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SOCIETAL CHANGE - Critical thinking key to achieving advance status

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If we read the headlines such as the above with a preconceived notion, then perhaps this article is timely written. To set the record straight, this article was neither inspired by liberal notions of moral conduct, or absolute freedom of thought.

There was a time when conversing with another person remotely through a video screen was reserved for the imagination of Hollywood science fiction producers – something that was only possible on the USS Enterprise a thousand years from now.

Little did we expect such technology to emerge in merely a few decades ahead of the first Star Trek series. These days, video calls are something we almost take for granted.

I believe one of main reasons why technology has expanded at such an exponential rate is that these very advances in communication are self-serving – they create the expansion of knowledge at the same exponential rate as the growth in technology.

It is for this very reason that responsible governments push hard to enable fast access to online information. Is it undeniably a mammoth task and requires strategic access placement while also balancing commercial viability.

Unfortunately, that is just the first step.

The social classes of yesteryear may have been the warrior versus the farmer, or the ruling elite standing over the general populace. In the modern democratic society, the separation is now between the inventor and consumer.

Those who invent emerge victorious to those who consume. The overarching dominance of companies such as Facebook and Amazon, created during the rise of the information age, suggests that great power is wielded by those who create need for the consumer.

This should be celebrated – with the caveat that a critical and open minded society exists to ensure positive progress.

Today, with the massive influx of opinions, ideologies and debate, the personal removal of prejudice becomes ever more important.

It is said that a falsehood, if repeated enough times, can become truth.  They have the power to destroy great ideas, efforts and causes. Such destruction retards progress, and turns heroes into villains.

While it is unrealistic to make everyone an inventor, it is important for  society, which are mostly consumers, to gain knowledge and perspective of the ideas they consume. The best judgements are made by those who, without bias, are well read on all perspectives presented, and exercise fairness in judgment.

For example, to produce the fastest car, one must also have many skilled drivers in his consumer base. The consumers sell the product - because they are the best users of the product. Nobody would believe a “fast” car that has never been driven fast.

It is the same with knowledge. If a knowledgeable society is needed to be an advanced nation, the readers of knowledge must be the best consumers of information – they need to separate fact from fiction, and give credit where credit is due.

Only then will the true inventors emerge, bringing even more benefit to the society.

This starts with critical thinking and an open mind, especially in an age where separating truth from fiction is at its most difficult.

The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive Institute.

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