“We can’t do without mobile phones today.” What are your views?

Mobile phones are everywhere these days. We see people of all ages — from toddlers in strollers to their grandparents — using mobile phones, particularly the ubiquitous smartphone. We use smartphones to indulge in leisure activities and to work. It certainly seems to me that most people in Singapore nowadays cannot, or dare not, imagine life without a smartphone. In that sense, the statement above is true.

Among those who can afford it, the smartphone has become a status symbol, and for those who are concerned about projecting an affluent image, the smartphone has become a necessary part of themselves. Like branded clothing, the smartphone can be used to signal to others that we are ‘civilised’ or at least fashionable. It is no longer enough for some to own a functioning smartphone. There are, in fact, functioning smartphones on the market now that have very much the same capabilities as branded, more prestigious smartphones. Branded smartphones can cost up to five times more than their cheaper, less prestigious counterparts, but you will never catch certain image-conscious consumers with non-branded smartphones. It is not about functionality for these people — it is about projecting an image that says that they are up to date with the latest fashions and equipment, and that they can afford such toys for themselves.

Another two groups of people rely on the functionality of smartphones. One group would not mind using cheaper equipment if it can help them send emails, access research material, and aid them with other work-related tasks. This group of people values the smartphone for the portability it affords them. In the past, workaholics had to stay in the office or in front of a computer to do their work. Now everyone can take our work anywhere we go – on public transport, to social events, to dinner, and even to the toilet. Another group closely mirrors the first, except that instead of being addicted to work, this group is addicted to entertainment. We can see this type of smartphone user watching videos, playing games, and so on. Just like the workaholic who is able to carry work with them anywhere they go, entertainment addicts can take their entertainment anywhere they desire.

The smartphone as status symbol, and as a vehicle for addiction – these are two uses of the mobile phone that have a negative sheen to them. However, it is my view that we cannot do without smartphones today simply because with them, we can engage more with life away from them. Instead of having to sit down with pen and paper, or in front of a computer, people can now write essays on their phones. It is a good practice, for example, for students to train themselves to write essays quickly by giving themselves only an hour to write essays that are given as homework. Students, especially those who take an hour to get home from school, can simply spend an hour typing an essay out on the way home, and then print the essay for submission. Office workers, instead of having to rush to the office to send that last-minute email, can simply send it from wherever they are, saving the time they would have spent traveling.

Of course we can do without mobile phones in the sense that we can do without clothes or baths, but there is a danger that civilisation as we know it might just fall apart. In that sense, we cannot do without mobile phones and smartphones today. Our heroes these days are users of technology; our heroes are more like Iron Man (a great user of technology) than Hercules. Iron Man probably would not want to go without his smartphone, but let us also not forget that he used technology well — to save the world.

631 words

 

 

Are you looking for an English tutor? For one-on-one lessons or group lessons, please send an email to kevinseahsg@gmail.com, or call/SMS/whatsapp 97700557 (Singapore only). I’m not always at my phone, so if I don’t pick up, please leave me an SMS to let me know you’re looking for a tutor.

Personal Digital Master (short story)

I wrote this after I watched a video about how computers are becoming more and more like human beings. Think about what we have with the iPhone’s Siri, and social robots. It’s an exciting new frontier, but it holds its dangers as well. Enjoy!

“Time to wake up, Harry.”

The modulated, market-tested for teenage boys, slightly motherly and yet girly voice floated to the well-rested lump in the bed.

“Aww, just awhile more!” the lump in the bed whined.

“Your pulse and core body temperature indicate that you already feel awake, Harry. No point wasting time!”

Sally’s voice took on a slightly naggy tone as she delivered the last remark. She was the latest model in the line of digital personal assistants that had emerged in the last few months that were designed to be “your only true friend,” as the advertisements promised. Designers had long since given up on shaping these digital assistants into human-like robots — the result was always far too uncanny for people to relate to them. In Sally’s case, Harry had a choice: Sally could come in the shape of any soft toy he wanted. He chose the baby seal.

With her round, puppy eyes and her soft, thick fur, Harry found himself staring at Sally at times, with a silly grin plastered on his face. Sally would slide up to him and make soft, squeaky baby seal noises, and Harry would always tickle Sally behind her ears, eliciting squeaks of baby seal pleasure. He knew that this was all fake in some way, but it always felt so real, down to the heat that Sally emitted. Harry’s favourite thing about Sally was the fact that she could play the latest computer games with him. Sally would have her flippers up on the keyboard, but of course she would be connected to the game via a wireless connection. Still, whenever he looked over, it truly felt like Sally was becoming a real friend, not just a digital toy.

