Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Chinese vs. American Netizens

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The future is not “on” the Internet.  The internet is a medium.  It is a form of communicating and expressing beyond all previous boundaries.  In this, it is rare.  In this, it is powerful.

However, the power of the internet is constantly miscalculated.  Stock plunges so epic they created monikers.  Howard Dean’s chances of being nominated for Democratic presidential candidate.  UFOs flying over Haiti.  This is just a forkful of the fodder that comes to mind.

An article on today’s Economist.com discusses the alleged digital evolution of Chinese youth in comparison to the seemingly skimpy strides of young American netizens.  The article reads:

“Despite all the hoopla in America about the growth of online communities such as MySpace, Facebook, and Second Life … the Chinese seem far keener on communing via the internet. Some 82% of young Chinese agreed that ‘interactivity helps create intimacy, even at a distance,’ compared with 36% of Americans. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Chinese surveyed agreed that ‘it’s perfectly possible to have real relationships purely online with no face-to-face contact’. Only 21% of Americans felt the same.” —  The Economist, Nov.27, 2007.

This information is timely and pertinent from an economic standpoint.  But from a logical and cultural perspective, it is totally bogus.

Yes, there is money to be made on the expansion of Chinese internet use.   I mean, hello, 1 out of every 5 people on this rock are Chinese.  It falls into the coarse economic theory of “until every Chinese has one of these in his/her hand, the market can expand.”  Duh.  This is the same reasoning behind people investing in toothpaste and deodorant sales.

But what is really happening with the internet in China?  Well, for starters, one must mention the government crackdown on anything deemed “non-harmonious.”  The internet freezes, webpages “time out” and one might even catch a little cyber-Hu Jintao popping up in the corner waving his finger saying, “Uh, uh, uh!”  I write on this blog only after connecting to a proxy server in some distant land, which often times fails to connect.  My blog is blocked. Or as they say here, “harmonized.”

Empirical testing by Harvard Law students in 2002 described “a shifting set of barriers to surfing the web from Chinese points of access– sites that are reported unavailable or domain names that are unknown to the system or that lead to unexpected destinations, individual pages that are blocked, and the use of search keywords that result in temporary limits to further searches.”  To be fair, the Chinese have loosened in some regards.  As long as websites do not mention democracy, historical Chinese brutality, human rights, Japanese relations, Taiwan, Tibet, freedom of speech or Marxism, the government may let it slide.

The Economist article also fails to evaluate how Chinese youth utilize the internet.  How?  They game-out, hard.  Super-hard.  Imagine removing all the PS3s, XBox360s and Wiis from the American youth (the Chinese situation).  Where would they go?  Right back to World of Warcraft and Counter-Strike.

I have been inside these 24-hour internet caves.  I have choked on the knee-to-ceiling cloud of nicotine.  And stomped through the piles of garbage amassing by the mouse click.  It is intense.  These young Chinese take it seriously.  As in, they seriously wanna pull out some Ultra-Magnetic-Solar-Pump-Shotgun and disintegrate your ass to earn 1,000,000 points.  And the scary part is, from what Chinese and Taiwanese friends tell me, they meet people this way.  Online gaming communities are huge.  Call it mutual online death-seeking, with a codename and a cyber-girlfriend watching your back.

The very bottom of the Economist‘s article touches on the counterintuitive strength of such Chinese internet use.  While it may help people express themselves, I fear it is still merely the tool of an emerging super geekdom.  Relationships without ever meeting people?  Not being able to go one day without the internet?  77% of Chinese poll respondents saying the internet helps them make friends?  Is not this the internet use we Americans are trying to keep our children away from?  Who harnesses this parasitic, isolated cyber existence with no connectivity to the physical world?

Internet entrepreneurs.  That’s who.  Until they all have toothpaste and Facebook accounts.  I, for one, hope American and Chinese youth step outside the box, or log-out of it enough, to see the fight we youth are really facing.

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Written by Miles

November 27, 2007 at 5:04 pm

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