Online but Disconnected? A (Brief) Look at the Internet and China

This article at The Economist delves into one of my favorite subjects when discussing Chinese culture: video games. I’ve never been a fan of video games as they’re stupid and boring, but in China they hold a peculiar sociocultural relevance that speaks to something unique about growing up here.

Most students I’ve talked to have barely any free time. When they aren’t studying they don’t rush out and take advantage of China’s nonexistent drinking age, but rather hit up Karaoke bars or stay in and play online games with friends. They don’t go over to each others’ homes to hang out (regularly) and one college student I spoke with said she didn’t even go to her friends’ dorm rooms because it was “too far to walk.” Part of the problem is strict parents who won’t let their kids out even remotely late – one of my friends here, a 25-year-old who’s been studying abroad in New York City of all places, was worried about staying out past eleven o’clock because her mom would start calling. Another issue seems to be, what, lack of imagination? When even college students won’t leave their dorm rooms to hang out with each other and instead meet up online to play “Plants vs. Zombies,” you have to concede that somebody’s just not trying. That being said, asking what kids were getting up to at the start of summer elicited a few expected answers such as, “beach barbeques,” but almost every kid I work with is spending summer vacation taking extra classes to “prepare for school”. Obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t have a job.

Even a student I spoke with who’s been going to high school in America for three years preferred not to play Halo on the Xbox with his American friends, but to meet up online with his Chinese friends to play Crossfire and Counter Strike, two popular first-person shoot-‘em-ups (that do have blood, by the way). While I’m not under the impression that Qingdao is home to some weird subset of the Chinese population with eccentric habits, please don’t take this post as a definitive primer on Chinese youth. There’s a fundamentally different relationship between people and the internet here and it’s something to keep in mind when reading report after report about “China and the internet.” Geez, I feel like I have a lot more to say – this is a rather broad topic after all – but I’ll leave it alone for now! What do you think? When you think about it, how do we really use the internet? How did we use it ten years ago?

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