“China Reloaded” Part 1: At a loss for words…

A contribution by Katja Nettesheim, _MEDIATE founder & managing director

At a loss for words…

…. is a state in which you rarely experience me. But in fact, after almost two incredibly intensive weeks in China, I am exactly that: speechless.Speechless, because I already don’t know how to sort these impressions, let alone describe them. Speechless, because it remains to be seen what the role of Europeans should be in the future innovation game between the USA and China. Speechless, too, because this nation frightens me a little.

But anyone who knows me knows that I can’t stand to be speechless for long. That’s why I’m getting closer, step by step. In the near future we will publish blog posts, photos, audios, articles about innovation, the latest technologies and world economic policy, fed by the experiences and discussions in China, supplemented by selective research. We start our series “China, Reloaded” today with the first impression from Shanghai – and here you can also register for the coming parts.
The photo above doesn’t seem very special at first glance. But it is, because it shows the only person I have seen in five days Shanghai and extensive use of the subway with something other than a smartphone in my hand. Smartphone use in public transport is nothing new to a city dweller, but the intensity with which the Shanghai people hang on their mobile devices has a special quality. One almost had the impression that they obtained their oxygen from it …. What was consumed so intensively here? If you took a look at the screens you never actually saw content that looked like longer documents – the highest of the textual feelings were e-mails. Instead: social media, lots of videos or messaging, occasionally games.
At the same time, I was always waiting for something decisive to happen at any given moment. The idea that the “Smombies” would receive an order from these devices at any moment and would set themselves in motion at the behest of the government in lockstep was spreading again and again. A little scary. In retrospect this feeling has been confirmed so to speak: There is a so-called “50c party” which, according to research by a team of scientists from Harvard, Standford and the University of California, consists of about two million Internet workers. In addition to their employment with the Chinese government (honi soit qui mal y pense ;-)), they sell half a billion posts a year, allegedly at 50 cents each (hence the name). Purpose is not to convince opponents of the positions of the government, but to distract the total population purposefully by Posts, which spread above all good mood. According to a recent estimate published by axios, about one third of the posts in the Chinese social media are now controlled by the state!

And those who can distract can also draw attention to…

Gary King / Jennifer Pan / Margaret E. Roberts, How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument, April 9, 2017, https://gking.harvard.edu/files/gking/files/50c.pdf