Accelerating Electronic Connectedness – Internet Usage in China and the United States
It was just reported that, as expected, there are now more Internet users in China than in the U.S. As of last month there were 253 million Internet users in China as compared to 220 million in the U.S. What is striking is that in just the last year, the number of new users in China was 90 million, or a growth rate of more than 50%. That annual increase in users is more that the total number of users in most countries in the world.
There are several interesting aspects to these numbers. Of course, since China is the most populous country in the world with more than 1.3 billion people, it will ultimately have more of most any category of people, based on size alone. It is interesting that there seems to be an age divide in China. Not only are 70% of the country’s internet users under the age of 30, 90% of the new users in the last six months were high school students. This reflects the fact that the booming economy in China is led and fueled by those under the age of 40 as many of the older generations are still anchored in the past.
It is possible that, if current growth rates continue, China could have twice as many Internet users as the U.S. within two years. It is when that happens that Internet usage in China will bring about significant change. The 253 million Internet users in China, represents only 19% of the country’s population, while the 220 million in the U.S. represents 70% of the population.
The reason I suggest that significant change will come to China in two years is that the percentage of the population using the Internet will be between 30-40%. It is when a new media reaches that level of penetration to the population that it changes the culture and creates a new media environment. In the U.S. it wasn’t until the early 1950s when Television reached 50% of households that “the golden age of television” began. Similarly it wasn’t until the first quarter of 2007 that 50% of U.S. households had broadband or high speed internet access. This changed the culture. It was no coincidence that 2007 was the year of YouTube. High speed internet access basically means video.
In addition, while the Chinese government still censors many web sites and blocks access to others entirely, it will become harder to do when a couple of hundred million more users come on-line. Not only will there be more users, but the users will be shaping the culture. As we have seen elsewhere in the world, once a communications technology reaches a critical mass it is hard to contain or control. Even today, the Chinese have a tendency to text rather than actually speak on the phone, a phenomenon unheard of just a few short years ago. The distances of the country and the cultural walls are collapsing.
So, China now has more users of the Internet than any other country in the world. As this growth continues it will bring about huge change that will alter the culture of the country. Welcome to the accelerating global electronic connectedness that is reshaping humanity.