Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Emobytes[?]: James Fallows Responds

So Fallows bashing may be a sport (China Hearsay and The China Game), but he (or at least his wife, Deborah) has some expertise on a recent article at the Economist, America's Emobyte Deficit. The math in the article seemed really funky and I was relieved to see my suspicions confirmed by Fallows in Crying wolf: Barry Diller, the Economist, and China.

Key Stats From the Economist:
  • "China’s soaring online population is now estimated at 137m, second only to America’s 165m-210m."
  • "80% of young Chinese people believe that “digital technology is an essential part of how I live,” compared with 68% of Americans."
  • "Twice as many Chinese as Americans (25% to 12%) said they would not feel okay going without internet access for more than a day."
  • "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."
  • "Just 30% of Americans said that the internet helps their social life; 77% of the Chinese respondents agreed that “the internet helps me make friends.” And not just friends: 32% of the Chinese said that the internet broadens their sex life, compared with 11% of Americans."
  • "Chinese respondents were also more likely than Americans to say they have expressed personal opinions or written about themselves online (72% to 56%), and 52% have expressed themselves more strongly online than they generally do in person (compared with 43% of Americans)."
  • "Some 66% of the Chinese respondents said that “online interactions have broadened my sense of identity,” compared with 26% of Americans."
  • "Some 42% of the young Chinese said they sometimes feel “addicted” to living online, compared to only 18% of Americans."
And while we're at it, what's an emobyte? "[A] unit of emotion flying about in cyberspace."

Fallows contends that the Chinese are only ahead in two categories:
  1. Mobile phone use
  2. Video game play.
This is unfair provocation.

Fallows' more insightful comment is in a note and is actually verbatim from the study that the Economist's article is based on, and it reflects my reaction to the study:

While the U.S. sample is representative of America's youth, the Chinese sample is necessarily weighted toward the young elite. Only about 10 percent of the Chinese population is online, largely young, urban and educated males.

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