This past spring,before I graduated at Penn State, I took a class called World Media Systems, which was taught by Dr. Z (Professor Bu Zhong) that really opened my eyes to media around the world and was what encouraged me to pursue an internship with the China Daily in Beijing, China.
I remember in an email before I left, Dr. Z had told me to use my knowledge of world media and to try to observe and take in everything I could. During the two months I was in the People’s Republic I took in all that I could from information about the government, to the culture, especially seeing people’s everyday lives, most intriguing were those of the migrant workers, but I also tried to examine how the newsroom worked compared to those in my home country.
If you’ve never had the chance to work in a newsroom I’m sure you have the same idea of one as I do, that they are supposed to be loud with people working and constantly on the phone, yelling to their editors and co-workers, etc. My idea is like a scene out of the 1994 film “The Paper” staring Michael Keaton. During my time working at the China Daily, I was basically thrown right into the workforce, spending some time at the 21st Century Newspaper (an affiliate paper for college students centered around education) as well as some time with the Metro section for the China Daily. The thing that surprised me most was that my previous perception of newsroom interactions were not completely valid globally.
The time when I first noticed this was on my first day at the internship and a girl on my staff came up to me and asked if she could have my Windows Live Messenger screen name since she wanted to tell me about a story idea. Instead of telling me right then and there, she later messaged me on my computer and then told me the story idea. This wasn’t the only time I had this situation. Nearly everyday the office was silent and people would only talk to me through messenger or email when we all sat in cubicles close together. Now, I don’t know if it’s because I was new and a foreigner, but maybe someone should examine this, that I believe that some Chinese journalists or maybe even other office workers in general, may have some sort of social anxiety or disorder, where they feel more comfortable interacting through online interactions than in person. The most significant example I can think of happened when I was working on a story and another girl on my staff messaged me, asking about a couple english phrases. I tried my best to help her then she thanked me, saying I was going to ask Charlie (another co-worker from the US, who had been there for about 5 years), but he wasn’t online. This puzzled me because the thing is, Charlie sits 3 feet away from her and was at his desk the entire time.
To me, this seems the beginning of something I learned from a Japanese anime where people called “hikikomori” basically seclude themselves and only come in contact with people through online interactions, they usually don’t even leave their homes for months on end. While this isn’t as severe as that type of situation, when you can’t communicate at work in person with co-worker only a few feet away from you, I think it’s the beginning of something serious. Walking down the hallways of the China Daily, in most offices, you could probably hear a pin drop. One time as I was speaking with Charlie, he told me that he sometimes deliberately doesn’t sign-on to messenger in order to force people to come speak with him, as the silence also can drive him crazy.
I can only hope that these people won’t, in the future, suffer the same complete social withdrawl of the ill-fated Japanese hikikomori.