hi-tech houhai

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Those who have followed Shenzhen Noted for the past twelve years know that the reclamation of Houhai Bay has been one of my ongoing obsessions. Today, I walked again and found myself momentarily confused by the current grid; previously I used Binhe Road and its constructions to locate myself. I’m trying to think through what it means that sand has become glass. It is not the case that “all that is solid melts into air,” but rather all that was liquid solidifies and congeals. Mummies and amber. Dinosaurs and fossil fuels. Anyway, photos, below:

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who “i” have become in an iPhone / WeChat world

My cellphone has changed me or rather it has changed how I experience myself, and this other me (the one that steps back and reflects on this experience) is coming to terms with someone I never imagined I would meet, let alone become.  Continue reading

how chinese is weixin?

This past year, I have noticed that the age of text messages seems already over. Instead, the sarcastic couplets and stories that used to come by text, now come by weixin groups. On the face of it, it seems a case of new technology beating out a less convenient model. Afterall, weixin groups allow senders to conveniently send out targeted mass mailings.

Interestingly, Tricia Wang has suggested that their are cultural reasons for the popularity of weixin. Specifically, the “shake” and “nearby” functions, which allow young people to meet strangers through a virtual introduction. Indeed, Tricia has also translated rules for using weixin to set up a one-night stand. Tricia makes the point that

One of the most important things to understand about Chinese apps is that the successful ones make serendipitous communication with strangers really easy.

I’m wondering, however, if the cultural gap is as much generational than cultural? After all, young people who spend a great deal of time online are already habituated to virtual introductions. Moreover, I’ve seen groups of teenagers in both the United States and China, hanging out together while they chat and go through messages received on their smartphones. That said, I highly recommend visiting Tricia’s blog, Bytes of China to explore the ways in which social media and new technologies are shaping and being shaped by China.

click this

The internet confuses us into thinking that everything we need to know can be found in one place, such as the Shenzhen Life Net (深圳生活王), where all sorts of information and experiences are just a click away. Questions about public welfare? Click 社保. Want to watch whatever is currently being broadcast on Shenzhen’s television 16 television channels? Click 电视. You can also find out about traffic conditions, confirm important dates on the lunar calendar almanac, and figure out how much tax you owe: click, click, and click!

In fact, Shenzhen’s ongoing efforts to modernize by becoming one of the most inter-connected cities on the planet continue to fill virtual space with all sorts of information. The government is online. The library is online. The museum is online. And the historical archives are online. Moreover, Tencent, one of the key Chinese companies inter-connecting us through qq and we chat is a Shenzhen company.

At the same time that Shenzhen builds its virtual world, China’s great firewall continues to make it difficult to click to the New York Times, or Facebook, or Youtube without a tunnel. Ineed, just the other day, China banned its media from quoting foreign news articles without permission. In this sense, Shenzhen’s vast internet culture is itself the form of a pervasive inequality and the ideological expression of this inequality. The point as Global Voices co-founder and author of Consent of the Networked, Rebecca McKinnon has argued:

A substantial body of previous work has been produced over the past two decades on human rights risks in sectors such as extractives or labor services. Much less work has been done on business and human rights in the ICT sector – particularly on free expression and privacy rights. The novelty of the technology requires a translation exercise of existing human rights principles, policy, and law to ICT platforms and services.

In practical terms, however, surfing the internet often seems less about human connection and building more just worlds (as in the human writes discussion) as it does a question of our tendency to mental addictions. On the bus and subway, in meetings and movie theaters, we click, click, click through life. There is a compelling distraction to click culture. At times, I find myself simply clicking to visit sites that I have just left. I click away not because I think I may discover another post, but because the repetive action distracts me from the fact that all I’m doing is procastinating. I have have found myself fascinated by the number of visitors and clicks that Noted receives; confirmation that I have an audience. So pernicious is my click addiction that sometimes I even confuse the number of clicks with the value of my research.

I also am wondering how much of my online dependency is an expression of other forms of alienation in everyday life. My friends, for example, work long hours across town. It is difficult to arrange time together simply to hang out and chat without internet access. Likewise, the extent of urbanization in Shenzhen means that I can’t simply walk outside and enjoy fresh air and mountains. Instead, I have to navigate a six-lane road to jump on a bus, which then trundles off toward a central hub. In other words, I’m not sure how much of my online life is an attempt to heal virtually problems that can only be solved through realworld communities and life changes.

So today, I’m thinking about questions of scale and what manageable communities might look like, on the ground, here in Shenzhen, where popoulation density is over 5,500 per square kilometer and we still haven’t figured out how to plan and manage integrated communities.