Everybody is a rockstar

is the topic of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

One thing I noticed, though it took a while to find out why I find it disturbing, is how seemingly ordinary people in an ordinary place in an ordinary situation would suddenly perk up upon having a camera thrust in his or her face. You see it everywhere, people just moseying along, bored expression on their faces, and then suddenly somebody takes a camera out and people just switch on and start posing and projecting like mad.

Everybody’s a rockstar nowadays. People that normally would have no claim to fame (or notoriety) would find their faces (and complete range of poses) on the Internet. Being ill informed, unread, or without any semblance of writing skills? Doesn’t stop them from airing their views extensively on Facebook.

Some people believe that this could only be a good thing. The democratization of information, the full utilization of the wisdom of crowds, and the greater participation of the public in the marketplace of ideas. In a particular sense, that would be correct: the Internet does give quicker and more varied information, and more aggressively than the traditional media. Where else would we have found out that Baby James is for Villar? But on the whole, we should be wary of the effect this has on the country.

We have a country composed of 7,100 islands (depending, according to textbooks, whether it’s high tide or low tide *sheeesh!), of different dialects, and varied religions and cultures. Academics talk about the need of finding a unifying idea that binds our peoples so as to encourage the notion of nationhood. If such be true, then a further fragmentation of our culture, whereby individuality is so celebrated to such a degree unprecedented in our history, could only be deleterious to that effort.

The sense of commonality that we had previously, whereby people watch the same channels, listen to the same music, read almost the same newspapers, and rely on the same newscasters, practically no longer exists. Granted, the Internet (and IPod, cable, etc.) all gave us choices that were not there before. But when you look at the benefit that all these new choices give us and place it within the context of a people that still seems to be struggling with finding its national identity, then this fragmentation of our likes and dislikes, of emphasizing everybody’s individuality instead of what binds us together, then this phenomena should be guarded against and even restrained (God knows how). But something has to be done. Add to the fact (although this could be just my imagination), that there seems to be an explosion with regard to the increasing number of gated communities or subdivisions, and of exclusive and guarded high-rise condominiums. Instead of Filipinos getting more and more together, as one national community, we seem to be fragmenting more and more (and within the country at that!). Either through IPods, cable TV, or by our subdivision gates, we seem intent on walling off people away from us.

The only thing we all seem to be doing in common nowadays is supporting Manny Pacquiao when he fights in the ring and professing by the Catholic faith. And even in the latter, a number of Filipinos seem happy to be cafeteria Catholics, choosing only those parts they find convenient. Worse, some automatically side with foreigners and the Western media in attacking the Church and the pope.

Finally, what effect does this instant celebrity (or whatever it is) have on our youth? Without the need to acquire the skills and patience garnered from the constant supervision by one’s superior, the burden of redoing repeatedly a piece of work until it’s properly done, without the need of researching and looking up on and the verification on the credibility of sources, the constant nagging by an elder whether a work has logic and methodical train of thought, how does that affect the development of their character? When all they have to do, by way of example, is copy and paste obscure articles from the internet, Google and Wiki their way through research, then publish their works for the admiration of their peers who wouldn’t know any better because they can’t be bothered anymore to seek better? What’s the point of hard work and a demanding experienced mentor if one can be an instant star on the Internet anyway?

Makes me miss the days when you have guys like Michael Jordan (although there’s still Kobe Bryant). Guys who listen to their coach (even when they don’t like what they’re hearing), guys who became great not because they were creative but because they repeatedly did (without complaining) the simple basic stuff over and over and over again until they got it right. And, most importantly, guys who understand that they are part of a team or institution, with a history and tradition, which are far more important than their individual sense of self, ego, or feelings.