|Photo by Suzanne Lee Das|
The Pakistani Spectator • Jun 25th, 2008
Would you please tell us something about you and your site?
I was born to a middle-class family in a small town called Batu Pahat. Began working at age 20 in advertising, became a Creative Director at 23, quit at 27 to become a freelance audiovisual producer and creative consultant, and soon devoted my energies entirely to theatre, music and writing. I was introduced to the Internet at 48 and immediately embraced the delightful possibilities of digital tech. Relocated from Kuala Lumpur to a forest reserve in 1992 to found an alternative community called Magick River. Soon became involved with an Orang Asli (aboriginal) community and environmental issues. Launched the Magick River website. A dam was built in the area in 2002 and the village went on the power grid - but it took another four years to get broadband access. One of the first things I did was to start the Magick River blog in December 2006.
Do you feel that you continue to grow in your writing the longer you write? Why is that important to you?
Like any other craft, writing improves with experience and regular practice. However, mastering the technical aspects of writing is hardly the most important issue. What’s truly meaningful to me is the process of developing clarity of thought - and simplicity and elegance of expression.
I’m wondering what some of your memorable experiences are with blogging?
Soon after I initiated the Magick River blog I realized the importance of building a readership. There were so many new things to learn: getting listed with Technorati and other blog directories, promoting the blog among friends, adding widgets and generally tweaking the blog template so that it would reflect my personality. For the first year I was happy to get approximately 300 hits a day but after the March 8th 2008 elections I began to focus more on Malaysian politics and that boosted traffic to nearly 12,000 hits a day for certain blogposts. That was a real thrill for me - like somebody earning thousands suddenly receiving a cheque for millions!
What do you do in order to keep up your communication with other bloggers?
I make it a point to read other blogposts pinged on Petaling Street (Malaysia’s blog aggregator) and often leave comments here and there. This encourages random visitors to my own blog who then leave comments and this is how the blog network grows. Once in a while there is sufficient resonance to begin emailing other bloggers and befriending them beyond the blogosphere.
What do you think is the most exciting or most innovative use of technology in politics right now?
The phenomenal growth of digital and microchip tech has made notebooks, palmtops, Blackberries, camera and video cellphones commonplace. At any given moment at any given place there will be somebody equipped to record an image or video footage or transmit a text message almost instantly. In effect, this is the era of citizen reporters whose enthusiasm for spreading info and news within overlapping networks makes it impossible for totalitarian control and suppression of information. For the first time since the Athenian experiment in democracy nearly 30 centuries ago, decentralized power is beginning to supersede the outgoing patriarchal, feudal, top-down forms of political power. I relish the fact that I am now able to live far from the madding crowd and yet - with affordable equipment like a laptop and digital videocam - I can become an autonomous multimedia production unit with satellite access to the rest of the planet. The proverbial Voice in the Wilderness can now be heard in the traditional centers of economic and cultural power, regardless of latitude or longitude. From my idyllic village in the Malaysian rainforest, I can broadcast my thoughts to people in London, Paris, New York, Moscow, Beijing, Ulan Bator... and, of course, Rawalpindi!
Do you think that these new technologies are effective in making people more responsive?
Certainly, and increasingly so. In the early days of the Internet, there was a greater divide between Actual and Virtual Reality. People would spend hours at their computers conversing with absent beings - and then take a break and connect with friends “in real life.” However, the line between actual and virtual appears to be blurring as we switch comfortably from chatting face-to-face to facebook chat or an SMS exchange. Indeed, the new digital interconnectivity makes it possible for an enterprising individual to organize a real-time street event using only a social networking tool like facebook.
What do you think sets Your site apart from others?
I go for substance, not style - and generally offer well-crafted blogposts with strong visual appeal. The subject matter I blog about is eclectic and ranges from musical and literary topics to hardcore politics and metaphysics, with a generous dose of humor and whimsicality.
If you could choose one characteristic you have that brought you success in life, what would it be?
My ability to empathize with, understand and love whatever and whoever I encounter. This has the effect of generating an attractive, rather than a repulsive, energy field - which helps in everything one does.
What was the happiest and gloomiest moment of your life?
It would take too much time and effort to scour my memory banks for interesting anecdotes - and in the end such experiences tend to be intensely personal and not something to be discussed out of context.
If you could pick a travel destination, anywhere in the world, with no worries about how it’s paid for - what would your top 3 choices be?
Machu Picchu, Egypt, and Central America.
What is your favorite book and why?
No particular favorite as such but I was profoundly inspired by The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology by José Argüelles (Bear & Co, 1986). The galactic scope of the book’s vision was a great relief to somebody like me who tends to feel claustrophobic when confronting petty and mundane issues.
What’s the first thing you notice about a person (whether you know them or not)?
Their energy field - whether it’s dormant or radiant.