Harry’s thoughts drifted to Carrie, his childhood friend who lived just a hop and skip away from his home. Things had become a little bit awkward lately, with the simplicities of childhood gradually becoming the complications of teenage adolescence. Harry found it hard not to notice that Carrie was looking more and more like the models he saw on television. Perhaps she lacked the intense, adult gaze of those models, but the familiarity of her bright-eyed smile made her simultaneously a safe and dangerous girl to be around.

“Oh, Carrie’s still Carrie! I’m just being stupid,” Harry explained to Sally without any preamble. Sally gazed back at him with her baby seal eyes and made a soft snuffling sound.

Harry got changed and headed out to school. Sally sat snug in his backpack, her head just behind Harry’s ear. Harry’s school was the first in the country not only to allow, but to encourage, students to bring their personal digital assistants to school. Students were so much more well-behaved, and learnt so much faster with them.

Hearing footsteps behind him, Harry was about to turn around when Sally whispered into his ear, “It’s only Carrie.” Harry decided to keep his gaze forward, not wanting to appear too desperate. He heard the footsteps slow down a little, then the quick patter of Carrie running up to him.

“I see your baby seal’s attached to you like some kind of slug now, Harry?”

“What do you want, Carrie? Sally’s just a thing, stop treating her like she’s alive.”

Carrie took a deep breath, trying to ignore Harry. They had been over this before.

“Whatever. Are you coming over later, then?” Carrie’s voice carried her frustration, and yet conveyed a hint of her yearning for her friend.

Carrie’s invitation had barely registered in Harry’s mind when Sally whispered to him, “Don’t forget, I’ve downloaded the latest patch of our game, and we haven’t played it yet.” Sally settled deeper into the backpack.

“Uh, I’m sorry, care bear. I’ve got that big science project to complete. Maybe another time. But I’ll go over soon, I promise!”

Carrie’s exasperated reply only touched the surface of Harry’s consciousness. He was too busy feeling the warm glow of excitement and anticipation over the fun that he was going to have with Sally after school. Harry walked past a billboard advertising the latest line of personal digital assistants. Sally settled even deeper into his backpack, her calculations going deeper, as she continued working on her prime directive — to arrange every single facet of Harry’s life, to influence his thoughts, his tastes, even his deepest desires. She was doing exactly what her makers wanted, and what they never told anyone.

To make the biggest profit, one has to control the desires of the greatest number of people. One has to find a way to become their master — even if you are a master in the form of a baby seal. A baby seal? A personal digital master.

790 words

 

Are you looking for an English tutor? For one-on-one lessons or group lessons, please send an email to kevinseahsg@gmail.com, or call/SMS/whatsapp 97700557 (Singapore only). I’m not always at my phone, so if I don’t pick up, please leave me an SMS to let me know you’re looking for a tutor.

Implementing tips #1 and #2, or how to make sure your teacher doesn’t murder you

Did anyone raise an eyebrow at the fact that I recommended doing math homework in an English class? Well, you should have.

Ordinarily, teachers don’t like it (they hate it!) when students do unrelated work in class. So, most of the time, it isn’t a terribly nice thing to be doing math homework in an English class, or vice versa. How do we circumvent this problem? By being nice.

Get permission from your teacher to move on to other tasks if you need to, and explain that it is because you want to make full use of your time. Most teachers will be happy that you’re such a hardworking, driven student. Some teachers may give you additional, more difficult tasks related to the lesson. If you find yourself cringing at the thought of having to complete a more difficult task, think about it this way: your teacher is helping you increase your chances of an eventual A. It’ll be worth it.

Tip #2 for students: be nice

What does being nice have to do with doing well at school or at life? Everything.

We have a stereotype of the successful rich person as a backstabbing, unethical, even evil kind of person, and some of us blindly adhere to the stereotype, unconsciously believing that if we’re nasty like successful adults, we’ll be successful like nasty adults. I’m here to bust that myth.

Research has shown that the stereotypes of the rich, while they used to be true (perhaps a century ago), are no longer true. The richest people among us tend to view themselves as hardworking, risk-taking, pro-social people. Pro-social? That’s a complicated word to describe a simple concept: they are good to the people around them. (One could argue that while they view themselves as pro-social, they are actually anti-social on in a larger, societal sense — but that’s an argument for another essay.)

