It starts the moment you board the Singapore Airlines flight and ends when you leave to get back to ordinary life. Within the confines of Flight SQ 871 and its home base, there are fantastically orchestrated and produced versions of reality (a nationwide mise-en-scene). Escape requires extreme concentration and a harried search for outlets of non-produced, non-managed experiences and phantasms. It was especially fitting that of the twenty-three channels available for uploading one featured The Truman Show, which presages and mirrors almost perfectly the projected illusion of Singapore. Projected illusion, that is, as a dramatic representation experienced as if it were a fully realized world of experience and not a representation. But Singapore, even more than The Truman Show, is a miraculously actualized and synthesized example of virtual life in real time. Singapore is ONE experience and scenario after another of managed representations of what life would be like if produced as a fastidious, hyper-Enlightened, Camusian absurdity, a Sweden-on-Speed collective. And that is exactly the way the Government wants it. It certainly wouldn’t frame it in those terms, but that’s the way my electronic consciousness and probed memes render it. Within the safe confines of my lodgings, whether at Teban Gardens, Pebble Bay or Namly Avenue, I felt that I was also Truman Burbank, locked within a reality not of my own making or within my control.
The media extensions were running full speed ahead from the time we boarded to the time we deplaned. Since it was only a four-hour flight, I had to budget my time wisely if I was to take in the movie, Nintendo game, and documentary on offer on the embedded screen in the seat-back in front of me. I wondered, if this is available to economy class vector bodies, what was available in First Class? It turns out that they actually have VR-like goggles to clamp on, allowing them to receive event-scenes from an in/on-your-face perspective, while I had to take them in at a distance. With so much available, I thought, why not wire yourself into the flying collective and upload as much as is memetically possible–which is exactly what I did. This possibility depends, of course, on your reprogramming capabilities. In every Singaporean’s case, it depends on how much intellectual and rational promise you showed as a primary school student, which then determined which “stream” you entered; that is, whether you were projected as a big-time civil service scholar or the scholar’s tea lady (the servant whose sole occupation is to serve refreshments to company executives). So online/airline streaming audio/video merges perfectly with the educational and sociological streaming experienced at home.
Arriving @home, you find out that by the year 2000, Singapore will offer the world’s first broadband network spanning a nation, or, should we say, a collective that is termed a nation. This network, Singapore ONE, will actually represent the first virtual colonization by citizen-subjects themselves on a nationwide basis. A collective that is willingly and enthusiastically self-colonized. So Singapore charges ahead as the negation nation, in more ways than ONE. One Network for Everybody promises to free up the constraints of the finite landmass, upon which the old Singapore was based, thereby preparing itself for Singapore 21. It will offer opportunities to the stressed-out, no-time-for-leisure Singaporean, the opportunity to come home to his set-top box and release his desires and frustrations into the Singscape, with similarly wired (un)consciousnesses the Net over.
I spoke with someone in charge of attracting content to Singapore ONE who said that an essential element in the success of Singapore ONE is the “always on” concept. Whether he meant the network or the flesh is uncertain, but I know “always on” is certainly a reference to the wetware. Forget the ingested stimulants intended to keep you ever aware, just plug yourself into the collective, the ONE and only, and savor the content and liberation that is yours as a Singaporean. No need to ask the question, “Are you there?”; it is replaced with “Are you on?.” Of course, I’m on because as a Singaporean, I have no choice since my house is wired, as is my elevator (a sign in the elevator warns: “UDD (Urine Detection Device) installed”). In short, this collective, of finely tooled, human-like machine software interfaces–Taylor himself couldn’t have done better–are fully prepared and anxiously engaged in building the world’s first Utopia.
Utopia, or as an Op-Ed piece in the Straits Times, Singapore’s authoritative news source (or is it authoritarian?) phrased it: “How close is Singapore to Utopia?” The tone of the article was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it brought to mind the conversation I had a couple of days earlier with some Singaporeans regarding the status of the island nation. They exclaimed: “We don’t know why you criticize Singapore’s policies so much, because it is a near-perfect society.” I asked what they meant by “perfect.” They said, “Because it works.”
