We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again – to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more. – Pico Iyer.

Iyer’s quote arrests me because it sublimely informs that identity is a cyclical flux of remaking through interactions in and between spaces. Travelling should be an opportunity to open our eyes to ways different groups of people engage and negotiate their daily lives. Likewise, anthropology is a discipline that aims to understand the construct of social life. 

I’m Lionel, an international student from the sunny island of Singapore. Rejecting my local societal values of Kiasuism, I chose a life of exploration instead of a data-driven career that reaps good money. I spent my late adolescent years as a copywriter within award-winning advertising circles in China and Singapore. Privileged to be working with a culturally diverse group of art directors and copywriters, I was intrigued by their fascination in searching for a creative culture.

JS Kashima, Lionel – back row, sixth from right
Photo Credit: Author

Shortly after national service enlistment in Singapore, I decided to join the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) for a military career because it has a dynamic work environment and provides ample opportunities for professional development. At the age of 21, I represented the RSN in the Western Pacific Naval Symposium hosted by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and participated in a group sail across the Pacific Ocean on JS Kashima. I found myself people-watching and working with the incredible officers and crew of my host ship and interacting with 14 other naval officers of different nationalities who partook in the sail.

In retrospect, perhaps I decided to pursue anthropology as a formal education to validate my experiences and behaviours when adapting to new environments. However, the journey going forward is never the same as the one looking back. Anthropology has opened up many conundrums about relations of power, moral principles and our very own sense of being. However, anthropology is not without inherent controversies concerning the production of knowledge, ethical dilemmas and colonising histories. My short articles in Anthrozine focuses on technological engagements as well as contentious meaning-making domains as you would come to read and hopefully, lend a perspective towards discourse in areas of controversies through linking the disenchanted past to the fantasised future. 

My honours thesis explores the ways pilots communicate with each other in a technologically mediated space, and in doing so, understand how technology influence assumptions of being in command. Being in command means exerting power over the flight crew and increasingly, automation is disrupting the ‘traditional hierarchy’ of pilots. The project deals with narratives of commercial pilots on how automation reshapes labour, the embodiment of technology and relationalities between masculinity and control. Briefly, I attempt to identify the ways which pilots trust to use automation, documenting how essential communications and labour obligations are shaped or distorted by automation and recognise how pilots come to accept moral accountability over the operational readiness of human and non-human factors. I hope my thesis can bring a point of view to ongoing debates about technological uses in aviation and also to bring anthropology as a viable skillset to the RSN. 

Currently, a lieutenant in the RSN, I will be heading back to Singapore at the end of the year to begin my seafaring career formally. Also, to acquire the 5Cs before I turn 40. 

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