The mindlessness of mobile phone overuse is a well-worn topic these days. It is however, something that has in recent years, accelerated in China to the point of being a phenomenon worth worrying about. The other day I saw a guy with
‘Fuck your phone keep your head’
defiantly written on his t-shirt. “Yes!” I thought “At least there are still a few of around.” At that moment he stopped, pulled out his phone and proceeded to walk across the road without even looking until a car swerved out of the way and blasted its horn for an unbroken five seconds. As the car sped past he returned to his phone, neck bent still utterly absorbed.
In China the issue is a mixed bag really. There are countless positives to be had from it. The big one is WeChat. Everyone uses it without exception. Texts and calls are all free. I haven’t paid for a call or text in years. It also includes free video calls and sending of photos while people will often send brief audio messages instead of calling. You can even pay for things in any shop using WeChat and I mean without the use of a credit card. With WeChat you can send people money in a digital Chinese red envelope ‘hongbao’ and it immediately goes into their WeChat wallet. You can pay taxi drivers just by scanning their identity code and sending them a hongbao. Amazing hey?
The problem, as Mr Fuck Your Phone so clearly demonstrated, is that people are losing their ability to think. Wherever you go you’ll be surrounded by neck-bent people who will walk right into you if you don’t give way. On the subway everyone has the same ringtone or text tone which can be heard every thirty seconds or so. As a rough guestimate at least fifty percent of passengers on board will be on WeChat down the whole length of the carriage. The remaining phone users will be playing games while a few will be actually reading something worthwhile. Those with no phone may well be peering over the shoulder of their neighbour watching what they are doing. Phew!
Other noticeable areas of life are people on the treadmill at the gym holding their phone, in the hairdressers while they are getting their hair done, in the restaurant while waiting for the food to arrive and a large number who drive and use WeChat at the same time. In the park people line the benches using WeChat. Last night I saw a couple lovingly sharing a single phone while surfing their contacts. A friend of mine said that his girlfriend will immediately reach over to her phone moments after they’ve just finished having sex to surf her WeChat. People who go outside for a cigarette are no longer contented with only smoking. Yes these days it’s a ciggie in one hand and WeChat in the other. The other day I saw a couple walking down the road hand in hand all the while with heads bent down, their phones glued their faces having long since thrown the idea of communication out of the fifteenth storey window.
Of course most non-users are the late-middle aged to elderly folk who developed brains long before cell phones were invented. These people demonstrate creativity that is worryingly in danger of disappearing in the next few years. They play board games in groups, play traditional instruments, do square dancing, exercise or sit together talking. How they manage to live without the latest app heaven only knows.
As a teacher I engage in a daily battle from keeping my students off of WeChat and focused on the task at hand. I even got a poster put up with the WeChat icon superimposed with a red road ‘prohibited’ circle and stripe across it. Despite this students still hide their phone under the desk or in the middle of an open book with the cover up so I can’t see it. I have to confiscate phones from perpetual offenders with one student even telling a colleague to fuck himself after a second reminder. Some students refuse to use a notebook, instead taking a photo of the whiteboard using their phone at the end of the class with a single snap, something I find highly infuriating.
Oh yes and there is another interesting off-shoot to all this; the ‘Phone Holders’. While a pocket or bag is clearly available these people will sit there phone in hand while not actually using it. What’s all that about then? Are they just really popular? Are they waiting on an important life changing call that they dare not miss? Hmmm, I don’t think so. Maybe it’s an attempt to appear to be popular, wanted, the centre-pin of a vast overlapping set of social circles that require their utmost attention, ‘Wow look. They’re always on the phone. They must have such a dynamic lifestyle!’
Phone Holders are everywhere; sat on the subway or walking down the road solo or in groups. For sure it’s a combination of various elements. These are
2: Showing off your identity.
3: Maintaining a feeling that you fit in with society.
4: Lastly, some deep insecurity whereby one has to be seen to be doing something with one’s hands. Most people can’t walk down the road without having one hand occupied. Are you one of these people? I take my hat off to those brave souls who are confident enough to walk with both hands free, hair blown back in the wind, ha!
Also time yourself and see just how long you can wait, standing at the side of the street for a bus or friend to arrive, with your arms and hands naturally down at your sides doing nothing. I dare you! Do it when your with your mates if your up for a laugh.
I admit I do feel very self-conscious when I’m not holding anything as I walk down the street. I experimented holding the end strap of my rucksack and other non-visible things like my keys and it took the edge off noticeably.
The next phase: So where’s all this going then? Actually I envisage nothing short of some dark sci-fi nightmare where people have a watch or similar item linked to a set of contact lenses. People won’t need to hold anything, just stare blankly in a seated line on the subway talking to themselves.