"Sleeping in Internet Cafes: The Next 300 Million Chinese Users." A talk by Tricia Wang (www.triciawang.com), a sociologist, technology researcher, and ethnographer. First delivered at SXSW in March 2011.
Sleeping in Internet Cafes: The Next 300 Million Chinese Users [Annotated]
The Next 300 Million Chinese
Users SXSW | Austin, Texas | March 12, 2011 | triciawang.com #300MM @triciawangFirst, since this is a future15 talk and I can’t answer questions I would love for you to post your feedback such as things you like or things that aren’t clear usingthe hash-tag #300MMWho here has been to an internet cafe in China?
#300MM @triciawangphoto credit: chinasmack.comThese cafes
are filled up with hundreds of internet users who cannot afford their own PC or internet connection. The majority of internet cafe users are poor,mostly migrants form the rural countryside. When you’re inside a cafe, it just looks like hundreds of people playing games, watching porn and sleeping overnight atthe cafe!
“ Use the internet in
a civilized way. ” Stay away from internet cafe Stay away from Internet addiction, start from yourself. #300MM @triciawangphoto credit: xinhuaIn this picture, a policeman is making a speech to kids about the dangers of internet use, underscored by the message in the red ribbon.The media portrays internet use at these cafes as a psychological addiction, as places where uneducated and classless migrants hang out causing youth to stopgoing to school, commit crimes, have more sex, and do bad stuff life playing games. So with all these poor migrants hanging out in cafes, a lot of middle-class andelite people are panicking.
The Sky Net Team we
monitor • IM chats • text messages • forums • emailsThe government has stepped in by requiring all internet cafes to operate with a permit. Theyʼve also invested a lot of money and time into the SkyNet team -thelargest paid and volunteer based cyber police that monitors online interaction such as IM chats, text messages, forums, and emails.
For outsiders, what you see
here iswhat most middle-class and eliteChinese citizens also see - a bunchof poor migrants watching gamesand playing porn. #300MM @triciawangFor outsiders, what you see here is what most middle-class and elite Chinese citizens also see - a bunch of poor migrants playing games and watching porn.Essentially, they are doing nothing worthwhile.However, Internet cafes are one of the cheapest ways for poor people such as migrants to get online. They can use it for 8 hours a day for less than $2.00. Andanyone can use it - they donʼt turn people away.
whatʼs really going on inside:talk
to friends ﬁnd jobs relax stay in touch with family cheap child-care use bathrooms affordable shelter #300MM @triciawangMigrants are accessing information about work and news, they use them to stay in touch with friends and family.Without a stable home in the city, internet cafes are often the closest thing a migrant has to a “home.” And many of them have ﬁgured out that itʼs cheaper to juststay over night at a cafe than to pay for a room. Cafes are responding to users by constructing cubicles where you can lean against a wall for those who want tosleepover or have a little more privacy.In addition to providing access to information and shelter, you can also buy also food and water, and use a bathroom. The bathroom at the internet cafe is often theonly bathroom hooked up to the sewage system in a slum.This is also a place of safety. For example, I see migrants using cafes as affordable child-sitting. Parents can leave their children here, go to work for 15 hours andcome back to ﬁnd their child in the same place. Parents would tell me that they were happy that their child as the cafe all day and not on the streets with a gang.
internet cafes are places of
safety stability comfort #300MM @triciawangSo counter to what the government and the media argue - that internet cafes are places of moral corruption - my observations revealed that cafes are places ofsafety, stability, and comfort for migrants living in city that seemed at times hostile to them.
internet cafes are important sites
of social interaction #300MM @triciawangI make the case that internet cafes are serious sites of social interaction for rural-urban migrants in China.Itʼs totally new - migrants accessing networked digital technologies, coordinating with each other online, and creating new communities. For the ﬁrst time ever,non-elite users have access to the same technologies as elite users.But while some of these processes may be new (as itʼs not typical to associate migrants and intensive technology use), this is actually an old story
new processes!!!! migrants building new
urbanization using forms of through technology! community! digital tools! #300MM @triciawangWhile some of these processes may be new (as itʼs not typical to associate migrants and intensive technology use), this is actually an old story - poor peoplecoming into cities and trying to make it their home, middle-class and elite people start panicking, and government ofﬁcials stepping in.
but itʼs an old story
poor people government elites panic come to cities steps in #300MM @triciawangWhile some of these processes may be new (as itʼs not typical to associate migrants and intensive technology use), this is actually an old story - poor peoplecoming into cities and trying to make it their home, middle-class and elite people start panicking, and government ofﬁcials stepping in.
