet and social networks are not just a harbinger for hostility. One nascent trend is crowd-sourcing whereby social networking sites are used to bring strangers together for positive causes. Cook a Pot of Curry Day is an example of such a positive effort whereby people from various walks of life heeded a Facebook call to cook a popular local dish, Indian curry, to signify togetherness against racism. In addition, crowd-sourcing has helped spread kindness to the less fortunate when self-initiated charity drives are conducted online, and members of the public respond with generous donations of cash and kind, thereby showing the extent of good faith that people have for one another.
In conclusion, technology has the potential to unite any society. However, mine is a nation in transition and one that is still learning to cope with the tensions created by technology. Some people may choose to use technology to create rifts between them and others, but this can be counteracted by more civic-minded and brave individuals who speak up against prejudice or other forms of animosity using the very tools that spread hate. This is the way that my society can evolve to become more mature and unified despite the friction that technology can engender.
(around 830 words)