For Chi­nese diaosi, more tech can mean more prob­lems

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Onat Kibaroglu Page Editor: yangzhenqi@ glob­al­times.com.cn

Some 2,000 young peo­ple work­ing in China’s four tier-one cities were re­cently sur­veyed; the re­sults re­vealed a para­dox­i­cal dis­con­nect be­tween mi­grants and their new homes. The re­sults came across as sur­pris­ing to many: how could 85 per­cent of the re­spon­dents claim that they don’t feel a sense of be­long­ing in the big cities they had moved to for work?

De­tach­ment and alien­ation are in­her­ently hu­man prob­lems, with root causes be­yond so­cioe­co­nomic as­pects of life such as “hav­ing an ur­ban hukou (a res­i­dence per­mit to ac­cess so­cial ser­vices, which are very dif­fi­cult for ru­ral mi­grants to ob­tain)” or “own­ing an apart­ment (which usu­ally trans­lates to hav­ing a fam­ily).”

I be­lieve these find­ings, along with most of my ob­ser­va­tions and side-read­ings, make ap­par­ent a gen­eral is­sue that is be­stowed upon the modern Chi­nese so­ci­ety – lone­li­ness. A num­ber of so­ci­o­log­i­cal graph­ics on this topic in­di­cate a neg­a­tive trend in so­cial bonds, in line with a pos­i­tive trend with the gen­eral econ­omy of the Mid­dle King­dom since the 1980s.

Is mod­ern­iza­tion the cul­prit? Well, not nec­es­sar­ily nor com­pletely, but I would ar­gue it in­deed has a lot to do with it, es­pe­cially in sub­tle ways. Con­sider China’s cur­rent craze of livestream­ing. The Econ­o­mist calls it “… a new way of bring­ing color to dreary lives,” where ran­dom folks (mostly fe­male) sim­ply get in front of a We­b­cam all day long while chat­ting with fol­low­ers (who can num­ber in the mil­lions).

Us­ing Kuaishou, a Chi­nese livestream­ing mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tion, We­b­cast­ers are broad­cast to an au­di­ence of fel­low coun­try­men, who col­lec­tively have branded them­selves as diaosi (lo­cals who mock­ingly iden­tify them­selves as losers with no so­cial life and trapped in dead-end oc­cu­pa­tions). The essence of this craze is that this plat­form al­lows mil­lions of watch­ers of these “self-shows” to have a sort of so­cial in­ter­ac­tion that is rather lacking in their own lives.

I men­tioned this trend to a rather in­tel­lec­tual friend of mine and he came up with a suc­cu­lent metaphor for it: the con­sump­tion of these daily livestream­ing shows can be com­pared to re­cook­ing the same meal over and over ev­ery day de­spite its in­creas­ing bland­ness; it is just a prac­ti­cal way to do away with hunger. “Hunger” in this case trans­lates to alien­ation, ty­ing the is­sue back to the re­sults of the pre­vi­ously men­tioned ur­ban sur­vey.

Given that such a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of peo­ple tend to sat­isfy their so­cial needs through vir­tual life, they can now “skip a meal” when it comes to op­por­tu­ni­ties to bond with the peo­ple ac­tu­ally sur­round­ing them. It is just less of a has­sle and also much less riskier (no chance of los­ing face or be­ing in awk­ward dis­po­si­tions) to use Kuaishou than to make any ef­fort to hold up a de­cent real-life con­ver­sa­tion with oth­ers.

My ar­gu­ment here does not aim to bash tech­nol­ogy for yet an­other so­ci­etal co­nun­drum. I am rather more in­ter­ested in ques­tion­ing the point where the prac­ti­cal­ity of tech­nol­ogy ends, and its ten­dency to over-sim­plify our lives be­gins. Lone­li­ness is not new to the modern Chi­nese so­ci­ety, given the fact that the pro­lif­er­a­tion of high­rise hous­ing projects has cre­ated iso­lated cir­cles of mu­tu­ally cut-off fam­i­lies.

The dif­fer­ence here is that such de­vel­op­ments were col­lat­eral dam­age of grander schemes, whereas livestream­ing apps sim­ply do not achieve any­thing more than serv­ing as a vir­tual get-to­gether. As an ex­treme yet still il­lus­tra­tive case, it was re­cently re­ported that a lo­cal singer felt so iso­lated af­ter be­com­ing “In­ter­net fa­mous” that he sim­ply could not bring him­self to ride the sub­way or be near any crowds. He “be­came fright­ened of peo­ple and could no longer in­ter­act in so­ci­ety.”

Are all diaosi who watch livestream­ing lonely or so­cial out­casts? No; many of the watch­ers surely are so­cia­ble in­di­vid­u­als. Are livestream­ers con­scious ma­nip­u­la­tors of so­cial threads? Also no, as most do it for a liv­ing with­out think­ing much about the con­se­quences. But it is im­por­tant to re­al­ize that one can only skip well-bal­anced, nu­tri­tious meals so much be­fore our bod­ies shut down.

The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the author’s own and do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of the Global Times.

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