April 04, 2005

Better communication, better world

Its hard to believe having grown up in China witnessing the exploitation of immigrant workers (people who move to Guang Zhou, where I grew up) that the same companies are facing a shortage of workers, a far cry from the days where the sons of farmers were willing to work in construction sites with out any safety gear (friend and I used to play in construction sites at night, the half finished buildings and stock piles of materials provided the settings for many imaginary adventures).

New York times attributed this to the aging working population, and its true. Many of my other's co-workers have retired when my mother and I visited them in 2000. This can be seen even in rural areas which once produced a seemingly unending stream of young people, a tradition breed into the farmer class in a culture where health care is non-existent and death comes early. I visited the village where my dad grew up, a backwater area reached by driving along a poor excuse for a road, then trekking along a muddy track. Where once a thriving village was, an entire section is now abandoned, houses falling into disrepair inhibited by animals. Family planning has finally extended its long arm and curbed the growth of humanity.

Despite this decrease however there are still more than enough people in China. What has changed the status quo in my opinion is better communication. Rural youths are no longer disillusioned with promises of easy money and adventures in the Big City having been told by those who ventured before them due to the improved telephone services. Youths are more technology literate, they utilise emails and SMS to regularly keep in touch with friends and family. The effect of improved communication is that people are able to compare their respective pay and living conditions and gain knowledge of better conditions elsewhere. They are no longer trapped in isolation, living in what facilities provided by the management, cut off and made to think they are having it better. In the same way that privatisations of businesses opened up markets for competition, the advance of communication technology has made the hiring market competitive.

Similarly better communication will eventually brush aside the "iron curtain" around the Chinese government and its people. With some 2 billion people, it will take considerable effort to keep anything from a population that can instant message, send anonymous messages, and post to public viewable noticeboards. Censorship of information so effectively used during the cultural revolution to control the masses, will not work in a world that is becoming ever more connected. The Chinese government now faces a dilemma: the advance tide of communication networks is granting its citizens more power, more knowledge, more freedom. Yet its also moving China forwards in technology and science, essential for its continued growth to become a world power. To restrict such communication is to cut itself off, and in this day and age its no longer a viable option. Its export economy will collapse as its manufacturing technology falls behind and increased reliance on imported technology will strip any fat on its balance sheets gain from the recent years of rapid growth and place it at the mercy of more advanced societies. On the other hand if continued exchange of knowledge is to be allowed, it will need to significantly restructure itself in order to survive in a country where its citizens are free to compare their conditions against the rest of the world, to express opinions and exchange ideas.

Time will tell how the government will react, but regardless of what they do the people has already tasted the first fruits of improved connectivity, and will not willing allow their connections to be cut.