Is there anyone from your past that once told you you couldn’t write?
How can bloggers benefit from blogs financially?
I know bloggers who earn heaps by managing a dozen blogs all targeted at attracting traffic and generating income from advertising. But this isn’t my reason for blogging and my flirtation with Google Adsense has been shortlived. Nevertheless, the friendship and goodwill my blog has earned occasionally translates into financial support from those who have found inspiration from researching my blog archives (there are quite a few who spend as many as 9-12 hours browsing my blog on a single visit!)
Is it true that whoever has a successful blog has an awful lot of time on their hands?
Time is our most precious resource and it’s up to each of us how we utilize it. The majority of humans are still trapped in the old paradigm of trading their time for wages. I happen to be among the privileged who enjoys the freedom to use my time as I please. Since I resigned from my last full-time job in 1977, I have somehow managed to sustain myself and my family fairly comfortably without having to take on tasks that are unpleasant or ethically dubious.
What are your thoughts on corporate blogs and what do you think the biggest advantages and disadvantages are?
I avoid corporate blogs like the plague! Only individuals have something worthwhile to say. Corporations only have an image to sell.
What role can bloggers of the world play to make this world friendlier and less hostile?
When you’ve been blogging for a while you get exposed to a wide spectrum of opinions and temperaments - from the most refined to the coarsest of the coarse. This has the effect of acclimatizing you to shocking rudeness and even the most bizarre and grotesque prejudices. After a few heated exchanges on forums or via blog comments, you learn not to take things too personally - not to get wound up by a bunch of pixels on the screen. I’m sure this greatly helps in making bloggers more accepting and tolerant of different viewpoints. Bloggers learn to insult each other in a playful manner - without wanting to translate the aggro into violent behavior “in real life.” The only way to a peaceful world may be to allow humans to slug it out virtually with their conflicting opinions.
Is there one observation or column or post that has gotten the most powerful reaction from people?
The most vociferous discussion and feedback I ever got with any blogpost was on the burning topic of Malay Supremacy. Blogposts on the Altantuya murder case also tend to attract lots of attention.
What is your perception about Pakistan and its people?
The Pakistani people are beautiful, intelligent and capable - but, unfortunately, the masses appear to have been kept ignorant and easily misled through the exploitation of religious fervor by a succession of power-hungry politicians, mullahs and warlords. Sounds just like America, no?
Have you ever become stunned by the uniqueness of any blogger?
Indeed I have. Raja Petra Kamarudin (popularly known as RPK) happens to be among the best informed when it comes to local politics. His access to the “corridors of power” (by virtue, perhaps, of his being a prince of the Selangor royal household), combined with his rebellious spirit and sharp intellect, makes his political blogposts pure dynamite. That’s why his newsblog, Malaysia Today, occasionally records 1.7 million hits a day. [Unfortunately, this is no longer true... not after 2010 when RPK apparently did a 180-degree turn and began blogging on behalf of the Dark Side!]
What is the most striking difference between a developed country and a developing country?
Bread-and-butter issues tend to be less pronounced in a “developed” country where the majority are sufficiently comfortable to focus their attention on larger and broader ideas, particularly pertaining to questions of ethics and aesthetics. In so-called “developing countries” the emphasis tends to be on making money and building more visible infrastructure - therefore, abstract notions of justice, human rights, civil liberties, and cultural maturity become secondary… at least, until a sizeable educated middle class exists.
What is the future of blogging?
Personally, I’ll keep doing it till it gets boring. Then I’ll stop. Blogging has become such a global phenomenon because it gives the individual a sense of validity and value in a perplexingly complex world where traditional forms of socializing have become almost obsolete (in a congested city like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, for example, it takes so much effort to travel across town just to have coffee with a friend, so the answer is facebook chat and sending each other virtual drinks!)
You have also got a blogging life, how has it directly affected both your personal and professional life?
Once I began blogging the activity seemed to gradually take over most of my waking hours in that even when not actually writing a blogpost, I’m gathering data and thinking of ways to repackage it for my blog. In other words, I am now an extremely mature nerd. But, absent any more stimulating diversion, I’m quite happy to be exactly that. My “professional” life is fluid as I tend to venture into an assortment of activities, ranging from producing low-budget documentaries to giving talks on esoteric subjects and trying to get old manuscripts published.
What are your future plans?
I have never taken the future - or anything else - seriously. One step at a time, I take each day as it comes - and goes. In short, I prefer to live in the NOW. Of course, there are endless “projects” waiting to be actualized - for instance, releasing my musical output digitally (hours of music were recently rescued from analog oblivion) and clearing a space in my study for a digital recording studio. Man does not live on blogs alone.
Any message you want to give to the readers of The Pakistani Spectator?
When your head begins to ache with confusion, just follow your heart - that’s the road to joy and freedom!
[First posted 26 June 2008]