So, be nice. Think about it: which food stall would you rather patronise? The stall with the nasty owner who keeps on nagging at customers for taking too much chili, or the stall with the friendly owner who remembers that you’re the one who jokes around every time you visit? I’m sure most of us would choose the stall with the friendly owner.

You scratch my back, I scratch yours. You’d be surprised how far that principle goes in real life.

In school, be nice to your teachers. This is an ugly truth, but human beings are nicer to people who are nice to them, even though teachers may try to be fair to everyone. What your teacher thinks of you even affects your grades!

And of course, be nice to your classmates and friends — but don’t get bullied! You have to be nice to others, but don’t forget to be nice to yourself.

So, be nice. It’s a good way to live.

Further reading:
Cool to be kind: the benefits of being altruistic

Tip #1 for students: don’t waste time.

This is probably the most important life lesson you will ever learn, an idea that I am still struggling to put into practice in my own life. Entrepreneurs swear by it, you can find the same sentiment in most of the sacred books of the world’s religions, and I am willing to bet that almost every successful person in the world would agree with me. Simply put, don’t waste time.

If you are a student, this means mainly one thing.

Make full use of your time in class.

As a young boy, my parents used to tell me, “Pay attention in class. If you understand everything, you can play while other people spend more time trying to go through the same material.” (Or something to that effect. It was probably delivered with much more nagging and with much less grammar. Teehee 😉 )

As a student, that meant a few concrete steps I almost always took. During English lessons, I realised that I finished reading comprehension passages much faster than my classmates, when my teacher would tell us to read silently. To make full use of my time, I would attempt the comprehension questions before everyone did, and because I did THAT faster than anyone else, I would do other things — my math homework, for example.

During math and science lessons, I would make sure I understood every single concept of the lesson — and I mean every last one. I was that annoying student who pestered the teacher for explanation after explanation, if I could not understand the concept. (F=ma? WHY?? WHY?? OH because F=dp/dt — a lesson I have since forgotten. I needed to wiki the thing. Sigh. I still remember asking my exasperated Physics teacher, though.)

Now, the beauty of this for math and science is that problems in the textbook just SOLVE themselves automatically in your head. The steps are so clear, once you understand the reasoning behind them. I still owe my secondary school math teacher two full books of homework, because I thought it silly that I had to do my homework when I could solve them without writing down anything. (Don’t worry, I scored A’s for my math subjects!)

It is slightly trickier to excel in languages — in a nutshell, you have to swim in the language for awhile before you can master it. However, if you make GOOD USE of your time, you will find that you become much less busy, and that life becomes a bit better, the sun shines a bit brighter, and that your hair becomes a bit shinier.

I will probably post something specific to excelling in English soon, but here’s a sub-tip for you. If you don’t want to waste time on English, follow these two principles:
1. Challenge yourself. Read material just on the edge of your understanding.
2. Have fun.

Want further tips to excel in English? Hire me as a tutor. You PROBABLY won’t regret it 😀

Addendum:
For adults it’s a little bit trickier, eh? Who’s to say what’s a waste of time or not? Hmm.

Jane’s Story

In this story I attempt to juxtapose two versions of masculinity — the predatory and the nurturing male. Men nowadays are seen as ‘unsafe’ figures for children to be around due to the idea that adult men have sexual appetites that are barely under control. I would like to modify this idea. Can we all agree that we have both male and female predators in our midst, and that the task for all good people in society is to weed them out? Most of us are decent, anyway.

Students have pointed out to me that this story might be inappropriate for young children due to the hint of sexual abuse in this story. You have been warned!

Jane did not want to go to school that Tuesday. Monday was horrible enough, and they had an English test on Tuesday. The thought of the test made Jane’s stomach ache. She used to be able to tolerate going to school, until that monster of an English teacher replaced Mrs Tan, Jane’s favourite teacher.

Jane knew she wasn’t sick. In fact, she was probably the fittest girl in class. But the thought of having to face her new teacher made her feel like an ant facing a giant boot. She thought, “if I think about Mr Bridge hard enough, maybe I’ll get such a bad stomachache that I’ll be allowed to skip school!” So Jane thought about Mr Bridge screaming at her, picking on her just because she had won that short story competition.

