In a new book, MIT’s Ethan Zuckerman asserts that we need to overcome the Internet’s sorting tendencies and create tools to make ourselves ‘digital cosmopolitans.’
Instantaneous worldwide communication comes more slowly to some places than others. An Internet link between a Shanghai secondary school and the rest of the world has just been forged by two MIT students who traveled to China last summer to set up that country's first high school Web server.
Ron Cao and Jake Seid, graduate students in electrical engineering, went to Shanghai to teach students from the Number 2 Secondary School Attached to East China Normal University about e-mail and the Internet, to train them how to make home pages using HTML, and show them how to set up and maintain a Web server.
Their project, the "Computer Educational Development Initiative in Shanghai, China," had three goals:
- To enable students to use their technical understanding to advance computer-aided education in China.
- To build multicultural understanding and awareness between younger-generation Chinese and Americans.
- To offer MIT undergraduates the chance to form a lasting relationship with students and teachers at a Chinese high school.
"Not only will e-mail facilitate communication between East and West, but as other Chinese high schools follow the model set by the Number 2 School, e-mail will facilitate communication among the younger generation of China's many provinces," Mr. Cao said.
The two MIT students helped the school set up e-mail accounts for both students and teachers to allow communication between MIT and the high school. After five weeks, the high school students had created China's first student home pages, first Internet educational program (where students can do math, physics and chemistry problems on the Web in Chinese), and first on-line Chinese HTML primer.
"This is one of the most exciting projects we've started," said Professor Suzanne Berger, head of the MIT International Science and Technology Initiative (MISTI), which along with the Eloranta Fellowship funded the student project.
"One of the most striking lessons I learned was the importance of being able to see issues from a non-American point of view," Mr. Seid commented. "In order to understand the needs and concerns of another culture, you can't assume that the `American way' of doing things will always be correct. This experience will make me more sensitive to differences in perspectives that exist across cultures." He is studying the future of the information technology industry as part of MIT's Made By Hong Kong project.
Mr. Cao and Mr. Seid proposed a continuation of their project, the MIT-China Educational Technology Initiative (MIT-CETI), to MISTI. Under this program, two MIT students will go to Shanghai next summer to help the Number 2 Secondary School further advance its computer-aided education program-possibly setting up a local-area network, teaching C or Java, or expanding on this year's HTML work.
MISTI, through funds from the Dr. Ge Y. Chu Fund and the Freeman Foundation Grant, has just announced that it will support a second year of the program, and organizers are now seeking two more MIT students who are interested in going to China.
"These are opportunities for our students to establish partnerships with Chinese students and researchers that we hope will continue for their whole lives," Professor Berger said.
China is an emerging center for innovation and industry, she added. "With this program there are long-term mutual benefits for China and the U.S.-many American firms are extremely interested in not only selling to China, but being close to the innovation there."
Mr. Cao and Mr. Seid noted that working in China allowed them to understand Chinese people and culture at a much deeper level than they could have otherwise. Through MIT-CETI, they want more MIT students to be able to gain the same invaluable experience.
"Being a student at MIT, it's easy to get caught up in technology for technology's sake and not see its greater role in society," Mr. Seid said. "For MIT students, affecting society with technology means taking a global perspective, and hopefully, our new program will help give students that understanding."
The high school Web site URL is
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 30, 1996.