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Log on, tune in, drop out (2)

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

16:32, May 06, 2013

TV is not dead yet, but it's obvious that China is way ahead of the curve in moving away from this moribund platform of regimented information and entertainment. If you can be your own programmer, why endure the slings and arrows of annoying commercials, same-old opening and closing credits, and endless fillers? You can filter out anything you don't like and go straight to the parts that take your fancy.

If you are an American futurist, it may make sense to take a look around the Middle Kingdom and see what is happening. The "unimaginable" Chinese behavior today may well become commonplace across the Pacific tomorrow. In many ways, China is catapulting itself from a backward position to one of the trailblazer, leaving behind developed countries with their entrenched practices and ideas.

I first noticed this over a decade ago when the mobile phone was still a status symbol in the US. My American friends were flabbergasted when they saw every Chinese carrying a cellphone, "even the migrant workers," as they said. "Especially the migrant workers," I countered. This young demographic was extremely fashion conscious. They wanted to blend in with their urban counterparts. They could not really afford high-end models, but the ready availability of knockoffs solved their dilemma. And they would whip out their chic-looking devices on more occasions than necessary.

I'm not being judgmental about the great leap forward in the area of consumer electronics and mass entertainment. It is definitely fast forward, but not necessarily in the right direction. Floating around China's cyberspace are two sets of photos showing what people read on Beijing's subway vs commuters in New York. New Yorkers tend to read books and newspapers, which would make them look like aliens in the Chinese capital. Over here, everyone is glued to a smart phone and leafing through jokes and soap operas. In the thousands of subway rides I have taken in China, I have never seen a single serious book other than a textbook, in which case the reader was apparently preparing for some kind of test.

That does not bode well for books that enrich the mind rather than amuse it. A comparison of the best-seller lists in both countries will yield similar results. Shorter attention spans have moved us from knowledge absorption to so-called fragmented and light reading - of tidbits of information that go down easy and rarely challenge one's preconceptions.

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