Monday, September 24, 2007

China: Anti-Addiction policies not yielding desired results

"Whenever a new policy is set from above, ordinary people find ways to fight back. So we can always find our own ways to get around these restrictions."
- 15 year old Chinese Internet user

"Ordinary people," are who I have always found immensely more interesting in my work, because they're infinitely variable, numerous, and tragically under-emphasized in studies of technology and policy as are the circumstances in which they live.

China's self-described 'epidemic' of Internet addiction has been the inspiration for policies designed to control how much time gamers under the age of 18 spend online. There, "anti-addiction software" is installed which warns the user to stop after three hours, with the threat of point penalties if the warning is unheeded.

"One official report estimates that almost 6 percent of teenage Internet users — an astounding 3.5 million teenagers — are online more than 40 hours a week. That's why the government is requiring gaming companies to install anti-addiction software on their games to stop teens from playing too long."

In another part of the article, the industry perspective is: "What I want to say is we need this for our company," says Jackie Zhuge, spokesman for China's biggest online gaming company, Shanda Interactive Entertainment. "It's social responsibility we have to take."

Almost, but not quite. The burden of social responsiblity cannot reside exclusively in the hands of games companies. That gives too much credit to the design of games (which are in the end, for profit) and strips the discussion of any and all socio-political issues that motivate people to engage in such activities. But, isn't that what authoritarian governments would want us to focus on? Isn't that what we see in North America as well, with discussions about Grand Theft Auto and Anna Nicole obscuring our discussions of what is really important to our future?

The policies to curb 'addiction' probably are not working because the problem is hardly one of clinical pathology. What is driving Chinese youth online? The article touches upon some of these social problems: "China's one-child policy has indirectly led to this problem – spawning a generation of spoiled, but lonely, only children. The burden of parental expectation upon these children is often intense – as was once the case with another mother and her 18-year-old son. He now plays games for 10 hours a day. "He always used to be the top student, or No. 2, in his school," she says. "He even got a prize for being the top student in his school district. All the teachers had high hopes for him. Now he's dropped out. He has no future anymore." And these stories aren't unusual.

Does this -really- have to do with addiction to online games? With flashy Pokemon causing seizures in our brains, causing 3.5 million vacuous teenagers to become mindless helpless zombies under the power of the INTERNETZ? As my study in Korea echoes, gaming has emerged as a practice of up and coming youth who are dealing with the world they've been dealt. And it doesn't seem pretty.

Read the full article from NPR>>

"China now has 162 million Internet users. With 100 new users joining the online community every minute, China will overtake the United States as the country with the world's largest Internet population in just two years, officials say."

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Do you swear you hear your cell phone ringing, all to see that it didn't? According to a story from the Times of India, cell phone users in India seem to be experiencing this problem, and it's name is "Ringxiety."

"The study, conducted by David Laramie from the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, Los Angeles, found that 67% of the people suffering from this phenomenon had higher monthly charges, used more minutes, sent more text messages and showed higher levels of impulsive behaviour."

The perspective is tempered by Dr. Nimesh Desai from the Institute of Human Behavioural and Allied Sciences who states that more evidence is required to substantiate the link between increased anxiety and mobile phone usage. Dr Desai, however, agrees that "being accessible all the time isn't always a good idea".

Indeed, this type of behaviour might change if people change their cultural expectations for this medium: how quickly someone picks up, or responds. A variety of social pressures exist to keep up with people's demands with new media not just in India, but around the world. We see this in emails (exacerbated by blackberry usage and 'always on' expectations), cell phones, and even..... facebook.

It would be interesting to talk to these people to see what they're struggling with and how this new technology is fitting into their lives... and messing with their showers.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Robert Jordan 1948-2007

From, fantasy author Robert Jordan died on September 16th, due to a rare blood disorder. He was 58.
He was in the middle of completing his 12th and final novel of the acclaimed Wheel of Time series, of which I and many others are fans.
I fondly remember attending his Vancouver book signing for Crown of Swords (book 7 of the series). Indeed, it is the end of an era, and he will be sorely missed.