21st century - Chinese rural
20th century - Irish & Italian to urban migrants immigrantsWhen poor immigrants from Italy and Ireland came to the US around the turn of the 20th century, they too, like todayʼs Chinese rural to urban migrants, weretrying to make the city their home.
saloons - leisure hang out
spaces for immigrantsRegardless of how much money you have, everyone needs a place to hang out. And back then poor immigrants were hanging out in saloons.
anti-alcohol propoganda postersSo these are
some posters from early 1900ʼs - in the same way that the Chinese Skynet cartoons encourages citizens to report suspicious online activity, theseanti-saloon propoganda encouraged people to support Prohibition. Anti-Saloonists believed that the banning of alcohol would teach immigrants how to spend timeinside their homes - which were really slums - and how to become “civilized Americans.”
sociologists sent into saloons to
ﬁnd out why immigrants spent so much time in them they found out that saloons were important places for immigrants to relax, socialize, use the bathroom #300MM @triciawangHowever what came out of the Anti-Saloon movement were urban sociologists and social workers who wanted to ﬁnd out what was really going on inside thesaloons. They discovered that immigrants went to saloons to stay in touch with people from their own village. In the process they made new friends from othervillages and/or ethnic groups. People shared tips about new jobs, housing, and survival in an entirely new country. This was also a place where people could relax.Families would go to saloons because -- just like internet cafes in China -- it was often the only place with a bathroom connected to the sewage. When anti-saloonists saw images of children coming in and out of saloons, they assumed children were being sexually abused and, unlike the sociologists, didnʼt take thetime to ﬁnd out what was really going on there.
privately owned spaces of communication
technology access are the new third places actively reprogramming urban space (internet cafe) #300MM @triciawangOne of these urban sociologists, Ray Oldenberg argued that places like saloons were absolutely vital for creating a healthy, diverse, and open city. He called thesetypes of spaces, “third places,” places that are neither home or work, such as pubs, cafes, libraries, and public spaces.immigrant and poor communities, just as much as middle-class and elite communities, need third places because these are important sites of communityformation.In China, I make the case that privately owned spaces of information access - internet cafes - are the new third places for non-elite citizens.And so what often looks like an empty street is actually the home of intense socializing. It just isnʼt obvious to someone who isnʼt part of the activity. The same goesfor a super busy cafe with everyone hooked up to the computer. These are the places were migrants are actively reprogramming urban space to work forthem.
building the new publicly virtual
community “street corner” blurring blurring re-mixing private/public kinship ties digital/materialThis is where people are being publicly virtual. Because many of them donʼt have a stable home, much less a private room, they are doing a lot of things that wewould see as “private” in public places. So we have to understand the norms for how people are consuming content in public settings.But more importantly, these are spaces for community building. Migrants are able to create new forms of associations that stand outside of the family, blurringkinship ties. This means that we have to get to understand how peopleʼs social networks are changing and how this affects the types of leisure entertainment theyconsume.Essentially, these cafes are becoming the new digital street corner where digital and material interactions are being re-mixed.
my ﬁeld work site•living with
migrants•going to schools•hanging out in internet cafes #300MM•working in factories @triciawangSo what I do is hang out in a lot of third places. Iʼm a sociologist and ethnographer. For the last fours years, Iʼve been studying how migrantsʼ interaction withdigital technologies in Mexico and China create new spaces for community. I work where they work. I sleep where they sleep. I live with them.
what the future of the
internet will look like? how will the next 3 billion users experience everyday digital life? #300MM @triciawangFor my research in China, I want to answer two questions. 1.) What the future of the internet will look like.
what can we learn from
300 million rural-urban migrants? #300MM @triciawang2.) What we learn from 300 million rural-urban migrants.
Where are potential areas for
social change? #300MM @triciawangSo if places like internet cafes and other sites of information access point to this emerging third places for migrants, what does this tell us about potential areas forsocial change?What are the consequences when an entire stratum of society realizes improved connections through ICTs to many others stratums that were once impossible toreach?Well there are some important shifts that are happening that have radical implications for how games, entertainment, and products will be consumed. I’m justgoing to highlight of few spaces processes today.
