How the frustrations of Internet access in China builds a nationwide ‘hacker’ mentality

How the frustrations of Internet access in China builds a nationwide ‘hacker’ mentality

I’ve recently completed a week long stint in China and have seen and experienced some very interesting moments relating to the Internet which made wonder how it affects Chinese businesses and startups in particular.

The web is a controversial issue here in China. Not only are numerous overseas websites unavailable here due to government blockages, but connectivity appears — from my short stay here at least — to be highly irregular.

A fellow TechCrunch Disrupt Beijing attendee came to my aid after seeing me struggle to get online at the show.

“You never know whether you’re on-or offline in China,” he joked before fixing me up with a hack that gave me access Google as though he were tying a shoelace.

Other perspectives and stories of the Internet that I came across during my stay were equally as intriguing.

One entrepreneur recounted how he was forced to send his entire staff home one day after the Internet came to a grinding halt in the office, can you imagine that?

But does, might China’s dodgey Internet have its advantages?

“All Chinese people are hackers,” one expat told me, before going on to explain that this was actually a compliment. “Every man, woman or child that regularly uses the Internet knows how to set up a VPN connection and has the skills to make it work.”

From my own experience it was the sheer irregularity of the Internet in China — not just at the show — that got at me time and time again.

  • I was never able to get my VPN to work at the hotel I stayed
  • Throughout the conference, connecting through a VPN, I could receive e-mails but was unable to send them
  • I was able to check-in to Tienanmen Square through Foursquare (bad me) without a VPN yet the same connection wouldn’t load Twitter
  • Finally, when I was working out of an office in Beijing my VPN work intermittently yet I was able to use Skype and Twitter the entire time, both with or without the VPN

Nobody seems to care that much about these pains, but if you’re like me and are used to a regular working connection — or at least being able to identify a problem when it arise —  then you’re likely to find the Internet in China very frustrating!

It leads me to wonder what kind of influence this has on the tech scene in the country. Constantly being distracted by connections not working and sites and services being inaccessible can affect productivity, and take time from focusing on the stuff that really matters.

But, on the other hand, if it makes the Chinese good hackers, it might just be a good thing after all.

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