NEW YORK, Nov. 23 /-- Millions of young Chinese are embracing the Internet as a discreet space for their thoughts and emotions, according to a survey of Chinese and American youth released today by IAC, which operates businesses in sectors being transformed by the Internet, and JWT, the fourth largest advertising agency network in the world.
The findings show how readily young Chinese are taking to the Internet and its possibilities-for example, almost five times as many Chinese as American respondents said they have a parallel life online (61 percent vs. 13 percent). And while fewer than half of the 1,079 American respondents agreed that "I live some of my life online" (42 percent), a sizable majority of the 1,104 Chinese respondents agreed with the statement (86 percent). The two random online surveys polled 16- to 25-year-olds.
"For young Americans, the Internet provides an incremental increase in the huge range of options they enjoy in life, but for young Chinese it represents a steep increase in choice-and this is reflected in the strength of Chinese response to questions about opinions and interactions online," says Tom Doctoroff, JWT's CEO of Greater China and Northeast Asia area director. (JWT is regarded as one of China's top three agencies in both size and reputation, and was named most creative agency in Shanghai by Media magazine.)
While most American youth grew up taking for granted both interactive technology and the "let it all hang out" ethos it has encouraged, these are new concepts for young Chinese. "Our findings show that Chinese youth experience this new emotional space-the 'emobytes'-more intensely than young Americans," explains Doctoroff, author of Billions: Selling to the New Chinese Consumer (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
Chinese respondents were four times as likely as Americans to agree that things online often feel more intense than things offline (48 percent vs. 12 percent). This feeling was more prevalent among Chinese men than women (52 percent vs. 43 percent), likely reflecting the fact that men were more likely to describe themselves as "dedicated gamers" (27 percent vs. 19 percent of women).
Finding Real Community Online
The communication and community that interactive technology facilitates has a stronger appeal for Chinese youth than for young Americans. For example, more than three-quarters (77 percent) of the Chinese sample agreed that computer/console games are much more fun when played against others online, compared with a third of Americans. And while fans of virtual communities are in the minority in both countries, "second-lifers" (those who agreed that "I feel more real online than offline") account for just 4 percent of the U.S. sample compared with 24 percent of Chinese respondents.
Indeed, while many Westerners debate whether online experiences and relationships are "real," far fewer Chinese have doubts. As many as 82 percent of young Chinese agreed that "Interactivity helps create intimacy, even at a distance," compared with just 36 percent of young Americans. And almost two- thirds (63 percent) of Chinese respondents agreed that "It's perfectly possible to have real relationships purely online with no face-to-face contact," vs. only 21 percent of Americans.
These relationships are fundamentally changing the way Chinese youth interact with each other. Fewer than a third of Americans (30 percent) said the Internet helps their social life, but more than three-quarters of Chinese respondents (77 percent) agreed that "The Internet helps me make friends."
Expanding the Sexual Universe
Chinese culture may have a reputation for being far more sexually conservative than American culture, but strikingly, three times as many Chinese as Americans (32 percent vs. 11 percent) were willing to admit that the Internet has broadened their sex life. (It's not just the Internet that sizzles for the Chinese: As many as 54 percent said they had made or heated up dates using text messages, compared with only 20 percent of Americans.)
"For many decades, the world saw China as a place of traditional and conservative sexual attitudes and ideals, but after the sex-blogging sensation Mu Zimei burst onto the scene in 2003, it became clear there was a lot of pent-up interest in sex," notes world-leading trendspotter Marian Salzman, JWT executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "Four years later, our study confirms that the Chinese Internet is buzzing with virtual pheromones- 'cybermones,' if you will."
Adds Salzman, who managed this study in collaboration with IAC: "While relationships, dating and sex have been a prominent part of life online in the United States, the Internet just ramped up what was already happening offline- in China, however, it's all new."
Indeed, most likely due at least in part to the Internet, premarital sex in China has become far more common in the past five to 10 years. "In terms of impact on society and psychology, digital technology could be to China what the Sixties were to the West-a huge shift in mood and attitudes. The big difference is that these changes in people's emotional and sexual lives are happening in the privacy of cyberspace," notes Diller. "With interactive technology becoming increasingly important, it will be fascinating to see how those emobytes and techno-emotions affect public life as young Chinese become more accustomed to expressing themselves online."
Free Speech Very Free Online
In the United States, the land of guaranteed free speech, fewer than half of Americans (43 percent) agreed that "I often use the Internet to find the opinions of others or to share my opinions." By contrast, China's culture and political environment place less emphasis on personal views-and almost three- quarters (73 percent) of Chinese respondents said they go online to share opinions.
Chinese respondents were also more likely than Americans to say they have expressed personal opinions or written about themselves online (72 percent vs. 56 percent). And they have expressed themselves more strongly online than they generally do in person (52 percent vs. 43 percent of Americans).
That's largely because of the anonymity that the Internet offers, a key attraction for the Chinese. Chinese respondents were almost twice as likely as Americans to agree that it's good to be able to express honest opinions anonymously online (79 percent vs. 42 percent) and to agree that online they are free to do and say things they would not do or say offline (73 percent vs. 32 percent).
"One of the biggest differences between American and Chinese youth is in attitudes toward anonymity," says Doctoroff. "In the U.S., with its cult of celebrity, young Americans see the Internet as a way of getting known, of building their personal brand; many regard the Internet as a kind of personal broadcasting medium. But whereas publicizing your name, face and opinions is seen as a step toward success in the U.S., in China it has been a surefire way of veering into dangerous territory. So for young Chinese, the Internet is the ideal place to air opinions and hear what others think without crossing the line."
While a western ideal of individualism may not be in the near future for Chinese society, these findings show that the Internet is transforming China in a unique way - towards liberalism with Chinese characteristics."
Etude disponible sur le site de l'IAC.