With great restraint, I avoided going anywhere near the onboard Internet cafe on our riverboat tour down the Yangtze River. The fact that such a service is available should give anyone pause who still thinks of China as an impoverished third world country. However, since the topic of this column is helping seniors become computer literate, a more appropriate observation is that the majority of passengers were indeed seniors, but the most active users of the Internet cafe were young people (“young” is relative; I simply mean they were not seniors).

Why was there such a dramatic difference? The cost of the service was nominal and probably much cheaper than a hotel connection. The laptops were all of recent vintage. The ship even provided help to get started.

My restraint in not using the ship’s service to check e-mail was deliberate because I was on vacation. But one’s mind never really stops working. So I asked several of our senior acquaintances on board why they hadn’t used the service. Not a one replied that they were deliberately disconnecting from their normal habits. Everyone acknowledged that they had e-mail accounts. A couple indicated they only check e-mail once or twice a week anyway, so it was no big deal to go without for a couple of weeks.

Since I also deliberately avoided English language newspapers for the duration, I was interested to see if any of the other senior passengers had thought of logging onto CNN or some such service to see what was happening in the world. None had. Yet when I looked in on the younger people, they were not just checking e-mail, they seemed to be looking at news and blogs. Again this was not just a trend, but it was a sharp demarcation.

If that difference is so obvious among the foreign passengers, what is the equivalent difference between senior and non-senior Chinese citizens? We had occasion to talk to several as well as meet with a professor who teaches spoken English to technical students. The informal consensus is that the senior Chinese are even less computer literate on the whole than senior Americans, but the young students are probably as savvy as those in the States. This is obviously not a scientific survey. It only represents my informal observations. However, it agrees with the similar observation that everyone in China seems to have a cell phone and many of the younger people have two-way videophones. Most of my senior computer clients who have cell phones (some refuse to carry them) do not have built-on still cameras let alone video.

This difference in usage has resulted in some interesting side-effects. Although the country is much more liberal that it was when I last visited, it still filters the Internet. You might expect porno sites and “Free Tibet” sites to be filtered, but it also filters sites linking to the major U.S. universities. The probable reason for this is to put obstacles in the way of further brain drain by students going abroad. Of course, even though all Internet traffic is supposed to go through defined governmental hubs, that sometimes doesn’t work as well as it should. At least that is a rumor.

Occasionally readers from other countries have written to me discussing issues of tutoring seniors in their country, but I seldom hear from non-English speaking tutors, and have never had a comment from a Chinese tutor. I would be interested in hearing what differences other people have noted between tutoring in various cultures and countries.

For more in-depth tips on tutoring seniors, see the complete tutorial here. I also have posted a tutorial on elementary decision theory for those who might question a physician’s diagnosis (important for seniors) or anti-terrorist activities (important for everyone) but haven’t had the framework to analyze the data. That tutorial can be found here.

[tags]censorship,internet,china,yangtze river,riverboat tour[/tags]