Sunday, February 11, 2007

So Much to Do, So Little Time to Do it In

It's now a mere matter of days before I get onto a plane and fly off to Germany where I will be spending the Chinese New Year season in Germany and so the last few days have been all about trying to chat up my coalition partners and finding out what useful things I can do for them before I fly off and remain blissfuly away from phone call reach.

There's quite alot to be said about mobile phones in the sense that they help you stay in touch with people. But then again there's also alot to be said about not being reachable all the time. I love technology but there are times when I think our lives have become so dependent on technology that we forget how to live without it and become less ingenious in the way we approach things. I remember walking round London with a Singaporean friend of mine who pointed out that he enjoyed looking at all the elaborate carvings on the old buildings because he often wondered how people managed to get to the top of the building and do those carvings without the tools that we have today.

And he's right. How did people back then do all the things they did without half the tools that we have today? If there is a downside to the technology revolution, its the fact that we are unable to do things with our brains. I always look to the Indian IT revolution as an example of how not having things makes people work smarter. Indian programmers have grown-up using primative equipment and yet, somehow they've managed to solve some of the more complex IT problems that we face today. Cuba is another example. Somehow, this island, which has faced riddiculous US Sanctions for forty over years and is dennied the most basic forms of equipment and yet, the island exports medical expertise.

I am not advocating the abolition of technology. I make my living due to technology. Thanks to the Internet, I've spent the better half of a year and a half reporting on events in the region and beyond from the comfort of my bedroom. I'm not the only writer who does that. Bloomberg Columnist Andy Mukherjee once told a group of NTU Journalism students that the secret to his columns was called "Google" and "Curiosity." Alot of things that used to be time consuming in this business are no longer so.

However, we should not forget how to live without technology. We may not always have its benefits. This has been particularly true when it comes to fighting wars. The USA and Israel, two of the most technologically advanced armies in the world have been stuck in Iraq and Lebanon against a bunch of lightly armed but very dedicated people. But we need not get too far to talk about the limits of technology. Just look at the Balineese woodcarvers with their hands. To date, I've yet to meet a Singaporeans with that type of skill. It's not that Singaporeans are less intelligent. I think its because our society has reached a stage where using your hands has become somewhat less valueable and as such people with those skills don't let them shine.

It's a pitty! Society needs all kinds of people. Whatever skill we train people in these days, we really should do it in such a way where they learn how to do it with the technology and without the technology - it would provide workers of the future with a fuller appreciation of the skill that they have.

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