Deconstructing Chinese socioeconomics: Urban Hermit and Over-reliance on technology
Technology addiction is a serious issue even in Chinese first tier cities, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, which share very similar city attributes in being ‘technology embedded’, ‘media rich environments’ and ‘market driven’. To deconstruct this phenomenon, I will first look at the historical, humanistic and urban context.
The evolution of time impacts significantly on the characteristics of citizens. In the late 70s, the Communist Party of China made a strategic decision in the 11th Central Committee and implemented the reform and opening up of the nation. This national policy reversed the isolation situation experienced by China since 1949 and allowed the state to enter a period of rapid economic development beginning in the early 80s. At the same time, Deng XiaoPing put forward a revolutionary theory of a socialist market economy as China was in a state of transition from a planned economy to a socialist market economy. Citizens during this period experienced price reform, necessities shortages and inflation. As a result, the Chinese 80s generation, to a large extent, are insecure, feel uncertain about the future and are anxious about the state of the nation.
Until the 1990s, Chinese economic development had achieved a soft landing and the majority of society supported the vision of a xiaokang society, one in which the citizens are moderately well off and middle class. This economic prosperity was successful in allowing most of the population in mainland China to live comfortable lifestyles; however, economic advancement was not the sole focus of this newly-rich society. In fact, cultural consumption began to thrive at this time as ‘idealism’, ‘self-expression’ and ‘freedom’ became the keywords of the 90s generation.
Dr. Victor Yue Yuan, a sociologist in Peking University and chairman of the Horizon Research Consultancy Group in China, discussed the characteristics of the 80s and 90s generations from this modern Chinese context based on years of research and statistics. In his book Who Said the 80/90s are Not Reliable? He points out that the 80s and 90s generations are so different from other generations. In effect, they are both the happiest and the most afflicted generations; they are also the most special generations and represent the future of China (Yue, Y. 2011). They have extensive psychological needs but are unable to achieve self-actualisation (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, 2013)(Figure 01) . They also have growth needs (Alderfer’s ERG Theory, Redmond, 2010, P.6)(Figure 02) in terms of their social motivation. According to an article in New Weekly published in 2009, the reality in today’s Chinese society is being referred to as an upstream-blocked society as citizens are facing rigid social stratification (New weekly, 2009). In a sense, their dreams have been shattered by these political, social and economic impacts. There is a long way to go to achieve a stable olive-shaped society and end the pyramid structure and hardened social stratification crisis. In fact, this would most likely require more than 30 years to achieve (Ifeng, 2010).
On the other hand, China possesses a significantly large territorial area and this has led to an outstanding imbalance of resources. Huge numbers of the external population moved into first tier cities to secure greater opportunities but this has resulted in the rootlessness of both cities and citizens. What’s more, surplus properties and urban complexes dominate the natural environment and have had detrimental impacts on the natural ecosystem. With the advances in modern technology and industrialisation, the 80s/90s residents are living an increasingly fast-paced lifestyle and facing unprecedented pressure. They have gained considerable wealth but they are still not satisfied. According to the latest GNH (Gross National Happiness) report relating to Chinese cities in 2013 (Figure 03), the first tier cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen –all lie below the pass line, Shanghai most notably (Sina, 2013).
In an era of technology and entertainment, tiny digital devices appear to be the only items that allow these citizens to release stress when faced with many contemporary issues in their daily lives. However, the force that exists between humans and technology appears to be mutual. In a sense, the more stress people face, the more they prefer to unwind using technology to participate in cyber activities that provide a series of mental rewards that don’t require much effort to achieve (Rosen, L. 2012). In fact, the more they hide behind the screen, the more their needs are exploited by technology. However, their increased psychological needs lead to disappointment in real-life situations. There is no doubt that we all benefit a great deal from innovative technology, however, these devices also reveal some fundamental weaknesses in citizens. Furthermore, it is decimating their comfort zone and is weakening their ability to endure pressure; in essence, technology is gradually turning some citizens into mere slaves of technology.
The affected groups, including zhainan, zhainv, and ditou zu (known as phubber), represent the Chinese subcultures brought about by technology addiction. Zhainan and zhainv are those who spend more than 10 hours per day at home using their computers and phubbers are heavy users of smartphones devices. They constantly check their smartphones, on average every 6 minutes, and often ignore their friends and family members in doing so. Both physical and mental withdrawals have led them to become hermits in urban cities. Urban hermits in China, subgroups that belong to the 80s/90s generation that I discussed previously, are typically between 20 and 30 years of age and can be either students or professionals with individual pursuits. The term itself is composed of “Urban”, for the context in which they live, and “Hermit”, for the way they appear absent when using smartphones on the go, for the way they enjoy the virtual world at home and for the symptoms they display that indicate a dependence on technology, including social avoidance, interpersonal and health problems, time management problems etc. (Rosen, L. 2012).