Look up – Chi­nese glued to their phones

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

SOME­TIMES it seems that no one in China, from tod­dlers to oc­to­ge­nar­i­ans, ladies in swim­ming pools to de­liv­ery men mid-ma­noeu­vre, is with­out a cell­phone to hand – and sta­tis­ti­cally it is more or less true.

There are al­most as many mo­bile ac­counts as peo­ple in the world’s most pop­u­lous coun­try.

China had 1.3 bil­lion mo­bile users by the end of 2015, and nearly 30 per­cent of them – swathe of hu­man­ity larger than the whole pop­u­la­tion of the United States – were con­nected to the 4G net­work, ac­cord­ing to its Min­istry of In­dus­try and In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy.

The zoned-out zom­bie stare of the smart­phone ad­dict is a com­mon sight ev­ery­where in this in­creas­ingly mo­bile-ad­dled planet, but it can seem all the more ubiq­ui­tous in China.

Peo­ple re­treat be­hind their lit­tle blue screens at any time of day or night, in dark con­cert halls, tak­ing a break from the kids on the play­room floor, or in the com­pany of a crowd of uni­formed co­work­ers do­ing ex­actly the same thing.

Nearly ev­ery­one who ac­cesses the internet – a stag­ger­ing 92.5pc – does so via their mo­bile, of­fi­cial Chi­nese bod­ies say.

They are hedged in by the “Great Fire­wall”, strict reg­u­la­tions that block po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive con­tent and for­eign sites such as Face­book, Google and Twit­ter.

As a re­sult Chi­nese smart­phone users spend much of their time on na­tive apps that may have be­gun as knock-offs of cen­sored for­eign ser­vices but are now paving the way for the fu­ture of Western tech­nol­ogy.

Th­ese days, Chi­nese users can send their grand­mother a vir­tual red en­ve­lope of money, or­der a box of live scor­pi­ons or sum­mon a beau­ti­cian to the door for an in-house man­i­cure, all with­out even leav­ing the in­ter­face of a sin­gle app, such as the mon­strously pop­u­lar WeChat.

The huge pop­u­la­tion of mo­bile users, which boomed as a re­sult of a bur­geon­ing mid­dle class, rep­re­sents one of the world’s most im­por­tant markets for com­pa­nies such as Ap­ple.

The Cal­i­for­nian gi­ant’s profits slumped last quar­ter due in large part to slow­ing sales in Greater China – in­clud­ing Hong Kong and Tai­wan – where rev­enues dropped 33pc in the face of in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion from home­grown brands such as Oppo, Huawei and Xiaomi.

Busi­ness­man Chu Ling, 48, has come a long way since 1989, when he got his first mo­bile: a huge, boxy Mo­torola. He now com­mu­ni­cates with col­leagues and clients pri­mar­ily via WeChat – an app he barely used a year ago – and gets a new hand­set ev­ery six months.

His lat­est is a shiny Sam­sung ac­quired in March that, un­like an iPhone, is able to hold both his work and per­sonal SIM cards.

“Things change so much here, even within the space of a sin­gle year,” he said.

“The West went through desk­top com­put­ers and lap­tops be­fore they hit smart­phones, and so peo­ple still find those con­ve­nient, but in China we were will­ing to jump di­rectly over to do­ing ev­ery­thing by mo­bile. It’s like we skipped a few stages.”

Photos: AFP

A Ti­betan monk spends qual­ity time in a field with his smart­phone.

More than 92pc of peo­ple who ac­cess the internet do so on their phone.

“In China, we were will­ing to jump di­rectly over to do­ing ev­ery­thing by mo­bile. It’s like we skipped a few stages,” said one Chi­nese busi­ness­man.

An full-grown man lounges around in a chil­dren’s play­ground and looks at his phone.

The screens are a main­stay at con­certs, hav­ing re­placed the once-ubiq­ui­tous lighters.

Some con­struc­tion work­ers check WeChat, a hugely pop­u­lar so­cial net­work­ing app, while on break in Bei­jing.

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