"Who in old times ever held anything so uncalled for as an opinion? ...History, history really was, still is, the agenda of activists. The rest of us, you, me, the rest of us, are mere fans of a world view and use the news like theater--episodes, chapters in some Sabbath soul serial... If we don't have the gift for effecting change, we have the solace of criticism." ~ Stanley Elkin, novelist in "The First Amendment as an Art form" quoted in Saul Bellows It All Adds Up, Penguin Modern Classics, 2007, pp109.
When I first stumbled into the world wide web in 1996, it was purely for the sake of being technologically savvy.
Yes, then it had also to do with keeping in touch with and gaining 'quicker' access to scientific advances that I was interested in. Then again, my obsession with the PC was an expensive hobby, which seemed to be an unending catching-up exercise to try outrun its obsolescence.
I seemed to be upgrading all the time--and the PC continues to advance by truly doubling at diminishing intervals--so clairvoyantly predicted by Gordon E. Moore, Intel's first guru. See Moore's Law.
Still, few would have expected how much every aspect of our human lives seems to have been touched by such a proliferation and permeating ubiquity of knowledge/information perfusion and the almost seamless person-to-person interconnectivity. In ten short years, this wondrous growth has stupefied everyone including many of its greatest detractors.
It became obvious that soon from the geeky nerdy preoccupation, PC and internet use has ballooned into an all-pervasive universal phenomenon which has outstripped the imagination of everyone.
This global engagement which helps connect people and ideas at the click of a mouse, and some dogged two-finger typing, appears to have permeated every strata of society--equalising access to information as never before.
Not to be outdone, it also created another phenomenon of personal spewing (and sharing) of ideas, thoughts and opinions, with nary a thought as to consequences, except that one can vent these as one chooses. The anonymity (and perceived closeted safety) of one's own most private thoughts and darkest if bigoted/radical viewpoints, provides an individual derring-do and bravado that has in the past constrained many a written word.
Thus, many of these are indiscriminately enunciated without secondary considerations as to their impact on anyone else. This ultimate freedom to express at will and without any restraints, is perhaps the quintessential mark of a New Age.
Although, this newfound expression of freedom to think and speak out loud is welcome, there are possible downsides to these unfettered unsolicited commentaries and occasionally abusive invectives.
Web-blogging has unleashed an unprecedented phenomenon where everyone is entitled to his/her own say, but also subjects every person to the blunt, unregulated, unconfirmed, inaccurate or downright untruthful remarks and personal attacks from others--including what has previously been considered quite libellous and defamatory. Blogging apologies are rare, and correcting misconceptions and misrepresentations are even rarer.
Another downside to the internet age, is the individual's selective power to decide which news item or blog to read, to digest or to dismiss outright! This can sometimes breed very intolerant and lopsided personalities, quite warped by their partisanship, and create unbalanced bigots--'neocons' will remain as hardened rightists, and libertarians, even more indulgent progressives, and never the twain shall meet!
Thus, the danger of such polarisation can become extreme, and create fundamentalists among many possible groups! This is the new age 'information' jungle of anything goes! But isn't this just another invariable extension of our multichannel cable television, when one can click on or off any programme that appeals to us?
Indeed, I'm convinced that there will never again be any possibility of restraining or controlling information, as this escaped genie has outgrown the confining lamps of every regulator, despot and dictator. Yes, how times have changed.
Yet there is a tremendously uplifting positive on this. Propaganda and highly biased messages will find their ease to control modern minds increasingly difficult to impress, much less to influence or even gain more than a casual and/or a passing glance. These will be sorely tested and debunked sooner than later. Healthy skepticism has become the natural order of the day.
Mainstream media (MSM) has suffered most from their overly cautious take on news and news spins. Especially among Malaysians, many now increasingly feel that the MSM are too politically-slanted or too pusillanimous to tackle hard issues directly; they seem to toe the line so rigidly drawn by the strict diktats of their wayang-kulit (shadow play) masters.
The beauty of the internet age and the blogging phenomenon is that it is so dynamic, so unpredictable. For every possible idea or viewpoint so espoused by anyone, there now appears many others which can either agree, disagree or even counterpoint another--suggestions or reasonings which appear more plausible, perhaps more believable. It will be increasingly difficult to blatantly lie and get away with it, unless one is so deviously a master of deceit.
Some have lamented that lies, big lies, (see malaysiakini's A Big Lie told repeatedly) repeated often enough can be powerful propaganda stuff (so much a cliche of Nazi information chief Josef Goebbels), and they are right--we can become influenced, even indoctrinated into attentive but noddingly agreeable yes-men. After all wasn't it Bertrand Russell who said:
"Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones."
For decades, perhaps 50 years, Malaysians have been thus pre-shaped and moulded into pliant citizens, who though increasingly disgruntled, continue to elect our politicians to lead us--year in, year out--despite their lies, their threats, their corruptibility, their arrogance, their bullying, their known expediencies and excesses...
Perhaps, at our coming of age party of 51 years, this bygone era will be passe and a new era of openness and fearless demand for public accountability will begin.
Malaysians and citizens the world over are hoping that we can cross this Rubicon of political naivete and finally outgrow the adolescent timidity and awkwardness, that we have been saddled with for so long. We have to mature into a multifaceted, multi-ethnic tolerant and open-minded citizenry.
We can only hope to have finally reached the courage of conviction to be our true selves and help the nation grow and build as never before, to greater heights of meaning and cohesiveness...
P.S. Malaysian Insider just posted another take on how the new media will continue to trump the MSM, unless they recognise that the blogosphere is far more influential than they had pooh-poohed earlier on, and still deny its legitimacy.