“Where is the real Singapore today? Am I living in the Matrix?”
Posted by intellisg on May 23, 2007
Perhaps I am being obscure again. But have you ever being assaulted by the sinking feeling you’re a stranger in your own land? Yes, I know it sounds like the “realization” scene from the Sci-Fi movie, “The Matrix.” But please bear with me and allow me to explain.
1.“Something strange is happening. I just can’t put my finger on it!” – Neo, The Matrix
Have you for example passed a Peranakan building only to wonder why it’s suddenly turned into an Italian restaurant? Or why there is so much glass and steel in China town just off Tanjong Pagar? And what happened to the bustling community of street vendors that once plied their trade and wares there? Like me, do you find yourself wondering how it seems everything these days is mindlessly turned into a giant hermetically sealed glass and steel soviet warehouse? Or when you are just walking around aimlessly in a mall – are you are suddenly seized by the realization, “Hey, this is my day off! What am I doing here, shopping? This isn’t supposed to be fun! This is so unreal, really it is! Is it?” Welcome to the surreal and “unreal” Singaporean lifestyle of today, otherwise known as the Matrix. It’s one that compels us all to ask,
“Where is the real Singapore today? Am I living in the matrix?”
Now I am not discounting for one moment my paranoia could be due to my skewered history as a bent individual. Even today it amazes me how I could manufacture great reams of nostalgia for a childhood that was, in truth, averagely miserable – for example, I am one of those who still lament the sacking of the old red brick National Library and when I enter the space age high tech one in Bugis. It just doesn’t feel the same. The books are still there, but there’s something amiss and it leaves a metallic taste at the back of my mouth that I can’t seem to shake off. Have you ever had one of those feelings before?
I get that sort of feeling at least 3 to 4 times a day. Recently, I had drinks with a few of my classmates in Chimes only to realize somewhere between the third or fourth pitcher, I could perhaps have been magically transported to some Al Fresco drink hole in Anywhereville in middle America. All around me there were Ang Moh’s. Yes, I know I should be quite accustomed to them by now. Really I don’t have any excuse. After all I was educated overseas, but nonetheless I found myself gradually swelling with a sense of estrangement and in no time there I was again; a stranger in my own country. Its enough for me to ask again,
“Where is the real Singapore today? Am I living in the matrix?”
Are we fashioning a global city that edges out the familiar at the expense of the alien? I may be vague or even obscure again, but I know somewhere in the pipeline there is a plan to ram up the population to 6.5 million. How does sit with my notion of the real Singapore? Will you or I wake up one day only to find ourselves working, living and playing in a country that we hardly know as the “real” Singapore anymore? But instead resembled some odd caricature of where east and west meets only to end up as Limboville? Again I find myself asking the question,
“Where is the real Singapore today? Am I living in the matrix?”
2. “The matrix is all around us, we just can’t see it, but it’s there Neo…it’s always there….you just need to look for it…..it’s there.” Morpheus – The Matrix.
One clue to answering this disturbing question lies in dwelling deeper into the word, “real.” What does “real” Singapore or for that matter “real” anything really mean? Well if we put everything in Singapore and boil it down. We would probably be left with a few genres of reality like Singlish, Orchard Rd and perhaps even the Merlion who keeps vomiting water. But surely there must be more to this whole notion of the “real” Singapore? Or is this whole debate of being swarmed by the surreal and unreal only a figment of my imagination? Maybe I am just making a big deal out of nothing; and this struggle between artificial and real doesn’t actually exist? After all I shouldn’t be too concern, its just progress isn’t it. There no matrix – Right?
I believe finding the “real” Singapore may actually lay in retracing where we’ve allowed “fake” to supersede our definition of “reality.” That’s to say we need to work backwards to find out how did we actually create the matrix in the first place?
