Internet and Mobile Devices during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) Epidemic in 2003 in the People's Republic of China

In this paper, I have talked about the uses of the Internet and mobile devices during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003 in the People's Republic of China in detail. Significant aspects of this case have been included. Also, I have tried to explain how the mediums of Internet and mobile devices were used to affect the conditions in China during that time.

SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) can be described as a "communicable viral disease that can progress to a potentially fatal pneumonia" ("SARS," 2012). Unfortunately, medical science has still not been successful in discovering a cure or treatment for the virus that is the main cause of this severe disease. The occurrence of this disease was first reported in November 2002 in China's province Guangdong. However, the existing authorities at that time did not disclose the propagation of SARS. It is also shocking that even the local authorities in Beijing withheld the information regarding the disease when it was disseminated in the capital. In February 2003, WHO was the first to notice incidents of atypical pneumonia from Chinese territory? Still, Chinese government still did not start to cooperate until April with the international experts. In the upcoming time, SARS propagated in more or less thirty other countries in five different continents thereby affecting the China's, Toronto's and Hong Kong's economies; the places where SARS spread most ("SARS," 2012). Thus, the SARS epidemic not only drastically impacted the everyday life in China but also greatly increased the level of chaos, anarchy and havoc in the Chinese society. To cut a long story short, the outbreak of SARS turned out to be a major probable menace for China and its people. At the same time, it also proved to be an international wake-up call that exposed the global weakness as far as natural vulnerability and weakness were concerned (So, 2008).

According to Liu (1982), "a society's overall communication is composed of several sub-systems such as mass media, rumor, and interpersonal and institutional exchanges" (as qtd. In Grossberg, Wartella, Whitney & Wise, 2006). In the same connection, the spring of the year 2003 is also known as the 'spring of masks' in China. The reason behind it is that each and every individual and even the pets had their faces covered as the SARS epidemic disseminated. It was also given the name of "thumb culture spring" for the reason that there was excessive use of mobile phones and Internet in this time period. It can be said that communication media extensively developed during this time period in China. This development can be characterized as a symbol of modernity. Mobile phones and Internet, therefore, played a significant role as a means of communication and drastically revolutionized communication media's development and its impact on the modern society (Thompson, 1995).

The period from February 2003 to May 2003 can be regarded as an extraordinarily unique one in the history of China as it was during this period that a large number of people in China had to spend their lives inside their homes or in other confined places so that they could not be attacked by the SARS-causing-virus. It was when the usage of mobile phones and Internet changed the whole situations in China with people communicating with each other through the mentioned mediums (Yu, 2004). The Internet too, just like mobiles, turned out as a medium of self-expression and was used by people to create awareness about the SARS virus (Esaray & Xiau, 2008). In other words, it can be said that the nature of interaction between the people in Chinese society altered with the use of Internet, specifically during this period as Chinese government strongly watches over Internet activities (Zheng & Wu, 2005).Thus, it was not an untold secret that Chinese people used mobile phones and Internet as major weapons for combating against the SARS virus. According to sociologists, the urban Chinese were successful in using mobile phones as a fifth form of medium so that the information and updates regarding SARS could be easily and comfortably accessed, generated and circulated throughout the Chinese society. As a consequence of this modern communication usage, SARS was remedied (Yu, 2004).

To start from the very beginning, just after the celebrations of New Year celebrations in Guangzhou, there was a series of rumors that spread rapidly regarding the SARS outbreak. This was the time when the widespread communication between Chinese people started via mobile phones and Internet. Reports reveal the fact that during the three days i.e. January 8 till January 10, about forty million, forty-one million and forty-five million messages were sent through mobile phones and Internet respectively. Before the ban on SARS reports by the government of China, a newspaper in Guangzhou was successful in keeping the people updated about the SARS stats. Regardless of the fact that the reports were banned by the Chinese government, people in China started to generate and send message so that they can make their loved ones aware, informed and updated about the virus that affected so many precious lives. According to the stats, it was revealed that every day people sent more or less three hundred 300 million SMS messages (Yu, 2004).

It is, therefore, an untold secret that the spring of masks in China was successful in creating informed citizenship as people extensively used mobile phone technology and Internet as the main modes of communication during those days of anarchy. It demonstrates the fact that the post-socialist China freely exercised such a kind of citizenship where a significant role was being played by the mobile communication, especially SMS communication. This was, without a doubt, a positive development in the contemporary Chinese society as a widespread network of telecommunications was created in the country making it possible for the nation to become known as an industrial broadcasting and telecommunications superpower. It is also important to mention here that China possesses the most extensive broadcasting and telecommunication industries. However, it is equally important to know that the biggest pillar of telecommunications industry in the country is mobile communication which is also emerging as most renowned form of mass communication (Yu, 2004). And this boost was given to the industry during the days when SARS cropped out as a severe menace to the well-being of the Chinese population.

It is surprising to indicate that the United States of America has been surpassed by China which has turned out to be the largest global mobile phone market. This again reveals the importance of usage of the mobile phone technology during 2003 SARS epidemic by millions of users throughout the country. The zealous manner by which Chinese people used mobile phone technology and Internet shows that society interacted through technology and warned the loved ones, family and friends regarding SARS virus as the Chinese government took the poor and illogical decision of hiding the outbreak. This made mobile phone technology and Internet the dominating mediums in the telecommunications industries. The Chinese population used the mentioned technologies as the major communication tools. Thus, the 2003 SARS epidemic in China made it known to everyone that it is not necessary to use the technology of mobile phones and Internet as a symbol of fashion or entertainment but these modern communication tools can also be effectively used for networking and reaching the loved ones in problematic times (Yu, 2004).

When one observes the societal conditions before the outbreak of SARS in 2003, it becomes clear that the main usage of SMS communication was either to spread information-based material or rumors about the severe nature of the virus and what can be done to get away with it. Nevertheless, the Chinese government finally decided to disclose the SARS epidemic news and the relevant statistics to the Chinese people and global community after April 2003. The disclosure of the important information changed the sarcastic nature of SMS and the way those messages were formed transformed into a criticism-based material. People also created funny messages regarding the tumultuous situations they were faced and challenged with (Yu, 2004).

At the zenith of the epidemic, the Chinese people produced a good number of mocking messages and circulated them throughout the Chinese society. They were majorly produced in rhyming SMS forms that gave them a sarcastic tone; probably one of the major reasons why their circulation was so far-reaching and rapid. As a consequence, the thumb culture pumped up in the country introduced by a click of a button. The few seconds were effective enough to further propagate the SMS messaging campaign started by the efficient Chinese population. It is not incorrect to say that the appearance of such sarcastic but informative messages on the hundreds and thousands of mobile screens at the same time made it easier for the nation to fight against the effective disease i.e. SARS. It was the time when…