This concept of “working” is truly Singapore’s strong point. By far, most companies are attracted to Singapore because of its “Swiss watch-like movement.” It is in fact a Hyper-Enlightenment, definitely more Western than the West itself. Forget those “Asian Values vs. Western neo-liberalism” debates because the West has met its desiring self and it is Singapore. Perfect rationality and reason rule this cybersphere.
Recently, the Supreme Court (in most collectives, the pinnacle of reason) held an open house for the public and specifically invited the aged and handicapped for a tour. The tour proved to be an eye-opener to one visitor in particular. He said: “I thought the court would have gray walls and harsh fluorescent lights, but I never imagined that it would be warm and cozy.” He said he was also impressed by the soft yellow lighting and the wooden doors in the chamber, which gave it a comfortable and friendly look.
How about the open house reception of a National University of Singapore student who was arrested at a dance club for consuming Ecstasy? (He should have stayed at home and jacked into natural neural stimulants like Singapore ONE.) His case was brought before the court, and he was given a fine of $5,000. Upon appeal by the prosecution, the Chief Justice struck down the prior ruling and sentenced the 19-year-old student to six months in jail. He then pointedly stated that anyone who broke the same law in the future was to receive not less than twelve months in jail, thereby serving notice to all would-be offenders. This came just a week after the main opposition leader, J.B. Jeyaretnam, was told that his defamation suit of $100,000 Singapore dollars would continue as he had not provided a written apology to the offended parties, namely, the Prime Minister and cabinet members.
Regarding the open house, the Chief Justice stated: “This project shows that the courts do not just exist to sentence criminals to jail, we have a heart too.”
If time is smooth and space is striated (as Deleuze has suggested) then Singaporeans believe they are far ahead of the parabolic curve of escape velocity as a result of their ability to assert their self-determination through the government of time and its deterritorializing properties. They claim that the necessity of this project is due to the constraints they face, that of the limited land available for development and the existence of only one resource (human skills and intelligence). What is the consequence of virtuality? To be deterritorialized, or to exist in such a matrix, is to find yourself made “smooth,” no longer in possession of any power over your telematic existence, that is, to the extent that as a Singaporean you were previously able to assert yourself in a certain direction (will to power). It is a vectorization of your intent and will. The One Network for Everybody promises to multiply the number of vectors possible within the current striated environment by making both the environment and related actions smooth. Within smooth politics, the dimension of time takes over the vector properties of the striated; thus, they find themselves strung out along the vast network of presents and presence. As a result, we have the ubiquitous presence of the Other and the negation of the Self. Singapore as Signapore?
But the Other is no one and no-thing: the ONE is built, but no one comes. Those in charge say build it first and they will come, that is, provide content and the users will use it, but Singapore ONE is already in use. Utility and practicality are the mantras of a dead society. To those in charge, cyber-virtuality is merely a taste of the intensely more surreal reality that surrounds them every day. Hyper-surreal reality is the last thing that anybody wants, because they’ve already got it. They’ve got it in the sense that, aside from racing down the broadband track, the administration has always been embedded within every intent and act of its assigned collective. Its efforts at being everywhere at once, both in presence and will are merely magnified through the ONE.
It certainly fits with the idea of 3 million wetware nodes, all digitally coupling with proprietary software and interfacing via set-top boxes. So whether we are Malay, Chinese or Indian, we exist for the purpose of multi-platform processing of networked instructions which rush down the government-sponsored cable-assisted stream of consciousness. End user and OEM are but one and the same human software–what Lee Kuan Yew calls the future (meaning now) Singaporean. The reason given for this wiring and integration is that Singapore’s people are its only asset, so what better way to manage this resource than to wire it all up in a national broadband network for distributive smart discipline (disciplining) through the ONE? The result, in effect, is a virtual condom around a virtual collective, effectively insulated from ex-Singapore codes and transmissions.
