Singapore's ability to survive in the future ahead will have to depend on innovations and solutions for a sustainable world. Such concept will not only be for advanced industrialised nations, but will also apply for developing nations as well.
How Imagination and Web 2.0 might change the Sociopolitical landscape of Singapore
We will soon be celebrating the 43rd year of our nationʼs founding, yet despite the four
decades and three years of independence, we still have no true sense of direction or
identity for the future of our country. In these testing times, we have this sense of crises
that has become more apparent than ever.
Most of us would know the many crises that afﬂict us as a country. We are now facing the
fact that food and energy may no longer be cheap, and as we see our costs of living going
up, we are all worried about future potential food and energy crises. We worry about our
political leadership, about the brain drain that seems to be getting worse year by year, and
we are worried about the rise of India and China, despite the strategy that the government
has to ʻride onʼ their economic rise. Many people have probably have this gut feeling that
when the Chinese and Indian economies mature, Singapore might probably be irrelevant,
or even disappearing under rising sea levels due to climate change.
All of these worries are all relevant, some more urgent than others. For now, the more
current problems might be energy and food issues, as they affect the lives of ordinary
people, and especially the middle-class and the less privileged group of people who ﬁnd it
difﬁcult to keep themselves aﬂoat, who donʼt see the bright future that the government is
constantly trying to portray. For those more privileged, they are considering back-up plans
by going abroad, to America and Europe, where their talents might be more highly valued
than here. When Singapore becomes an unattractive place to live and work, they simply
pack their bags and leave, conﬁdent in the belief that they will become highly sought in
their adopted homelands.
It is difﬁcult not to say something cliched in times such as these, but Singapore is
approaching a crossroad in its route of progress. The decisions that will be made in the
coming years, possibly up to 2012, will become extremely important and pivotal to the
future of our country for the next 5 decades or so. Of course, all these are but
speculations, but given the degree of foresight that our leaders have, it would be quite
certain that they would have given thought to all these already.
Given all these negativities, it might be easy to just say, ʻgive upʼ and become resigned to
the state of things as they stand. That our government and form of administration might be
out of touch with the needs and aspirations of the common people, while the more
privileged classes might no longer ﬁnd any point in staying in Singapore. The result will be
a decaying Singapore that will teeter towards social chaos and eventual collapse.
Some people will say that Singapore as a nation-state is simply a construct, and simply
donʼt feel anything towards a name. Sure, in some future world of peace and freedom,
nation-state might be irrelevant, and all that remains will simply be regional administrations
brought under control by some world government. Until that day comes, nation-states will
still matter in changing and directing the larger picture of human history, and from this, the
hope is that Singapore might somehow contribute to that greater picture of that human
Singapore will be able to avoid negative futures, and become a global city by embracing
and infusing imagination into her people and creating opportunities within to realise their
imagination and fulﬁlling those opportunities. The only way to do so is to allow every
Singaporean to become active agents in the process of nation-building. By being allowed
access to actively shape the governance and the social environment, they become
stakeholders in the development and future of Singapore, and hence would want to create
a better place for themselves and for future generations. For this to happen, a different
form of governance is required, a form of governance that believes in the inherent
goodness of the people to come up with good ideas, and the willingness to pursue and
develop these ideas. For such a transformation to be realised, it would have to nationwide
project, not just for the privileged few, but across the entire spectrum of Singapore society.
This means that transformation of our education system, the realignment of our economy,
and the adjustment of certain beliefs.
The form of Transformation
Having talked so much about the potential transformation of our nation, the obvious
question is then, ʻHow do we begin?ʼ. This essay/article does not claim to have the
antidote, nor do we authors claim full authority regarding this issue, but having exposed to
the concepts of social and technological innovation, we do believe that there are certain
trends and ideas that can be modiﬁed and utilised to transform the culture of innovation
into something more powerful in Singapore, thereby enabling Singapore to maintain the
edge that it has as being the foremost global city in Southeast Asia, if not the whole of
We would like to start off by introducing the concepts of Web 2.0, from which we draw
most of our ideas from. Web 2.0 has many interpretations, but the interpretation that is
most relevant is the fact that Web 2.0 is about the social. By that we mean that Web 2.0 is
about the inherent social relationships that people have, and to translate these
relationships into more tangible form on the Web. This is most profoundly seen in social
networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Friendster. In these websites,
users are translating their real-world relationships into the Web. Through sharing of photos
and messages, people are maintaining their relationships and making new ones, all
through the web. At the same time, communities are being created by people with similar
preferences, and contributing their own content through blogs and podcasts. Moving up
another level, there are projects like Wikipedia, with people coming together to collaborate
on a common project, thereby creating another form of community of sorts. This entire
aggregation of communities and relationships, and the technological standards that are
being created to support these forms of collaboration and communication, is known
collectively as Web 2.0.
The principles of Web 2.0 might be used to create opportunities for Singaporeans to step
forward and give suggestions how the environment in the local neighbourhood might be
improved. Simple voting mechanisms might be in place for citizens to decided between
suggestions, as how stories on news aggregation websites are decided.
Going further, such opportunities might be expanded through citizen journalism, allowing
citizens the freedom to note items and events of interest, and then allowing the community
of users (which would be Singaporean), to decide among the importance and relevance of
the stories.This is about empowering every Singaporean to become stakeholders, knowing
that their stories matter to other Singaporeans.