If you think this is a flippant statement dressed up to be more serious than it actually is – I want to assure you again this line of enquiry is jugular! In fact, everywhere we look these days ranging from politics, economics, sociology and technology is redolent with an underlying struggle between real and the unreality of the matrix. It’s a serious question that will ultimately decide whether the future in Singapore will either be dystopia or utopia. The latter is only true if you believe the “facts” that you are typically fed isn’t hyped, spun, polled, statistically manipulated and timed to achieve a desired outcome. Again I may be obscure and vague again, but these days judging from what I read, see and hear what’s constitutes “reality” is frequently closer to the imagination than reality – and that’s disturbing!
3.“But Morpheus, how did it all happen without us knowing about it?” – Neo, the Matrix.
Let me give you an example: consider the word “authentic” which keeps cropping up like a demented Jack-in-the-box in billboards, soap, tin soup etc. The same word that was once used to describe a deeper meaning beyond just “real” is now reduced into a marketing tool word used to sell everything from cup noodle to sugar free green tea. Even this whole idea of “uniquely Singapore,” which if you think really hard about is has as much credibility as a baldy trying to sell hair care products. Now I can go all day throwing out examples, like the “war on terror” (please don’t get me started!) but you get the drift.
From where I am standing everyone these days is getting the latest edition of the “the 3 minute fake to real” software from politicians, business leaders, reporters, subject matter experts, pastors who drive sports cars to even celebrity bloggers. I am reminded we already live in the wired age, where technoconsumerism has not only systematically dumbed down people on staple diet of “less is more” and much of the damage is already inflicted. It has also exacerbated deep spirited “understanding,” by failing to address a host of concerns which constantly vex thinking people by bracketing much of serious discussions concerning race, religion and even politics. That’s what happens when PR-soaked, artificially flavored sound bites are typically passed off as cogent arguments. A whole generation of thinkers are exiled en mass. Or when polls and statistics are regularly used to replace deep spirited substantive debate – and when bloggers write two sentences, throw in a photo, cut and paste to give meaning to what’s happening with planet and people.
The culmination of all these short cuts is not only corrosive to understanding but also serves to merely amplify the “unreal” to suggest it’s for one moment “real” and when it’s done regularly, routinely and repetitively, it’s magically transformed into the truth. I have a word for this, it’s called –propaganda – brain washing – dumbing down!
4. “One day we just woke up to it Neo…no one really knows how the machines assumed total control….not even the oracle…” – Morpheus, the Matrix.
That in a nutshell is how we found ourselves living in the Matrix. By consenting by default to live in the “unreal”, some of you will undoubted protest, “I didn’t say yes! I am still an independent thinker, darkness!” You don’t say now! That’s only true if you didn’t understand the allure of living in the “unreal” or the matrix. For one it offers the allure of convenience and simplicity albeit at the expense of accuracy and content. Now just in case you think no sane person would possibly relegate the last two penalties for the trade off of easy and simple even if it happens to be a lie – how can you possibly explain reader’s digest, tabloid newspapers, soap opera’s, conspiracy theories, cult churches or even the commercial viability Mc Donald’s which typically churns out a healthy profit by serving unhealthy artery clogging and obese inducing food? Could you please explain that?
What most people fail to comprehend is the insidious “law of Valence” working silently and mysteriously in the background. Which simply states:
“If the trade off is between understanding more or less. The vast majority of people would opt for the latter, because they automatically assume “more” leads to more confusion.”
Market researchers have long leveraged on the valence formula that’s why if they want to sell you a car, they use only convenient sound bites. Politicians are into it as well, only they call their sound bites slogans e.g “war on terror.” So are do corporations only they dress up their slogans vision statements. In every case, the whole idea is to convey a message by compressing lenghty explanations into compact sound bite roughly the size of a cyanide pill. Yes folks, never a boring day in the Matrix! Here it’s even possible to discover the secrets of the entire universe by reading the text at the back of a chewing gum wrapper. That in a nutshell is the second stage to how we got comfortable in the matrix – we just stopped thinking!
