Yesterday, I had an interesting chat with Ivan Chew (aka RamblingLibrarian) and Vanessa Tan (aka VanTan), both pretty well-known in their circles and both recently dubbed “gahmen” bloggers by The Straits Times.
I’ve had video iChats with Ivan before, so I knew what he was like. He’s a tall, charismatic bloke who loves sharing his joy of librarianship. I knew Vanessa as a web designer by profession, and she came across as fierce-looking at first, but turned out really witty and animated once you get to know her. Both were astute individuals who had an equally humble nature to them.
From our conversation, I had a stimulating time understanding the Singapore blogosphere, specifically from the “civil servant” perspective. Most of us might think that being civil servants, they have simply signed their allegiance with the government… end of story. Little do we realize that these bloggers are a special breed of people who understand the common folk, and take it upon themselves to do what they can to make our lives better.
There was something magical which brought people like them together… their personal mantra to help make the government more accessible to the Singaporean citizen. I call them the unsung heroes because they champion civil causes within their organizations that go beyond the call of duty or even traditional KPIs (Key Performance Index), a rampant (sometimes irrelevant) measure for corporate success. By quietly using social tools such as blogs and forums, people like Ivan and Van literally bridge the government with their citizens, by giving their own agencies an approachable face for ideas, suggestions or complaints. Beyond that, they see people, not numbers, and as such they can often understand issues from the layman’s perspective.
However, as with most bureaucracies, their jobs can be tough since their efforts can sometimes fall on deaf ears. While many might have grown tired and given up on their ideas, an interesting anecdote involved a particular civil servant who remarked that “change at present was almost impossible, but he was gonna stick around till he’s promoted high enough so he can kick things into high gear”. This kind of attitude is almost un-Singaporean, and I was truly amazed that we actually have such people within the government. This form of selflessness is something I really respect.
There are around ten of these government-related bloggers in Singapore, most of them have blogged out of their own accord while being wary not to publish anything internal to their respective organizations (as bounded under the Official Secrets Act). Next time, I’ll be talking more about the three types of gahmen bloggers I’ve seen so far…
Update: My blog radar has detected several incoming links to this post, the most interesting of which is a discussion of the “civil servant mentality” over at the Singapore Palm User Group (SPUG) forum. That forum’s been around like forever man… I used to be an owner of the Palm III with that detachable keyboard and Kodak Camera add-on!