By uploading local TV programs, you can see how an altered state of Singapore may project itself. There are shows that feature sordid tales of crime, like the local police tracking down a serial killer on the loose, or gangs gone wrong in the perfect State (of the art). Forget CNN or MSNBC and real-time crime and depravation, watch Singapore TV where we keep our extensions clean by allowing crime to exist only on no-time TV. You know it only exists within the box, because a recent campaign sponsored by the police, features large banners exclaiming “Low Crime doesn’t mean No Crime!.”
“Kia su” is a saying in the Hokkien dialect that every Singaporean knows and lives by. It literally means “afraid to lose.” For Singaporeans, always a practical bunch, “kia-suism” has truly become a national trademark and influences almost all decisions and trends in life. Singaporeans are always preparing for the event that is not explicitly planned for. So “kia su” becomes “ready for the accident.” Accidents are not waiting to happen because they have already occurred, not in the sense of an eternal present, but in the sense that being Singaporean is already an accident. (“We must live in this country. We live in and die in this country. We should really love and respect the rupiah.”) Another form of accident is political catastrophe (Jeyaretnam finding a way out of his politically motivated financial crises and asserting new visions of dispossessed power that speak to possessed Singaporeans). All of which really points to the irony that to cease being an accident is to cause the accident, to let it run its course. This, apparently, is preferable to a self-referential “pure war” waged to usurp the fear and repression of “kia su” itself throughout the Singscape.
How opaque is the “politics” of Singapore? When asked whether there was any deeper agenda to the government’s seemingly benign quest for a more open society, a NUS Political Science professor exclaimed, “Deeper? There is nothing deep about politics in Singapore, it is totally transparent!” This is a facade not without reason; the facade is its own reason. Perfect rationality and reasonableness as the mise-en-scene of the operating code, but all spelled out in VRML so that every Singaporean can fully appreciate and interact in the rational state. Is there any better way to discipline? One is prone to say govern rather than discipline, but again, Singapore is not a polity but a massive fabrication for the production and utility of test sites.
Just like the Singapore ONE content man says: “Singapore is the perfect place for the production of the next killer app.” From a very young age, “Singaporeans” are taught and nurtured to keep their apps and wetware architecture open for constant upgrading and renovations. In Singapore, they are building AI units out of flesh itself. They are leaving aside the study of human consciousness to provide answers to machine consciousness, but have begun with flesh, declaring it to be obsolete. They are working towards artificial flesh and real machines. So program grey matter and code the flesh, then after two generations the “Singapore 2” model is able to govern itself, not according to the code of human ideology (which is certainly fallible), but following the code of technique itself.
Singapore doesn’t have the passionate, dynamic buzz found in other Asian countries but it styles itself as a “heartbeat nation.” What you feel instead is a heartbeat that operates via a pacemaker; a measured tempo to be certain, but a bunkered down, “kia su” heartbeat that measures itself out just waiting for Year X. Year X refers not only to urban planning, but to economic development, international relations, ethnic harmony, in short to the total and complete mission accomplished through the Five Shared Values: Nation, Family, Individual, Consensus, and Harmony (Parliament adopted these values in order to provide a base on which to plan the future and live the present).
All in all, Singapore is a very giddy and exhilarating experience. We are always on the edge of a better tomorrow in the government- sponsored “no-place” of a global hub. Flight SQ 006 back to Taipei did not feature The Truman Show, but a film depicting the “accident of the century,” Titanic. By my estimation, the Titanic, The Truman Show, or Singapore, it’s all the same. It is all but impossible to argue that it doesn’t exist, as there is such a sense of “being there.” Still one must ask, is it really there, or “Am I here?” because I am so close to Utopia.