Thursday, May 15, 2014

Welcome to American Futures

Welcome New York Times readers! My article in the Travel section described the American Futures Project that my husband, Jim, and I have been doing for The Atlantic and our partners, Marketplace radio and the Esri software firm.

The main project page here hosts all of our articles. Below you'll find a selection of the main themes we've emphasized and some of the most popular posts.

We hope you'll enjoy following this saga and send us suggestions of places we should go and things we should see.

You can email me at DebFallows at gmail dot com.

John Tierney, our partner on the American Futures Project, has built this map, using Esri technology, to highlight the towns we have visited so far. If you click on the pushpin, you'll see the town.

Big Picture of Economic Resilience of Small Towns

Holland MI: Why local money matters

Sioux Falls SD: Looking at the economic bones of a city

Redlands CA: A City's turning points

St. Marys GA: The transformation of a company town

Innovative Schools

Greenville SC: A public boarding school for the arts

Camden County GA: A high school oriented toward technical careers

Greenville SC: An elementary school of engineering

Big, Intriguing Companies -- Why they're in These Small Cities and Their Importance in the Life of the Community

Holland MI: A major recycling company

Burlington VT: A software titan

Redlands CA: The innovator in Geographic Innovation Systems

Small-town America as Home to Refugees from Around the World

Burlington VT: A refugee resettlement program, and the story of Hai Blue

Sioux Falls SD: Home for a lively immigrant community

The Language of America: The Stories about How We Speak and What We Say to One Another

Holland MI: Some linguistic curiosities and patterns of American Speech

Eastport ME: Wicked good talk in New England

Everywhere: How Americans greet each other and what it means

The Flying Life: Sights and Sounds from the Cockpit

Itawt-Itawa-Pudye-Ttatt and other curiosities of airborne language

The language of the skies

Flavors of America: People and Places Improving our Tastes

Burlington VT: The Alchemist brew

Rapid City SD: An eco-friendly green hotel

Thursday, November 15, 2012

If you're in Sioux Falls!

South Dakota

Dreaming in Chinese goes to Augustana College

Friday, November 9, 2012

If you're in Alaska..

Juneau: November 11. University of Alaska, Juneau. Egan Lecture Hall. 3:00 PM

Anchorage: November 12. University of  Alaska, Anchorage. Campus Bookstore. Noon
Anchorage: November 12. University of Alaska, Anchorage. Wendy Williamson Auditorium. 7:30 PM

Fairbanks: November 13. University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Wood Center Ballroom. 7:00 PM

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

If you're in Annapolis this weekend...

Come by the  Annapolis Book Festival!


Too vast to paraphrase, too diverse to stereotype, too relevant to ignore; that is modern China. Join James and Deborah Fallows, who have recently spent three years living and traveling throughout China, for a unique insight into the political and cultural heart of that country. Their discussion will be moderated by Damien Ma.

The Key School
534 Hillsmere Dr.
Annapolis, MD 21403

2:00 p.m. Room 1 - Katharine Hall

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Swimming in Sydney

We've been in Sydney for a few weeks, and I've had a chance to indulge in one of my favorite things: swimming. Here is a link to a dispatch about swimming my way across Sydney, as it appeared at

...The North Sydney Pool is exactly three minutes by foot from our door. Scores of world records have been set there since it was opened in 1936, cheered by fans in the steep concrete grandstands. The pool d├ęcor is colorfully art deco, and the locker rooms are spookily dark. Luna Park, an amusement park from the same era, looms over the pool from right next door, its entrance a gigantic molded clown face, with an eerily nightmarish 30-foot-wide smile....

Saturday, January 28, 2012

If you're in DC on Jan. 29

This year's Landon China Roundtable will feature three speakers discussing “China’s Role in the World”.  The Roundtable will start at 1:30 PM on Sunday, January 29th.  It will be held at Landon School, 6101 Wilson Lane, Bethesda, Maryland, in the PAC building.
Hans Timmer, Director of Development Economics at the World Bank, will make a presentation on ‘China’s Expanding Role in the Global Economy’. 
Students of Chinese, and those trying to understand the culture of China as an emerging superpower, will be fascinated by Deborah Fallows’s observations based on her book, “Dreaming in Chinese”.  Her struggles to learn Chinese will resonate with all students of the language.
Mr. Xiaojun Heng, Minister Counselor of the Embassy of China, will speak on China’s efforts to develop better information and understanding between the United States and China in order to promote a harmonious society at home and peaceful development on the international stage, the two major objectives of Chinese President Hu Jintao. 
The China Roundtable draws from the Washington/Baltimore area approximately 150 China experts, businessmen, journalists, academics, teachers, parents, and students, including visiting Chinese exchange students. 
Attendees are invited to a Chinese luncheon which will proceed the Roundtable; the food will be served starting at 12:30 PM.  There is no charge for attending the Roundtable or the luncheon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

China's Internet Users Today

During our years in Beijing and Shanghai from 2006 - 2009, I worked for about half the time researching internet use in China for the Pew Internet Project, an arm of the Pew Research Center. Unable to do my own fieldwork (foreigners are forbidden to do surveys in China without a Chinese partner), I gleaned what I could from survey work from my friend Guo Liang of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and from other helpful researchers at  the China Internet Network Information Center, which has done its own surveys of internet development in China since 1997. For me, the most interesting (and surprising!) results I found were about the Chinese people's high tolerance for government oversight of internet use.

So, I am always interested when the Pew Research Center issues its Global Attitudes reports, which include information about China. Their newest report, called Global Digital Communication, was just released.

Like many other readers of surveys done in China, I look for the footnotes about data collection, survey methods, and any other tidbits I can find to bear in mind when I look at the numbers. Pew remarks that the 2011 Global Attitudes Survey was conducted under the direction of their longtime collaborator, the Princeton Survey Research Associates, -- except in China --, where data were purchased from the Horizon Research Consultancy Group (a private survey firm), based on their own self-sponsored survey, "Chinese People View the World".  During my time in China, Horizon was the go-to survey firm among foreigners.

Another critical point to bear in mind is that the pool of respondents in china is disproportionately urban.  As a matter of perspective, some of the so-called "towns", as opposed to "cities" where the survey was conducted include many I recognize as having populations in the millions. Urban, indeed. In China, I found the differences between city life and country life to be staggering in both recorded statistics and observable lifestyle.

With those caveats, here are some things I noticed about China this time around: 93% of respondents say they own cell phones. This is a hefty increase from 50% in 2002 to 67% in 2007 to the present. China is far from alone in the world in such increases in cell phone ownership, of course. But it is worth comparing with cell phone ownership in the US at 61% in 2002; 81% in 2007; and (now eclipsed) 85% in 2011

As for what people do on their phones, the Chinese numbers exceed  the global median of 21 countries surveyed in all categories:

Do you--
make phone calls: 98% (China 99%)
text: 75% (China 80%)
take pictures or video: 50% (China 54%)
use the internet: 23% (China 37%)

Anecdotally, on the sidewalks and metro, in the elevators and markets of China, I saw more people more frequently texting than anything else. Texting is very cheap in China, and while people do talk on the phone, they seem to do it with less abandon than texting.

As far as social networking, among the 8 poorest countries surveyed, with a GDP per capita of under 10,000$, China has the highest percentage (over 30%) of social networkers. Social networking is off-the-charts as a social phenomenon in China; it is one of few ways to publicly let off steam, project your voice far and wide, become a presence. With China's newly proposed requirement that people post with their real names, rather than made-up names, the dynamics around social networking will surely change.