New Media and Politics

The relationship between politics and the Internet is not a new one. When the Internet first became big, people talked about the new wave of democratization it would bring with it, and it’s true. To a great extent, information has become borderless, giving people knowledge and power to make informed decisions. Online polls have become the rage, not just in politics but just in about everything else.

But what’s been happening lately in the US Presidential elections fight-out, is that new media in the form of MySpace and Youtube have been roped in as presidential election aids, and they have helped to make politics sexy and hip! It’s a win-win situation for both the political candidates and the Internet portals. Youtube has launched its You Choose ’08 voters outreach for the 2008 presidential election, and not to be outdone is MySpace that is introducing an Impact Channel that will contain blog links to the MySpace pages of the presidential candidates. 

These new media channels would be a good way to engage the users of these portals, who may usually form the ‘apathetic youth demographic’, according to a NY Times article. I’m including links to some of the key contenders here. You will be able to see

Hilary Clinton talking about her wish to start conversations with the American public. She mentions that with the help of technology, she would be interacting with the public through live online chats. Rudy Giuliani talks about his proven record in improving the lives of Americans, while Barack Obama shares his vision for the future.

It looks like the US Presidential elections will be exciting not just because of the interesting range of candidates (perhaps a first woman president, or African-American president for the US!!), not just because of the cyberwars that will be played out between portals such as Youtube and MySpace, but the cyberwars that will take place between the candidates and their supporters as well! It will be one exciting fight to watch.

I’d bet all politicians are watching and learning as well.  Who knows, Singapore politics may also go online, and I don’t just mean BG George Yeo’s shared blog. It’s likely that Singaporean youths would be more engaged that way. Who knows, maybe we will have a political arena in Second Life for the next General Elections and the avatars of candidates will be teleporting themselves to the various constituencies to canvass support! Whatever it is, it’s sure to beat watching our MPs doing hip hop during Chingay, or whenever, for that matter. 

Anyway, I’ll now leave you with Bush doing stand-up comedy! Enjoy!

Living my Second Life

It’s been a dizzying first hour living my Second Life. After all that hype about it, I thought I should pop in and take a look. Downloading Second Life was easy enough, but thinking of a name was tough! First, all ‘normal’ first names were taken. Anyway, you are reminded that it’s your second life so you should choose something unique. That name would stay with you all of your second life! Then, you will need to choose a surname from a given list of pretty European-sounding surnames. It makes everyone sound like the Man from Russia or Yugoslavia! Then, you need to select your avatar. Frankly, there are not many to choose from, and they do look kinda weird, but then again, you are supposed to customise your look later on. Then, you need to get yourself oriented with four short tutorials, and just when you thought you could enter the Mainland, you are told to get further oriented in Help Land. You are told that once you leave Help Land, there’s no turning back!! Gulp! That makes the Main Land sound like a scary mess of places and people! I’m reluctant to leave Helpland for now. Still need to get used to manouvering my avatar around without spinning in circles.

I’ve met some pretty strange- sounding avatars …Ferrari Beygnal… (well, like I’m one to talk!) as well as some strange-looking ones … harajuku girl..(again, I’m not one to talk!) who have been speaking to me in strange languages, which goes to show how cosmopolitan the Second Life world is.

So far, I’ve managed to change my appearance a little so that I don’t look so lost all the time. Also, my skinny legs needed some muscles! I’ve also been given one Linden dollar to buy myself a shirt (Yes, one Linden dollar can still go that far, but then again, it’s a strange-looking shirt). I’ve come across other avatars looking pretty lost too. As much as I wish to venture to the MAINLAND, I’m reluctant to leave the peace and quiet of Help Land.

Anyway, I’ve yet to master the art of flying! Maybe tomorrow, I’ll fly to the MAINLAND!

Panel in Singapore to study impact of new media

In my earlier posting, I talked about Singapore’s take on new media. To show how serious Singapore is about new media, the government has set up a panel to look into the impact of new media on society. The panel will look into issues such as how new media affects the young, how people interact in the future, etc. The panel will be headed by the former editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holding’s English and Malay Newspapers Division Cheong Yip Seng. In fact, a look at the members in the panel reveal many to have media background such as editors and journalists of local publications. This goes to show the convergence that many see between traditional and new media.

A virtual Singapore city in Second Life

The Singapore flag is flying high in Second Life. IT enthusiast Mr Alvin Loo paid US$1650 of his own money to buy the land to build the Lion City! He then went on to create and build HDB flats complete with void decks for people ( er, I mean, avatars) to hang out at. There’s even Suntec City! Hm.. imagine speaking Singlish and eating cha kuay teow virtually. Now, that’s something to chew on.

