Monday, July 02, 2007

Not a day after the release of the iPhone, we are already getting reports that some people's motivation to fork out US$500-$600 for this shiny new piece of gadgetry is to smash it up just to see what's inside. Then they show off what they've learned by publishing their research on the 'net, like the folks at Wired mag did. Granted, 'Wired' probably used a corporate account to finance the operation, but other regular joes paid out-of-pocket too.

Would we S'poreans ever do such a thing? For a few weeks, I even kept the protective plastic layer on my Samsung's glass panel, just to keep pristine (*blush). And I paid a comparative fraction of what a new iPhone would have cost me for it.

See, the difference is that we S'poreans are ultimately end-users. We pay retail for a gadget, we max out its functionality, occasionally we personalize its aesthetic to suit our tastes, and when it gets obsolete we dump it and get the next-gen model. We don't care what goes on inside, we don't care what makes it tick. We don't work on it, we want it to work for us. We get maximum benefit, wring it dry, love it and leave it. There's a word for this kind of behaviour: superficiality.

We do the same thing with people too. Our maids, foreign workers, employer-employee, vendor-customer (both ways). We don't bother with what's going on inside them, what they're thinking about or what motivates them. As long as they work to our specifications, there's no trouble, but as soon as there's friction we're already thinking of a replacement.

For them Americans, they're willing to pay good money to settle their curiosity. They think about how it works, while we're busy wondering, "why doesn't it work?" They're busy tinkering, innovating, and making lots more money when they come up with a new device. We're just happy to buy new stuff. I ask you, between the California blonde and the SPG, who's the real bimbo?

If innovation is to be our future, how do we stop being a nation of sarong-clad bim-bots? It starts with what we teach our kids (ya, ya, I know, groans all-round). Each of our subjects have a certain amount of content, but we've got to deliver the content in such a way that the kids can engage it with curiosity. They gotta want to question the content, take it apart, and see how it works for themselves. We gotta stop emphasizing that simply repeating content back to us is evidence that they know their stuff.

We can start by getting rid of our biggest crutch: the "ten-year series", which gives the faulty impression that the questions will always be the same, hence the answers will always be the same. We should get rid of our reliance on 'model answers' -- t'ain't no such animal. We need to teach the kids to respect every question on its own merit, and help them develop the skills to systematically work out their answers, rather than spew out everything they can remember on the topic, which only shows how well they memorized their stuff but says nothing about their ability to deal with the problem.

We gotta teach them how to relate to people better too, too see people as people and not just another appliance to be used for convenience sake, or whatever. Of course, all easier said than done.

And, no, I'm not gonna start by smashing up my Samsung. Nice try.

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