Gayle Goh. It's a little strange to me how a simple letter of exchange between two people can generate such huge interest. The exchange between Gayle and a govt official has sparked a lot of talk - especially on the internet. It is both refreshing - and worrisome.
It is refreshing because it is heartening to see someone as young as Gayle (who is 17) go head to head - as it were - with such a senior member of the establishment. However, she is not the only one. I've been attending some public forums and what I have seen are young students engaging issues with senior people in govt departments. The recent NUSS Forum at Guild House is one example. Two students from Raffles took PAP MP-elect Denise Phua to task for some the remarks she made. It was quite an insight to be witness to the sharpness of the students in putting their points and questions across. (However, I do think they were a little emotional at times - the students, that is.)
So, what is so worrisome about students or young people becoming more engaged in national issues? It is worrisome for a few reasons:
1. The fact that Gayle has generated so much attention shows that political discourse among the young has been non-existent before despite what the govt has been saying and trying to do which is to engage the young. If it were not, Gayle would not be so 'special', right? So, the question is: What exactly has the govt been doing?
2. Another worry is that these students and young people might be too focussed on the theorical side of issues. How many of them are or have plans to be active in community work, for example? They must realise that blogging and presenting their views are all well and fine. Indeed, it is important. But at the end of the day, one's view must be tampered by one's own personal experiences and one's personal contact with the people who are affected by policies. I am therefore hopeful that bloggers like Gayle will take their activism beyond cyberspace and consider their pariticipation in the 'real' world. I am sure they will write with much more credibility, depth and conviction.
3. There is a tendency also to be focussing on the 'demerits' of govt policies at the risk of ignoring altogether the merits. After all, who wants to read about how good the govt is, right? We already get that 24/7 from the local media.
Although these are worries and concerns on my part, the wonderful advantage that these young bloggers have is time. They are young, eager, creative and outspoken. Not to mention they are also intelligent and incisive.
How they progress from cyber world into the real world will depend on how the govt 'manages' (to use Denise Phua's word) such a proliferation of anti-PAP blogs or at least blogs critical of the PAP govt.
I would urge the authorities not to have knee jerk reactions and - again - use a sledgehammer to kill a fly. Allow this cocoon to develop and turn into a beautiful butterfly, this is what I think the govt should do. The reason is simple: Technology cannot be stopped and in the years to come, technological advances will avail us to even more influential tools online.
To try and control this with outdated mechanisms will and can only backfire.
So, please let bloggers like Gayle to continue to voice out their opinions. The govt may want to engage the young through official, proper, neatly-organised forums or channels. The question is however : "Do young people want to be engaged in such a fashion?"
I hope not.
I prefer that opinion be allowed to be expressed in any way (except illegal ones) which the individual feels is most appropriate.
PM Lee has called for the young to 'speak up'. Well, they are! Is the govt ready to hear their views? Is the govt ready to accept that not all of them will agree with the govt's policies or stance? Is the govt ready to accept robust criticisms?
We shall know the answer once the report on the influence of the internet during GE 2006 is out.
I hope we will not be taking another two-steps back - especially when the young themselves have taken one step forward.