just as well that the Net has not been a big force in politics
here. Consider just how behind the curve we really are:
It's 2001, the Internet tide has come and gone, and the
ruling People's Action Party has just launched its official
website - sans chatrooms, forums, and other interactive
bells and whistles that keep surfers hooked online.
other political parties don't fare any better, with their
no-frills - and in some cases, non-existent - Web offerings
course, those in the know have been clicking on ''indie''
offerings like sintercom.org and thinkcentre.org for alternative
and rather more Web-savvy takes on current political chatter.
eye-candy: citizens of the future are going to
want hard info and fast responses
this close to our first General Election in the Internet
era, the message remains: As far as the political game is
played here, cyberspace is still a good-to-have, not must-win
only good old-fashioned pragmatism at work. After all, the
current majority of voters in the heartland aren't exactly
your Net-head and dotcommer types.
Singaporean voter that matters most right now - probably
in his 30s and 40s - is likely to be too busy paying mortgages
and fretting about the downturn to slug it out with political
how long will that last? One, perhaps two more generations
remain before the bulk of voters are replaced by Singaporeans
who've grown up with the Net, with all its charms and chaff.
talking about today's so-called apathetic youngsters, for
whom the limited - and admittedly skewed - realm of online
interaction is probably the only extensive contact they
have with political discussions.
Netizens are airing their traditional grouses online, with
a whole range of tools - chatrooms, message boards and mass
mails - to spread their views.
you can leave them alone for an election or two, perhaps
bait them with a token, flashy website and let the bread-and-butter
issues speak for themselves through the traditional media.
What's it going to cost you right now? A few hundred disgruntled
votes at best?
again, that's hardly the way to go if we're serious about
building up a discerning, engaged electorate, much less
a ''vibrant cosmopolis''.
one thing, the foreign talent and overseas Singaporeans
we badly need to attract are going to be scrutinising our
every move before they make theirs.
can bet they're surfing our websites with a finetooth comb.
on salon.com, politics.com and any number of quality Web
presences around the world, these cosmopolitans will demand
no less sophistication, substance or transparency from our
system. It's a global competition, remember?
is cheap, but that works both ways.
forget eye-candy, catchy slogans and feel-good ''brochureware''.
citizens of the future - Singaporeans or otherwise - are
going to want hard info and fast responses from a city that
touts itself as a wired modern metropolis.
we'd better deliver at Web speed - as promised.
for entertaining free-for-all voices online - sure, it can
be messy right now, like any underdeveloped platform.
are plenty of ways to make it work.
attention only to those who identify themselves. Weed out
the expletives and moderate flame wars. Or better yet, present
the facts, figures and debates and let others do the talking.
Keep the buzz up. If nothing else, it's an important investment
to help develop the political maturity and vocabulary of
our citizenry in the long term.
alternative is to lose a great opportunity to engage the
Net generation on its own turf.
worse, alienate the growing Net community altogether.
a tiny city-state, we may never need to approach the Net-savviness
of politics in other countries - with their e-mail hustings,
SMS exit polls and online donations.
all, that's not how we play the game here. But who knows
what will happen when the rules change?
the moment, the best way to deal with politics in cyberspace
may be to ignore or sideline it.
sooner or later, the winners will have to learn to play
on its strengths.
someone else will.