If you don’t believe me, consider this; why does Stomp recruit celebrity and not intelligent bloggers? That would really only make sense if blogging is a medium that’s comparable to TV. The fact that you reading this (hopefully slowly!) and not watching or listening to it is self explanatory as to why it hardly makes one molecule of common sense!
You see that’s the beauty about the matrix. Nothing ever needs to make sense (are you speed reading? Slow down). It just needs to appear to do so. In unreal land content has nothing to do with building a cachet of discerning readers; neither do they need to consider whether those celebrity bloggers have enough processing power to engage you beyond tying your shoelaces. Everything is systematically reduced to a numbers game i.e 1,000 hits = 1,000 readers. It doesn’t go further to ask: whether those readers are using 2 cells in their gut or their higher cortexes when they are reading. Or even what’s the relative depth of their comprehension. The unreal world elides all these details wholesale and instead promotes the statistical logic, more is better. To accomplish this; articles need to be baby food processed to only 300 – 400 words to take into stock of your attention deficit (are you reading slowly?) which is roughly two index points higher than the average housefly. Cannot be more! Otherwise you will so open minded, your brains will simply spill out! In the matrix, all articles need to be written in and easy open ended way that doesn’t provoke you to think beyond your comfort zone (that incidentally, is where you die a bit at a time) – in short, the whole marketing manifesto of “fake is real” is predicated on one ratio. The necessary lie that makes the matrix real is; it’s capacity to sustain the information exchange by ingratiating and making it seemingly effortless even if it means sacrificing of the truth! Otherwise how else can it promote passivity? Think about it!
5. “You need to take the step Neo……this is where the road ends for me and begins for you!” Morpheus –the Matrix
And this is where I must stop and you must consider whether you want to continue further on – the choice is yours – the journey that is – because this is not an essay where I connect all the dots for you by telling you what is “real” and what’s “fake.” It doesn’t work that way if you are already in the Matrix and don’t even know it. It never did and never will. This is one of those one in a millionth instances when art actually mirrors life – like Neo in the movie, you have to consider doing it all by yourself.
6. “Afraid? Be afraid Neo, be very afraid….I can see no more…” – The Oracle – The Matrix.
But before you begin your journey to discovering the “real” Singapore (are you reading slowly?) – you have to appreciate at a deeper level a new compact has already been made. One where we have agreed to let technology take care of us. Technology or rather the agent of the “unreal” takes its cue from medicine, which, when it cannot cure, seeks to relieve suffering as efficiently as possible. And so we have a society in which the pain of knowledge is only increasing through the disease of ignorance. Is it such a wonder that a large segment of the population prefer to read shorter articles or take comfort in the powerful narcotics of materialism. Even if in the long run all it really does is exacerbate and deepen our sense of estrangement from whatever that is real.
As people grow ever more distracted and mesmerized by the mass culture marketed by the “unreal” world which can only offer reductionism, chelating, leaching and bleaching of states and minds and schools of thoughts into even smaller divisions of nanobites. The stakes rise because a tipping point will occur when the “real” will suddenly be transformed into the “unreal” and vice-versa. And what may I ask will happen to the tradition of precise and expressive language? Who will be the custodians of the “real” if in the onset of the “unreal” imperative results in an age so anxious that the pleasure or deeper meaning of a text becomes difficult if not impossible to sustain? Above all who may I ask will preserve a community of readers and writers, and the way in which members of a community here or elsewhere recognizes that nothing in the world seems as simple as its often painted out to be? Who?
In the distant future of the “unreal” worldscape, when serious reading dwindles to near nothingness, it simply means the word “identity.” As we know it would have reached full circle and it wouldn’t really matter what’s “real” or “fake” any longer – all that remains is the illusion of reality and that tragically would be the truth and nothing but the truth.
[If you have made it all the way here without speed reading, you stand a better than even chance of journeying to the truth and we will see you on the other side. God speed!]
I am darkness. 2007.
“You take the blue pill – the story ends here, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland …… Neo, I don’t know how it will end, all I can tell you for certain how your journey will begin.”
(By darkness – Political/ Social – EP 9992782-2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)
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