By Aslam Shah
If you are reading this article now, chances are you were born in the 90s. To be born in the 90s is indeed special. Well, perhaps that is what every generation will claim – that their generation was the best. And so, for the sake of this article, I shall claim mine. To be a 90s kid is amazing. One would have seen a swift transition in lifestyle through the advent of technology and world/local culture. As Singapore crossed its 51st birthday, it is a timely period to reflect on how our generation has grown along with the environment of our fast evolving nation and reflect on what we have gained, lost and forgotten.
To think of the daily life in non-airconditioned buses, cassette players, dragon playgrounds and finding animals in PETS textbooks seems foreign to the modern generation and its joys seem inexplainable because you have to ‘’see it to believe it ‘’.
The Physical To The Digital
Remember the feeling when we opened a new album from its packaging with the song lyrics all inside? Remember the figurines and toys we played, their touch and smell? The modern smartphone kids will never understand as games and songs are all in one device. (Aren’t they a little underaged to own a smartphone?) Coming home from school and watching Nickelodeon really meant something if we were lucky enough to have cable TV. And nobody had to go all the way to East Coast to build sandcastles or to astroturf fields to play football because we could do it at our void decks and neighbourhood playgrounds. Catching insects and spiders in cassette players was a recess time activity but children now catch pokemons and hit points in their little annoying gadgets.
So What’s Wrong?
So what is wrong with being heavily connected to the digital world? Spaces are getting smaller in Singapore and there aren’t much spaces available to do activities that the kids from the 90s and before did, are there? A day without WhatsApp and Youtube just seems inconceivable. A recent report by Hashmeta has accounted that over 70% of Singaporeans have a Facebook account with almost half the population also having a Youtube account and using WhatsApp. This is almost double the percentage of the global populace owning each of these accounts. So, what are the implications of this?
To further understand the effects of social media proliferation, one has to understand that its impact can’t be fully quantified via data. Logically, one who spends more time on their smartphone is less engaged with their real life surroundings. The opportunity cost of using your smartphone is the attention you give to your surroundings, which includes your family and friends. Of course, there is the classic argument where smartphone users will claim that they use it to connect with others. But come on, will any of you regard the quality of digital communication to be anywhere near real life communication?
Despite the almost inevitable gradual increase annual in GDP (with the exception of a few ‘bad’ years) and quality of life since independence, our nation has never reached comparable heights in terms of happiness index. Of course, the reliability and strength of various happiness indexes can be questioned, but is any Singaporean confident to say we wouldn’t have been happier if we lived in a another Singapore, a Singapore where ‘’we knew we must be’’, say in the 90s?
The Generation Bias
It’s a harsh reality to accept that the current millennials will claim to the next generation that they lived in a time that was better. Yes, the time where Pokemon Go generated human robots in the streets and texting ‘’K’’ on WhatsApp is offensive. Hard to believe, but it will come true, just as it has in the past. The 90s was indeed an important period to Singapore and the world as it signalled rapid change in terms of what it means to be a Singaporean and how to live in a digital environment. Believe it or not, Facebook is only 12 years old and the first Iphone was launched less than 10 years ago. The 90s saw the end of eating ‘’kacang puteh’’ in cinemas, games in void decks, nationwide football craze in Malaysia Cup, and the last edition of ‘’True Singapore Ghost Stories’’, amongst many other things that are exclusive to only Singaporeans. Unlike today where social media and smartphones are global media that bear little ‘’Singaporean-ness’’. Coming home from school, kids do not look for ice-pops or mamee snacks. To play hopscotch, marbles or pick-up-sticks. To pick up saga seeds at Turf City or sea shells at East Coast. Instead, many will ask to borrow their parents’ phone for Mine Craft or Youtube.
Where Got Time?
Again, we refer to classic counter arguments to the deviation of lifestyle and culture from the 90s, the most popular of which is that there just isn’t enough time. Things get done faster and is more convenient with the smartphone. Also, it is much more convenient to have so many things in one device. It’s just faster to get things ordered, messages sent, get entertained, work done etc. We are saving so much time and trouble.
But what do we need all that additional ‘saved’ hours for? What are they used for? My challenge to you is to try and put your smartphone away just for a day. Make a phone call to communicate. Play something with your friends to get entertained. Tell and listen to stories from one another instead of watching videos. Go out and do something you miss from your childhood, with the people who miss them as well. Give your eyes and ears the hours you reserved for the plastic screens to the surroundings instead. Then perhaps you can experience what we felt in the 90s, something you never knew you had lost. Because the truth is, time did not change. Nothing got shorter. There is no extra time to ‘save’. From the first man to the latest one being born as you read this, from the busiest person to the idlest, everyone has the same number of hours in a day. Hence the beauty of time. It never changed.
But we did.