Another thing to think about is that the creators of the virtual world, Second Life, are actually going to set up a real office in Singapore, and no, they are not paying in Linden dollars*! Ironic? Well, it goes to show that no matter where you go in Second Life, there’s no escaping the realities of the First Life!

*Linden dollars is the currency used in Second Life and converts to US dollars at the exchange rate: L$250 to US$1.50.

Singapore’s take on the Internet and New Media

“Nothing to hide” so Govt takes Internet in its stride ” says Dr Vivian Balakhrishnan, Second Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts in Singapore, when addressing the Foreign Correspondents Association this week in Singapore. 

Dr Balakhrishnan does not think  that individual bloggers will be able to make any political impact using new media, especially the odd anonymous political blogger, but also deemed it important to make it clear that “the Government would not hesitate to demolish those who crossed the line”.

I’m not really sure Dr Balakhrishnan is aware of the full power of new media and citizen journalism when he said, “Most blogs have a readership of one — the person who wrote it. It would be futile and unnecessary to chase every single blog. We look at accuracy and we look at impact.” Looking at the current political race in the USA, it’s no secret that  a lot of the campaigning is driven by new media, which goes to show the political prowess of new media.

Anyway, Dr Balakhrishnan is right in saying that the Internet can indeed promote “transparency and openness” as the truth will be out. There’s very little space to hide on the cyberhighway. Sooner or later, someone is bound to catch you and expose whatever secrets you have, of course, especially if you are a politician! And according to Dr Balakhrishnan, “Singapore’s leaders have nothing to hide and are not afraid of the new media” and the Government’s approach towards new media postings is “If it is true, I have to reply. If it is untrue, I have to demolish it. If it is seditious or defamatory, we will go after the person.” Well, old media, new media…looks like it’s the same approach. But what is expected to change is that there will be more use of new media such as blogs and Web chats to engage Singaporeans!


Virtual Tour Guides – Synthravels

I just read about a company, Synthravels, (the first in the world!) that is providing a guide service for online worlds. Hm..first you need real monehy to buy virtual currency in Second Life, now this…What will they think of next?

I guess it makes sense. I mean when you visit a new place, you often read a guide book, or explore an online guide on the place, so why not do the same for a new virtual world! 

Synthravels is the first agency to offer a virtual guide for online worlds such as  “World of Warcraft” and “The Sims Online”.

The customer first registers with the company, picks an online destination, and is then sent an itinerary. The customer has to download a software to tour the virtual worlds!  Then, it’s on to the tour with the guide showing all the hotspots of the online world.

Not bad for parents and other adults who want to know what these games are like and what kind of online worlds their kids are inhabitating most of the time.

Now, if only I can get some time off for some virtual travel!

Online gaming promoting sex and violence

We already know of many online games that promote sex and violence. Characters in games are engaged in gory battles. Not only that, many female characters wear skimpy outfits as they sashay sexily across the screen. 

In today’s The New Paper, there’s an article entitled “It’s worse than porn” that talks about games available online that promote not just sex and violence, but violent sex in the form of rape.

In such games, players take on characters that rape other characters. According to one of the psychologists who was shown one such site, such games are “worse than pornography. These rape games are promoting a criminal activity and glorifying it. The young ones may not understand that they are inflicting pain onto ‘the other party’. These children will grow up with warped values. That’s frightening.”

What’s also frightening is that many young people in S’pore already know of such games and some have even tried these games before. They may not know how to differentiate right from wrong, and may grow up to think that rape is okay, just as porn leads one to think that demeaning women and viewing them as sex objects is okay.

According to the psychologist, ‘in the good old days, you had to reach 21 years of age to get your key to adulthood. Today, a 12-year-old child could be looking at such materials” which means that undesirable values are travelling on the cyberhighway right into your home! “These children don’t have a well-developed conscience to know what is right or wrong,’ said Dr Ang.

Any thing that promotes rape or makes it look okay or normal is sick, and should be stopped. But in today’s Internet age, to talk of banning anything at all is meaningless as we all know how easy it is for undesirable sites to disguise themselves as other sites, or how easy it is for new sites to pop up just when one is shut down.

To talk of having some kind of rating system is also meaningless. Even if the sites indicate a R21 rating, on the Internet, a 14 year-old could always disguise himself as a 21 year old.

Thus, it seems that education is still the key, both at home and at school, and good old-fashioned common sense should prevail, as well as good old conscience. Let’s hope that the young have both.