Alexis Hooi

Reading into the future of an online age

By Alexis Hooi (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-02-05 07:14
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For the past two months, I have been doing the unthinkable for many in this day and age - living without television.

But even as I gradually realized I was not missing much other than the comforting glow of the TV set late into the night, I only turned more to the Internet. As a result, my time spent online has now doubled.

It comes as no surprise that China's Internet community is already the world's largest and hit 384 million last year, with one in three online users younger than 19.

Indeed, from e-mail and messaging to movies, shopping and information portals, there are growing options for eyeballs to stay online.

Amid this mass migration of new generations to online information and entertainment, the authorities have announced plans to boost the domestic film industry to keep it competitive in an increasingly borderless world. Similarly, State broadcaster CCTV is making online forays with Internet TV.

This even as the number of young Internet addicts in the country grew to 24 million by last year, nearly double the figure in 2005, latest figures from the China Youth Association for Network Development showed.

The latest survey of Shanghai teenagers also showed that they are most happy spending time online, rather than being with family or friends.

As such, more youngsters and adults are resorting to treatment to battle Internet addiction nationwide and the authorities are beefing up measures to curb online ills that include shutting shady cyber cafes and introducing filtering software.

Which means that, against this backdrop of an exciting but challenging digital era, more efforts must be made to lay the foundations of a reading culture to cope with the changes as well as bridge worrying social divides between the urban rich and rural poor - by investing in a return to reading and the written word.

Many residents in rural areas of the country's western regions have no access to new books in a decade, the People's Daily reported. Other than textbooks, only one out of 10 people in the countryside is able to lay hands on a new book.

Book purchases and reading rates in the country have also been dropping, latest available figures showed. In 2008, each family bought 1.75 books and the reading rate was 34.7 percent, 14 percentage points lower than that in 2005, a national survey by the China Institute of Publication Science showed. About half of those polled said they did not read because there was no time to do so, while nearly half said they has not develop ed reading habits.

The authorities and non-profit groups have been increasing spending in the sector to plug these gaps, including book-reading campaigns, book donations and the setting up of village libraries to nurture good reading habits.

Official statistics showed that as of June last year, libraries in rural areas numbered more than 90,000, while spending on books hit 1.4 billion yuan ($250 million) for the year. Each of these rural libraries is expected to hold no less than 1,500 books and 30 newspapers and magazines.

But much more can be done, because books will continue to form the building blocks of knowledge to help the country develop in the face of challenges posed by the information age.


(China Daily 02/05/2010 page8)