Punchlines without the jokes

Social media has brought about profound changes to our public lives — for better and for worse.

It has toppled governments, improved efficiency of disaster management, spread news with a reach and speed that was unthinkable just half a decade ago, and even reconnect long-lost friends. It is unfortunate then to see that it has also been used to promote ideas and conclusions without due consideration of the merits of such ideas and conclusions.

Thus every worthy piece of news is reduced to a one-liner, often sarcastic but clear, simplistic interpretation. Social media has thus become a gallery of this-picture-and-therefore-that-conclusion type of content. In many cases these have built up sufficiently to form a court of public opinion. What’s worse is that the conclusions drawn are almost always absolutely detached from any context or careful analysis of the issue at hand. (more…)


The problems with boarding schools

Some people believe that the biggest problem with boarding schools is that students are typically spoon-fed with the materials they need for acing exams. In doing so, they lose the chance to develop the capacity for self-education and never fully learn how to learn — perhaps the most critical skills of all.

Throughout my formal education years, I have spent 5 years in two boarding schools. Much of what I’ll share in this post is derived from my own, first-hand experience. And though two schools out of the countless total will in no way satisfy the condition for statistical validity, I do believe that much of what I experienced was the rule rather than the exception. (more…)


Realising our imperfections

Everyone thinks. It is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced. Yet, the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.

When I took the PHIL105: Critical Thinking course as an elective at the University of Auckland, I almost couldn’t stand how boring it was. To me, much of the issues being discussed seemed to be nitpicky and inconsequential. But there was something that kept me going to those classes, boring as they were, and before long I began to see the virtue of the things being discussed.

We humans are imperfect. Our brains especially, a marvel as it is, is imperfect. Without realising or acknowledging the imperfections in our thinking, we stand almost no chance in defending ourselves against those imperfections. And that, I realised, was what kept me going to all those classes. I was intrigued to learn about these imperfections, especially since they are so central to the core of our very being. Their consequences are very real and far-reaching, yet subtle, which is what makes them so difficult to combat.

Much has been studied in the field of critical thinking, and as far as academic fields go, it has quite matured. To learn about all those imperfections and how to systematically cultivate excellence in thought go far beyond what this post can provide. I would instead briefly describe two of arguably the most widespread imperfections in our thinking: the ad-hominem fallacy and confirmation bias. (more…)


You don’t need a brand new car

A lot of young people, especially graduates fresh off formal education institutions, rush to buy a brand new car after a few months into (or even before) their first job.

Arguably, it’s a trend further strengthened by typical societal expectations on young people, especially parents and friends. What most don’t realise is that such purchases are likely to be the step that locks them into a long life of debt.

There’s no denying that a car is necessary for daily transportation of the working class, be it for work or a run to the grocery store. Some might prefer the cheaper and more economical (though inherently more risky) option of a motorcycle, but whichever personal vehicle you opt for, for most people it makes little sense to purchase one brand new. (more…)


Our greatest technological achievement: smartphones

… if you believe the scores of supposedly technology news sites, that is.

I use Pulse to aggregate news from multiple sources sorted into different categories. It has been my primary source of news ever since I’ve gotten my first smartphone, to be consumed alongside breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

And guess what is the most prominent news stories in the Technology category? Smartphones and tablets.

I mean, seriously, there’s a lot more going on in the technological side of the world than just smartphones and tablets. It’s rather appalling then to see that most of the time most of the news items aggregated from the myriad of different supposedly technology-related sites are all about smartphones, tablets, and every other conceivable derivatives of those.

And what’s worse, some of the news items are really the same news items being regurgitated over and over by a number of different sites. I almost look at the app with contempt in the few weeks following the launch of iPhone 5.

But whatever sells, right?


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