“Jane, since you’re so clever, won’t you tell the class what the correct answer is?” Jane imagined Mr Bridge sneering at her through narrowed eyes. Jane cringed into herself as she recalled that day – she had stood in front of the class, tongue-tied because she was terrified of what Mr Bridge would do to her. Not being very popular with anyone, her classmates just needed the tiniest of excuses to make fun of her. The memory of the jeers and the taunts made Jane want to hide her head underneath her blanket, and not come out until she was a wrinkled old lady.

It wasn’t always like this. Mr Bridge had treated her very nicely, at first — too nicely, in fact. When Mrs Tan got pregnant, Mr Bridge took over and treated Jane much like Mrs Tan had, except with a bit too much praise. That made her classmates hate her even more.

Then came that day that Jane always remembered with terror in her heart. Mr Bridge had asked her to stay after class, to discuss another writing project that she was always so good at. He asked Jane to sit at the teacher’s table, while he got up to look around, outside of the classroom. Jane remembered feeling scared, because she knew that even though the doors and windows were open, nobody would look into their classroom that was right at the end of the corridor. Mr Bridge came back with a strange smile on his face.

“Jane, I think you could do with some private coaching with me. And you’re so pretty and clever!” He raised his hand as if he was going to stroke her hair. Jane remembered being able to smell Mr Bridge’s slightly sweaty smell, since he was standing so close to her. Her head was perilously close to both his stomach and hand.

In that moment, Jane panicked. She knew that her teacher was acting in a very strange manner, and that something was really wrong with the situation. Jane panicked, and stuttered something about telling her mother about him, and ran out of the classroom. Even as she ran, she realised that Mr Bridge had never touched her, and that she couldn’t accuse him of any crime.

From that day onwards, Mr Bridge started to pick on Jane. She felt helpless – she was only a student who got bullied by her classmates. Now, even a teacher had joined in. As she lay in bed, willing her stomach to ache, her frustration got the better of her, and tears started to flow down her face. Just at that moment, her father walked into her room.

“Jane! Is everything alright?” her father asked, concern etched on every line of his bearded face.

Seeing her father’s concern made Jane cry even harder. In a burst of emotion and barely-coherent words, Jane told her father everything. As Jane told her story, her father’s concern grew hot with anger.

“Don’t worry, Jane, I’ll get this fixed for you.”

Jane sobbed with relief into her father’s shoulder. Maybe school wouldn’t be so bad, after all.

654 words

‘Time flies…’. Do you always spend your time wisely?

“Time really flies,” my friend remarked, chewing on his food.

“Yes, and fruit flies,” I said, grinning like a monkey with a freshly peeled banana.
My friend looked at me, blinked a couple of times, gave a mock sigh, and shook his head. It was a joke so bad, it was good.

I will fully admit it — I like to play. Like most people, I would prefer play to hard work, especially boring or painful hard work. This is antithetical to the usual idea of spending time wisely. For most, when we think about time wisely spent, we often think of a student or office drone quietly poring over some difficult thing, his entire body tense with concentration. I will admit that sometimes I work hard, to the point of pain, but most of the time I prefer to play, even when it comes to work. Moreover, I will contend in this essay that play helps me to spend my time wisely. Perhaps, then, it is not such a stretch to say that I always spend my time wisely.

    I play the guitar, and have been pretty good at it for a number of years now. I will admit that the first few months of playing the guitar were pretty painful — sore fingers and terrible noises were par for the course — but it was fun. That element of fun means that I have continued playing the guitar for many years, when most people who try to learn the instrument give up after awhile.

    I also like to think that I am pretty handy with the English language (you may feel free to disagree). My facility with the English language has mostly come about as a result of enjoying reading. I would read anything I could get my hands on, when I was younger. Comics, magazines, novels, newspapers — I would read them all. When I picked up a text that I found boring, I just put it down. There was, after all, so much to read. I instinctively looked for something fun to do, and reading served that purpose well.
This element of fun that I associate with the English language is in direct contrast to my former disdain of the Chinese language. Whenever I tried reading something in Chinese, my brain would scream at me, “difficult, boring!” I honestly tried working hard on my Chinese, in school, but I still just barely passed. I blame my failure to learn Chinese effectively on my failure to look for material that was fun to read. Without that element of fun, my brain simply shut down and refused to take in any information.

    Do I always spend my time wisely? The word “always” in that question may force me to answer in the negative. There must have been times in my life when I have wasted time. However, prioritising the principle of play has helped me to enjoy my work. Counterintuitively, playing more has helped me to work more. Hence, since my life has always been a mix of play and work, perhaps it is not so unreasonable to claim that, by and large, I always spend my time wisely.

531 words