Signed up for DPI-659.  As required, I read Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody. Went through Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail and the first part of Groundswell.

I should be getting a sense of deja vu.  Been there, done that.

After all, once upon a time, I too was a computer geek.  Well, kind of.  Built my own 486 during my undergrad days. My 96k external modem tapped (against hostel regulations) into a shared incoming telephone line to connect to the local ISP.

My undergraduate thesis (circa 1997) was on the (then nascent) Internet advertising industry.

In the late 90s, I worked briefly at a web consultancy, where we helped brick and mortar businesses to create their online presence.  In most cases, these were static, information-only pages that simply proclaimed “Hey, we have a website too!”  (Most of our clients were not ready to go into e-commerce in a big way; setup costs were high and the online population in Southeast Asia was relatively small.  Contrary to the Long Tail, it was a small number of clients and angel investors who were keeping us fed.)

When my son was born (in 2001), I even had a website to post his baby photos, lovingly assembled in HTML.

So this new media/digital age stuff ought to be familiar.  Except that it isn’t.

In the past few years, my work as a bureaucrat pretty much only required me to use email and Microsoft Word.  Pre-assembled laptops became cheaper than DIY bespokes.  So it has been some time since I’ve seen the inside of a computer, wrote a line of code, or given any thought to the Internet (except for figuring out which ISP gives me the best deal).

The Radical Transformation (from my perspective)

And now, everything’s changed.

With Facebook, publishing on the web is just a step from having an email account. Mobile computing has increased the time the online population remains online. And now, even my mom’s buying stuff online in between her mahjong sessions.

Shirky, Anderson and Li & Bernoff (along with others) rightly herald these changes as a paradigm shift.  In class, Nicco described several radical transformations.

For someone who has been in a state of virtual hibernation over the past 8 years, the difference — in a nutshell — is this: it used to be two distinct worlds — the real world and the virtual world (like Second Life).  These days, however, it is hard to see where one ends and the other begins.

Same but Different in Singapore

It is not clear if the trends discussed in class are entirely applicable to Singapore (where I come from).  The quoted figures on online/mobile penetration/activity are usually US- and Europe-centric.  Singapore is probably not too far behind the adoption curve (if the queues for iPhones and iPads are anything to go by).

So in a way, what happens here or in Europe is often a foretaste of what will generally happen in Singapore some time later. This applies not just to the adoption of new technologies but also social networking trends.  Shirky’s book mentions several examples of the flash mob since 2003.  In Singapore in July 2006, about 30 people turned up at a central subway station dressed in brown in silent support for Singaporean blogger who goes by the moniker of Mr Brown, whose weekly newspaper column had been suspended after the government criticized his satire on high living costs.

Methinks, however, that the impact of the digital age on politics will be different in Singapore.  Our political system diverges from the US in many ways; for example, our political parties to not raise funds from voters in the same way that US presidential campaigns do.  Nonetheless, I believe that the online revolution will change Singapore political landscape.  More on this later.