All of these is ultimately creating the participatory framework to allow Singaporeans to
participate in the process of nation-building, by becoming observers of their own personal
history, and how it might affect or reﬂect the broader nature of the direction of society. It is
about the transformation that must occur in the way we think about the ﬂow of direction,
away from a centralised, top-down form of information distribution, to a more
decentralised, bottom-up forms of information transmission. Among the assumptions that
are inherent in these bottom-up forms of information ﬂows is that people are able to judge
for themselves what are potentially important and relevant to the rest of the Singapore
community, and that there is a sort of wisdom that arises from this community in its
selection of relevant news and information.
It is hoped that this change in the way that we process news might somehow trigger
changes in the way we deal with our politics and the way society as a whole processes
So far, we have only dealt with the issue of how Singapore might transform its
sociopolitical processes to handle challenges of the future. This is only a part of the issues
that we will be dealing in the future to come.
As mentioned right from the start, there are the ongoing food and energy crisis, simply
because of the scarcity of energy resources, and due to the threat of climate change and
the implications towards food security. The overarching issue of climate change is not
simply an issue of global warming and resulting temperature, rather the real issue is due to
the current rate of unsustainable development, including the proﬂigate use of energy
With respect to this issue, the suggestion is a rethinking of our manufacturing and industry,
using the concept of Cradle to Cradle (c) as well as the adoption of renewable energy
resources and measures for energy conservation. By Cradle to Cradle, we mean the
concept of designing products with environmentally-friendly materials that poses no threat
to both biology and the environment, and making sure that the materials in the product can
be broken down and reused again to make another entirely new product.
As regards to food security, the concept of vertical food farms should be seriously
considered to provide buffer for Singaporeʼs food security in any event of disruptions, be it
through climate change or conﬂict.
The overall effect of all of these sustainable energy initiatives is not simply about the
adoption of new technologies. Parallel developments should also be made in urban
planning in issues such as mass transit and green transport systems. Urban planners
should not be thinking about ways to reduce road usage by cars - they should be thinking
about how to make cars simply unnecessary in Singapore, or reducing car usage to nearly
non-existent. In such times of crises, incremental paths of thinking simply become
unsuitable to due with systemic issues. What will be required are wholly disruptive forms of
thinking as well.
The aim of all of these environment and sustainable development initiatives is not simply
for the beneﬁt of Singaporeans and residents of Singapore. The aim also includes the
promotion of Singapore as a model for other cities to model themselves after, thereby
lifting the imagery of Singapore as not merely a regional city of stature, but a global city,
not just in terms of the material prosperity that will exist, but in terms of the culture and the
spirit of imagination of her peoples, a hub where global ideas mix and intermingle with one
another, creating global solutions for a sustainable world.
The two main ideas thus presented all focus ultimately on one thing: the power and
capacity of imagination in transforming Singapore. It is this last aspect that the focus of this
article/essay will now turn to, as we begin to explore how imagination will be nurtured and
inculcated in our nation, through education.
First and foremost, education is something that we cannot overemphasize. Education will
be the means through which all of these ideas will be sustained through the population
and through generations, in order for these ideas to last beyond the initial founding years.
We expect that technology will continue its current exponential growth, and these will
deﬁnitely yield exciting possibilities for both the transmission and the conception of
Imagination among future students and the future population at large. We believe that
education should continually be enhanced through the incorporation of technology, at the
same time, with the continual improvement in pedagogy to make fullest use of these
technologies. This is not to say that education will become technology-centred, rather,
education will continue to be student-centred, with technology and pedagogy as the
means to do so. This does not mean that teachers are not required either, rather teachers
will become more important as questions of the responsible use of powerful forms of
technology become ever more important.
As technology becomes cheaper and more sophisticated, we expect the trend for greater
information democratisation to continue. Which is to say, that the means for access and
creation of information will become more and more widely available, and the main means
of this trend will continue to come from the ongoing information revolution on the Web.
(Kevin Kellyʼs presentation on the One Machine - the Web). As nanotechnology and
fabrication becomes mature, commercialised and widely available, we expect that
eventually, more people will be able to obtain the means of industrial production for
themselves. That world will be the world of ʻtechnology for the market of oneʼ (Neil
Gershenfeldʼs presentation...). The question then becomes, will Singapore be the leader or
follower in these and other potential forms of disruptive technologies? What and how will
we look for potentially disruptive developments, look out, and adapt to them as they come?
To handle this eventuality, we would like to propose the development of Innovation Labs,
where people with ideas will be able to come together to communicate with the foremost
technological companies in the world, where money will be poured in to fund promising
areas of research, to create forms of technology that will change the way people live, work
and play. What Singapore needs to do, nurture and sustain, is a forum or fora, where
people with ideas can be matched to people with the funds and the technology to realise
these dreams. We believe that Singaporeʼs current position in the ﬁnancial world makes it
an excellent place for these possibilities to begin and even take off.
Once again, we, the authors, do not claim to be the authority in these suggestions to
improve Singaporeʼs future. What we have tried to do here is to present the case that for
Singapore to become prosperous, a transformation from the way society, politics and
education currently function is necessary, and vital for the survival for the future. There are
many other issues that we have not touched on, such as the issue of National Service,
and handling the issue of the aging population, but like we said, we do not claim to solve
every issue that Singapore will face. We hope that our suggestions will stimulate interest in
Singaporeʼs future, and generate other better suggestions, and ultimately, implementations
to resolve threats to Singaporeʼs survival.