Mo­bile phones are the main course of Shang­hai sup­pers

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - PULSE - By Yang Lan

Chi­nese din­ner ta­bles used to be places of great con­ver­sa­tion and com­mo­tion, where the nu­mer­ous dishes be­ing served also served as a sym­bol­ism for the nu­mer­ous sub­jects to be de­voured. But all that has changed with the rapid mod­ern­iza­tion of our so­ci­ety.

A re­cent sur­vey ini­ti­ated by East­day.com and Bright Food Group re­vealed that over 60 per­cent of Shang­hai cit­i­zens play with their phones while eat­ing. In a city with one of the high­est rates of mo­bile user in China, this data should not come as a sur­prise to any of us who live here.

All you’ll see at lo­cal restau­rants any­more are din­ers silently swip­ing their phones. Young lovers on dates at fash­ion­able new venues are gaz­ing into their smartphones in­stead of into each other’s eyes. Shang­hai wait­resses are no­to­ri­ously surly, but now they can’t even be both­ered to take an or­der be­cause they are cap­ti­vated by what­ever soap opera they are watch­ing on their dig­i­tal de­vice.

At home, Xiaomi has re­placed xi­ao­long­bao as the main course of Shang­hai sup­pers: Baba check­ing his real-time stock quotes, Mama gos­sip­ing on WeChat and Mei Mei play­ing Candy Crush. No­body talks about how their day went; they al­ready know be­cause their day was shared minute by minute on WeChat.

My friends are just as bad; when they visit me at my home, the first thing they ask is not how I am but what is my Wi-Fi pass­word. It’s got­ten to a point that if any of my com­rades ever wants to go out for a bite, I in­sist that no­body be al­lowed to check our phones while eat­ing. The first per­son who loses their self-con­trol pays the bill. I save lots of money this way.

How did it come to this? In a cul­ture famed for its in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships and lively food cul­ture, how has the clas­sic greet­ing chi le ma (have you eaten?) been re­placed by “have you Weixin’d?”

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est data re­leased by China’s Min­istry of In­dus­try and In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy, there are 1.2 bil­lion sub­scribers of mo­bile com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices in China, ac­count­ing for 95 per­cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion, with 889 mil­lion (69 per­cent) of them mo­bile In­ter­net-ac­cess users.

If the first decade of the new mil­len­nium wit­nessed a cell­phone revo­lu­tion, then this decade is cur­rently experiencing a smart­phone in­sur­gency. Where just be­ing able to im­me­di­ately speak with some­one on a shouji (hand ma­chine) was once seen as some­thing space-aged, nowa­days no­body can be both­ered to even speak; text mes­sag­ing is the pre­ferred medium among savvy smart­phone users.

In cities such as Shang­hai where mi­grant work­ers make up a large por­tion of the popu- la­tion, mo­bile phones have be­come the mod­ern let­ter; dig­i­tal life­lines to their dis­tant fam­ily mem­bers who only get to see each other once a year. But what hap­pens when hun­dreds of mil­lions of con­struc­tion un­cles re­turn home for the hol­i­day with a plaid peas­ant bag in one hand and an Oppo in the other?

Chi­nese New Year used to be an oc­ca­sion spent eat­ing all day and all night watch­ing CCTV’s Spring Fes­ti­val Gala. But this year, the an­nual tele­vi­sion ex­trav­a­ganza was taken over by so­cial me­dia dur­ing a pro­mo­tional in­ter­ac­tive give­away of 500 mil­lion yuan ($80 mil­lion) in vir­tual hong­bao (red en­velopes filled with cash tra­di­tion­ally ex­changed dur­ing the hol­i­day) to view­ers us­ing WeChat’s “shake” fea­ture. At one point dur­ing the Gala, a record-mak­ing 810 mil­lion users across China were si­mul­ta­ne­ously shak­ing their smartphones at the ex­act same mo­ment. The year 2015 will for­ever be known as the year that tra­di­tion was tossed out of the touch screen.

Mo­bile phones were meant to connect peo­ple, but it seems that in­stead they are mak­ing us more iso­lated. We might al­low smartphones and all their as­sort­ment of apps to con­sume our pri­vate time, but there’s re­ally no ex­cuse to also let so­cial me­dia de­stroy our so­cial fab­ric.

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