In The Information: How the Internet gets inside us, Adam Gopnik proposed three labels: the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers and the Ever-Wasers. I think I am a little bit of every kind.
First, like any Never-Better, I must admit that I do appreciate the technology advance a lot. Connecting to my own culture is the biggest benefit that the Internet has brought to me. I moved to Canada in 2010, the year when iPhone 4 was first released. A year later, WeChat was first launched in China after the success of Tencent QQ and Sina Weibo. I had always been thankful for these technological advances because they helped me to keep in contact with my friends in China. They kept me accompanied remotely to get through the first toughest year after landing in Canada. Imagine the immigrants 20 or 30 years ago, how hard it would be for them to talk to their family with just letters and expensive long-distance calls! More importantly, eBooks and eReaders also help me to keep reading in Chinese and accumulate my knowledge of the Chinese book market without living in China physically. More broadly speaking, the Internet provides us with the tool to explore any culture with links, texts, visuals and audios without physically being there.
However, with all the appreciation, the Better-Never me still worries about the Internet, especially when the technology meets the government. This fear is also rooted in my own experience. On an ordinary day in March 2017, my friend and I had a conversation via WeChat during which we mentioned the name of the previous Chinese President. We did not criticize him, nor the current Chinese government. Later that day, I posted a screenshot of the conversation to my Weibo, only visible to my friends. The next time when I opened the Weibo app, I noticed that I was banned from Weibo. I would not be able to log into my account permanently! I had been kept a record of my personal thoughts on that account for over 5 years and it was all gone in just a minute. All my posts, my comments to other accounts and even the account itself disappeared instantly from the Internet. A chill ran down my spine. This just terrified me (imagine someone threw your 5-year diary into a fire).
Take a step back, the Ever-Waser me kicked in. Censorship and authoritarian had a much longer history than technology. It has been going on for a long time. Before the Internet, a dictating government would control the newspaper, book or radios. When the Internet is bringing convenience to the citizens, it also brings convenience to the ruling government. It is not the Internet to be blamed.
Wandering on both the English-speaking (and mainly North American) and the Chinese-speaking social media platforms, I feel like there are more Better-Evers and Ever-Wasers in North American society while there are more Never-Betters in the Chinese society. One day, I was talking to John. He asked me if Chinese people were also worried about the centralization of WeChat, as the Westerners worrying about Amazon or Google monopoly. This question just hit me right at the moment. I then realized that I have not read any significant article criticizing WeChat so far on any Chinese media. Meanwhile, I’m glad to read many articles in this class discussing and reflecting on how the web has changed us, in either a positive or negative way. No matter what attitude we hold towards the Internet, it is important to talk about it rather than take everything for granted.