We’re Doing It Wrong; Why Apple = China
I’m worried. Worried that we’re totally screwing it up. We’re at a point where technology is perhaps the most powerful tool for influence and change available to us, but we can’t get out of our own way. Google’s self-righteous stand against the Chinese government, followed recently by Evan Williams’ declaration of twitter’s intent to circumvent the Great Firewall to me just demonstrates an utter lack of understanding for how to get things done in China. It reflects an approach that values a sense of righteousness over the results that that righteousness demands. It’s more important to feel right than to actually make things right.
It’s easy to sit over here on this side of the world and look down upon the spotty human rights track record of China and turn one’s nose down in disgust. However, whether it’s in marriage, business, politics or friendships, I have never seen a lasting resolution to differences of philosophy come without first having empathy for the other person’s viewpoint. Shouting louder or pushing harder may give way to temporary change, but it lacks the conviction to make that change lasting.
So, how do we better understand why China does the things it does? Well, the easiest way for me to think about it is China = Apple/iPhone, and US = Android (or Windows). With Apple, Steve Jobs decides what apps are good for us. It sucks, people get frustrated, but in the end Jobs does this because he believes he’s delivering what’s best. With an iPhone, you don’t have to worry about porn, about malware and trojans. You don’t have to worry about accidentally installing some major resource hog. But you can’t run background tasks, you can’t run Google Voice (until now). Likewise, China makes decisions based on what it thinks are best for the country at large. China looks to the west and sees porn, gun proliferation, Columbine, Lindsay Lohan, and it says thanks, but no thanks, much like Jobs looks at Android and says thanks, but no thanks.
I’m not excusing China, but most of the people shaking their fists at the East think that China’s citizens are as a whole suffering under an oppressive regime, and that’s simply not true. There are things that are definitely very wrong, but there are also things that are working. Very well, in fact. So when the government moves millions of people out of their homes to build a dam, or run a major crime sweep that may net some innocent people, many Chinese would look at the progress and feel that it is an acceptable tradeoff. Calvin Chin eloquently summarizes this general sentiment in his recent post on TechCrunch.
Another important point to understand is that the US views its role on the global stage as the world’s police – if we don’t stand up for what’s right, who will? Meanwhile, China has always been an introverted country – I’ll mind my business and you mind yours. And let’s be honest, aside from a crazy Mongol named Genghis Kahn, the West has had a far worse track record when it comes to global interaction (the Crusades, Christopher Columbus and the Indians, the list goes on and on).
Again, I’m not saying it’s right, just saying that it’s important for us to come from a place of empathy rather than a place of judgment. Besides, we’re not that far removed from slavery, racism, spying on our own citizens, and we’re still the leading polluter (per capita) in the world. We still have major issues with crime and poverty. So before we point out that speck in our brother’s eye, let’s not forget the plank in our own. I’m not saying there’s not a problem, I’m just saying we’re going about it the wrong way.
p.s. For the record, I use an iPhone but am pissed about the whole Google Voice debacle and believe that in the long run I will be using an Android device.
p.p.s. The irony that I’m writing about this on a WordPress blog, which is blocked by the Great Firewall, is not lost on me.