The thousands of people who poured onto the streets of China this month for the anti-Japanese protests that shook Asia were bound by nationalist anger but also by a more mundane fact: they are China's cellphone and computer generation.One would have to be pretty desperate to attempt sending text messages in chinese. How many idiograms can they cram onto a single key? It is another example of how technology is making it harder to be a successful despot, or as the NY Times puts it a "nondemocratic" government.
For several weeks as the protests grew larger and more unruly, China banned almost all coverage in the state media. It hardly mattered. An underground conversation was raging via e-mail, text message and instant online messaging that inflamed public opinion and served as an organizing tool for protesters.
The underground noise grew so loud that last Friday the Chinese government moved to silence it by banning the use of text messages or e-mails to organize protests. It was part of a broader curb on the anti-Japanese movement but it also seemed the Communist Party had self-interest in mind.
"They are afraid the Chinese people will think, Okay, today we protest Japan; tomorrow, Japan," said an Asian diplomat who has watched the protests closely. "But the day after tomorrow, how about we protest against the government?"
Nondemocratic governments elsewhere are already learning that lesson. Cellphone messaging is an important communications channel in nascent democracy movements in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East. Ukraine's Orange Revolution used online forums and messaging to help topple a corrupt regime.
While my cell phone has text messaging, you would almost have to put a gun to my head to make me take the time to hit the numeric keypad enough times to send much of a message. I know it works, but it is hardly convinient. The same can be said for the internet connection on my Sprint phone. About all you can do is read a few headlines. I have know idea whether I could access Blogger from the phone, but I am pretty sure I would not want to post using the text messaging facility.