The internet is paying havoc with the way Chinese people interact with each otherby Yuan Ren / May 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
Dining out with a friend recently, I only realised that two people sitting opposite us were together when they got up to leave. For over half an hour they had appeared to be strangers: her taking selfies, him reading on his phone. When I pointed this out to my companion, he replied, “They probably just messaged each other to ask if they should head out.’”
In China, the act of “phubbing,” as it is known (a contraction of “phone-snubbing”) is far more noticeable—and definitely more acceptable—than in many western countries.
I’ve been severely phubbed many times. I dated someone who would start reading news or checking stocks whenever we sat down to eat. He’d perfected the dinner-phubbing pose of one hand holding chopsticks, the other scrolling his phone.
When I told a friend about the new “third wheel” ruining my dates, he said that at his school reunion the previous night, everyone was head down posting pictures and messaging friends on the app WeChat during dinner. “That’s just the way things go now,” he said.
A report by the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) found that 87 per cent of adults aged 16 to 24 years old checked WeChat or QQ messenger at least once every 15 minutes. This is nothing new: in 2008, China became the first country in the world to label internet addiction as a clinical disorder. As in South Korea, boot camps exist to wean teenagers off their “drug.”
WeChat is owned by the Chinese tech giant Tencent. With nearly 900m users, the app has made audio messaging as popular as typed messages: only in China will you see people speaking into their phone as if it were a walkie-talkie, then playing the audio reply out loud. Few consider that noise a public nuisance—it’s just the norm.
People are constantly engaging with their phones because apps have become life enablers for smartphone owners in China. Multi-functional apps such as WeChat and Alipay not only have Facebook and WhatsApp-like features integrated with their core functions, but also offer services that make them indispensable. Ordering taxis, paying gas bills, booking cinema tickets, online shopping and much more can be found on just one app. A Tencent report released this year said that almost 90 per cent of WeChat users access the app daily,…