The World Wide Web

I’ve never considered myself a good blogger. While I own a personal blog and have posted on it from time to time, I’ve always had trouble getting my thoughts down on paper.  I’ve had moments when I wanted to write pages and pages about Jeremy Lin and the “Linsanity” debate or about my experiences as an Asian American.  Yet after thinking and preparing to write these posts, I found that I could not get myself to type these posts out.  After considering why I could not get my thoughts onto my blog, I realized what was stopping me.

The Internet is a big and scary thing.  I knew that once I put my ideas up on the web, they would be out there for all to see.  Anyone could read, comment, or judge me based on what I wrote.  This simple thought scared me.  It is true that the Internet is one of the most powerful tools we have.  If you’d like to know which actors starred in the Harry Potter movies or find out the birthday of our 22nd president, these answers are literally a click away.  Or if you’d like to find your long lost kindergarten friend, chances are Facebook will help you find them.

But how much do we really know about the Internet?  How long will the little bits of information that we post online stay out there, floating around in some mysterious space? Every month or two a story will come out about a man who lost his job because of a dumb status update on Twitter or a wild picture of his party the night before on Facebook.  The Internet is helpful but also a very powerful tool.

While most of the world has the ability to do almost anything they want on the Internet, this is not the case in China.  “The Great Firewall” which blocks websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube limits Chinese Internet users.  This display of censorship show just how powerful the Internet can be.  The Chinese government is afraid of negative press coming from these websites.  They know that having open access to the web will cause people to point out the downfalls of the government and could potentially lead to protests in the future.

But while many sites are blocked by the “Firewall”, this does not mean that they are inaccessible.  Computer savvy individuals (or those with smart friends) can use Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, to mask the computer’s location and make the user appear to be somewhere else.  A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation about VPNs with my mom.  She asked me why more people didn’t use VPNs, consider how easy they are to download and use.  After asking a few of my Chinese friends about this, I came up with a general answer to her question.

First off, you must know about a VPN to use one.  While simply downloading a VPN and using it in China may seem like a no-brainer to an ex-pat who has been told about the work-around by friends, many Chinese citizens likely have not been exposed to them.  Those who have are likely from urban areas like Shanghai or Beijing and have been introduced to VPNs by a co-worker or friend. According to Jeffrey Wasserstrom, “This creates another divide among Internet users in China, separating those who are versed in using such techniques from those who are not.   (p. 86).  While there is a class of Internet users in China who have more access, my second point explains why I believe this divide is a small one.

Second, and more importantly, using VPNs can become very inconvenient and unnecessary to many Chinese locals.  To a Chinese student, having a Facebook may not be very useful if none of their other fellow classmates have one.  Personally, I created a RenRen (the Chinese equivalent to Facebook), but since I only have 12 friends, it is almost pointless for me to ever sign on.  I think many Chinese students must view Facebook in a similar way.  It is simply easier to use a site such as Weibo where everyone in your social circle is connected, without having to go through the hassle of connecting with a VPN.

Now while we may have different ways of accessing our friends and social circles, I think one thing is clear.  The Internet is a key component to all of our lives and will stay that way for a long time.

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