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Today on the Christy Clark Show CKNW 980

I'll be on the Christy Clark Show today from 1pm-1:40pm PST, talking about addiction to online games. The need for commentary on this issue arises from yesterday's story about a person in China dying after a 'binge' of Web activity at an Internet Cafe.

You can tune in to AM980 if you're in the area, or listen live via the Web on the CKNW site.

Updated: The audio archive version of the shows can be found at

Gene Endrody, CEO of Maid Marian Entertainment (makers of ~free~ web-based MMORPGS) was an awesome co-panelist. His information and games(!) can be found here:

The land of the soundbyte is indeed filled with its own set of challenges, and kudos to anyone who navigates within it from industry, academia, and/or government. Actually, we had perspectives from all three sectors: Christy, as many may know, was a provincial MLA and Cabinet Minister, Gene makes games in the games industry, and well... I guess you might call me an academic.I thoroughly enjoyed the banter Christy, Gene, and I had on the show--so much, we actually went ten minutes overtime! The host said that rarely happens. :)

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Interviewed by

This morning I received an email from Neils Clark at, telling me that the cover feature article he wrote, titled "The Academics Speak: Is There Life After World of Warcraft?" is out.

I was one of five scholars interviewed on our thoughts for the piece, including Edward Castronova, Aaron Delwiche, Henry Jenkins, and Jeff McNeill.

The objective was to have a conversation with "academics immersed in the research," as well as raise important questions for the way we look at games.

Here's some coverage of the article from Slashdot.

No wonder my blog traffic spiked on Wednesday.

See the article>>

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Facebook costing businesses?

In BBC a story titled, "Facebook 'costs businesses dear" a study done by an employment law firm estimated that companies could be losing at least 130 million pounds sterling (convert to your own currency, its a whopping amount). This estimation comes about as a result of the survey of 3500 companies in the UK.

The firm recommends that businesses need to take firm action on the "use of social networks at work."

Part of me wonders, however, how accurate this 'loss of productivity' may be. While I am by no means an apologist for Facebook, it is important to be critical of the constructs with which these studies are working. How is 'productivity' operationalized? How are they measuring the 'results' (professionally, socially, psychologically) from engagement in these sites that may allow people to nurture their social networks. Have they correlated this with expenses (avoided?) that may have arisen in pubs after work (as a result of interaction, or instead of)? Have they looked at commerce and knowledge flows resulting from people's social networks? There is a reason for the popular saying, "it's who you know."

Couple this with research on Facebook that states many relationships on huge lists of 'friends' are actually meaningless. Of course, there are 'friends' who 'friend' you who you don't really care about. Facebook, for me, has more been about keeping in touch with my friends I have met offline working in various industries that have diffused my social network all over the world. It is more a way people are negotiating relationships in current labour conditions that make us diasporic.

On a related note, I am working right now on interviewing firms on the social dynamics of innovation for the nationwide ISRN project. Specifically, what are local systems of innovation and how do we account for relationships fostered locally and globally--looking at the city as a porous social entity. It's a growing area of concern because purely economic explanations are inadequate when looking at human interaction, technology, and knowledge flows.

I bring these issues up because there is also a persistent trend in the villianizing of new media, citing lack of productivity (in Facebook, online games, etc). However, I think that notions of productivity as it relates to labour also need to change. Do these same firms expect employees to put in much of their otherwise 'free' time at work for salary? If so, 'information snacking' is, I believe part of the bargain as long as work on project bases get achieved. This implies changes in organizational structures, which some firms may have already accomodated, fully or partially.

That reminds me, I gotta go check my Facebook.
(Btw, I turn off all my 'email notifications' so I don't get sidetracked at work. Simple strategies.:)

See the full story here>>

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Friday, September 07, 2007

US backing two-tiered Internet

From the BBC news, the US Justice Department has said it is opposed to Net Neutrality and instead supports charging for 'priority traffic.'

What is interesting is that the comments run counter to the statements from Microsoft and Google, who have called for legislation to guarantee "equal access to the Internet."

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who I previously blogged about, has continuously reiterated his position that there should be "one Web" and that anyone who tries to chop it into two will find that "their piece looks very boring."

We're only seeing the beginning of this debate as the implications become more real--socially and monetarily.

See the story here>>

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