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  • Writer's pictureThe Convergence

Society needs discerning and rational youths amid political changes

Commentary | Zhou Xizhuang Michael, Editor-in-Chief

It’s hard to be a youth these days.

Take a look at your mobile phone right now and there will be plenty of notifications appearing on the screen. From friends’ text messages to a “sign-up” notification for an event and to your daily news feeds, there are probably many things requiring your attention right now.

Thanks to telecommunications technology and a “fast food culture”, everything – from instant text messages to food delivery and to world news – moves at a dizzying pace.

Each morning, we wake up only to find ourselves lagging in the information chase: be it trying to catch up with our friends’ Instagram story and Facebook posts to keeping pace with world news and President Trump’s overnight tweets.

Our brain is always on the move to download new information into our overloaded storage space. And, sadly, we are never in the lead of this information chase.

Information fatigue

Most of us, including myself, would like to believe that being acquainted with more news and information makes us more intelligent and well informed of our fast-changing world.

For sure, nobody, in the words of a Chinese proverb, wants to be “an ignorant frog in a well.”

Unfortunately, faced with rapid changes at both the global and local level, youths are simply too overwhelmed by too much information and with too little time to process them.

However, here comes the vexed question: have we indeed processed and understood the news and information that we so readily consume each day?

A software usually takes minutes if not hours to be downloaded and processed; it takes days for the food we eat to digest. Be it technology or biology the logic is simple and straightforward: humans of all strides and doing all sorts of work take time to go from “receiving” to “processing” and to “responding”.

But do we give ourselves sufficient time to think about and create the necessary spaces to understand those piles of information that we take in daily, if not hourly?

Unfortunately, faced with rapid changes at both the global and local level, youths are simply too overwhelmed by too much information and with too little time to process them.

As a result, youths often suffer information fatigue – rather than to actively engage and understand news and information we sometimes choose to remain passive and compliant at the receiving end.

In today’s world of rapid changes, the biggest challenge lies not so much in our ability to follow change than to understand and derive meaning out of it.

But for Singaporean youths, shifting domestic circumstances and fast transformations of the society have left many stragglers behind desperately trying to catch up.

In a letter to The Straits Times forum just days before 2019, I wrote that the new year ahead is set to deliver many new possibilities and opportunities.

While this is welcoming news for us, this also means that we can expect to brace more changes across a broader spectrum in 2019. And among others, political changes are set to take centre stage this year.

Many developments had already taken place at the political front. From opposition rallies to the formation of a new political party and growing expectations over 4G leadership, local politics continues to grip the imagination of many and dominate public discourse.

And more are expected in the coming weeks and months – from promises of more political rallies to the Budget and to significant events such as the Bicentennial Celebration.

On the other side, social issues such as education reform, social inequality and healthcare may continue to make a comeback to clutch public minds.

Stay calm, think first

Standing astride new political developments and social undercurrents and faced with an influx of information, the real test for youths lies in our ability to prise open the information box and find truth and relevance.

Even as we are caught up in the thick of political ferment, can we remain calm and rein in our impulses?

Yes, change can be tempting. And it is even more so for youths.

Our curiosity, energy and naïveté often make us a willing and applauding audience for makeshift political performances and theatrics. Political rhetoric and bold propositions can easily arouse us into action.

But a single trickle of information, if not handled with care and prudence, can easily trigger a flood of impulses and rash actions.

Granted, information access is critical to ideas of free speech and public participation in political affairs is vital to the health of democratic development. However, we must not lose sight of the dangers of political intrigues. These have developed a penchant for tapping into the impressionable for mobilisation and political manoeuvres.

The common saying of “think twice before you act” could not have been more suitable in this context.

While it is necessary that we have good and responsible political actors on the stage, the importance of a good and discerning audience weigh in just as much.

Political actors may produce information; but is the audience that eventually makes sense of and disseminates – or reproduces – this information.

At the same time, let us remind ourselves that our actions are not without consequences. More often than not, youths bear the brunt of political consequences when things spin out of control.

One needs to only take a look at the May Fourth and Yellow Umbrella Movements to understand this: a simple act of ours can determine whether the information is degenerated into thoughtless actions or concretised into meaningful political participation.

But I am not suggesting that a dangerous world out there with choppy waves should prevent us from going out to see and understand the world for ourselves.

In fact, tough and challenging times make it more necessary. We got to step out from our information silos and engage directly with important issues of the time.

Rather, what I am really trying to convey is that as we trek the territory of change and navigate the political shoals, we should ensure that there are always two items in our bag pack: a pair of binoculars and a compass.

Binoculars for us to see things clearly for what they really represent and a compass with right coordinates to help us keep track of where we are and how far we have come or may have deviated from the right course.

Be discerning, critical and rational

Next time, when we stand in the crowd listening to an opposition political rally, do we merely echo all that is being emphatically pronounced by political enthusiasts and opposition voices, or, do we choose to listen to these speeches with a discerning ear and pay attention to its substance amid the bustle?

When we observe political developments taking place in our society, are we going to act as passive onlookers that accept indiscriminately things that we see, or, do we choose to participate actively by examining political details with a critical and exacting eye?

And when we try to make sense of a new government decision or policy implemented, are we rash and quick to make premature and poorly executed judgements, or, do we choose to first understand and then respond to it using a rational mind?

Rationality determines the height of our achievements; perspectives set the width of our tolerance and understanding.

With a discerning ear, a critical eye and a rational mind, youths can develop the necessary frameworks to better process and internalise information so as to respond and act in a logical, sensible and coherent fashion.

Rationality determines the height of our achievements; perspectives set the width of our tolerance and understanding.

Situated on the cusp of new political changes and social disruptions, equipping ourselves with the necessary knowledge and thinking tools to better understand the events taking place close to our lives have never been more important.

It is only by reconciling rationality with thinking, equanimity with action and reason with passion that youths can engage these new political and societal changes with greater clarity and confidence.

And only that can allow youths to contribute meaningfully back to the society and participate actively as responsible actors.

Rational and discerning youths are what the society needs to respond to new changes and what parents would like to see, too.


About the Author: Michael is a second-year undergraduate at NUS reading Global Studies. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief of The Convergence and Editor of the Yale Review of International Studies. Besides from his interest in writing, Michael is an active member in student organisations, serving as the Publicity Director of NUSPA and Assistant Secretary of the 40th NUS Students' Union Executive Committee. He is also a student fellow at the NUS Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Centre (CTPCLC). Beyond reading about global affairs and foreign policy, Michael enjoys Chinese calligraphy and tea brewing in his free time.


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