1 change from the bottom
up will take form in disruptive citizenship this happens when people on the margins experience the limits of consumer citizenship #300MM @triciawangMigrants are becoming urbanized through a culture of consumption that is mediated and intensiﬁed through digital tools. They may be able to buy whateverthey can afford, but without city residency cards, rural-urban migrants are still technically illegal citizens in their new urban homes. A migrant with limitedresidency does not have access to full social beneﬁts such as health and education.Much like how MExican immigrants are treated in the US, the economy depends on their labor but the state will deny their full personhood.This situation cannot hold as they will make demands that will match their increasingly consumeristic lifestyle preferences.Migrants will be using ICTs to engage in disruptive forms of citizenship when (and if) they realize limits of consumer citizenship.To be clear, this does not mean political changes. Disruptive social changes are often beneﬁcial changes for society at large.
2 Leisure activities become even
more intense sites of social interaction because they are politically benign #300MM @triciawangWith a strong authoritarian government that does not sanction political organizing, leisure sites such as games, movies, music, and consumption, become moreintense sites of social interaction precisely because they are politically benign. But everything, even games, becomes politicized.
3 Leisure activities becomes important
areas of cultural control "Even if dominant institutions are not directly overthrown by new technologies, fundamental aspects of culture are transformed by them." Mark Poster #300MM @triciawang The government is aware of this, so they are increasingly treating benign leisure activities as a site of cultural control.But this cultural activities and symbols can never be fully controlled because there is no one center of control - culture survives precisely because its form isdistributed.Observing cultural tensions around digital technologies reveals so much about existing power structures because cultural changes can happen before major socialchanges happen, as information theorist Mark Poster argues."Even if dominant institutions are not directly overthrown by new technologies, fundamental aspects of culture are transformed by them." (Information Please,Mark Poster 2006:192)Theres a lot of great research thats being done on how cultural control is exerted from top-down, but Im much more interested in how people are reacting to,pushing back, accepting or questioning culture.
4 restrictions + = unique
set of conditions free for all for innovation! + Restrictions are often seen as dreamers unique challenges #300MM @triciawangOne of the major cultural changes is that there is a unique set of conditions for innovations unfolding.China has 3 important factor that make it an innovative environment: a unique set of restrictions, areas that are highly unregulated (such as IP), and millions ofhighly motivated individuals who have high hopes for their futures.What appears as restrictions to us are often seen as a a unique set of challenges to overcome. But the point is that millions of migrants want to pick upprogramming skills and are quickly being trained in these skills. There is so much human capital to be unleashed in China. And that energy is being funneledthrough online spaces.That bottom up push back is actually a vital component of a innovative environment.This poster here is an advertisement for a hacking college geared towards people who don’t have a chance at getting a formal education to pick programmingskills. THe iconography of Keanu Reeves as Neo from The Matrix is not lost upon the migrants. The abundance of these kind of colleges reflect how migrants aretrying to reinvent their lives through opportunities found on the informal market. WIth all these migrants learning programming languages, they are unleashing a lotof human capital.
China is a humongous living
experiment #300MM @triciawangThis is all to say that China is a humongous living experiment. Cities are being torn up and rebuilt to accommodate low-resource populations and high-techinfrastructures.
disposable urban household income in
China has to keep growing to maintain economic growth Text #300MM @triciawangIn order for China to sustain its urban growth and its entire population, it has to bring these millions of migrants ﬂowing into cities into the middle class and ensurethat the urban household income keeps growing.*It has to maintain economic growth (annual growth rate 7% for 12th Five-Year Plan 2011-2015).
In order for China to
sustain its urbangrowth and its entire population, it hasto bring these millions of migrantsﬂowing into cities into the middle class #300MM @triciawang
digitally networking the consumption desires
of millions of people #300MM @triciawangEssentially, to accomplish this, China is digitally networking the consumption desire of millions of migrants who are aspiring to live the lifestyle of the middle-class.People are using cellphones and internet cafes to create the middle-class/elite identity they desire. They do this through the content that they consume, thegames that they play, the clothes that they buy, and down to the choices they make in their online identities.
Digital Urbanism on the margins
millions of rural-urban migrants are becoming urbanized through #300MM low-cost digital tools @triciawangThis is a process that I call digital urbanism on the margins where million of rural-urban migrants are becoming urbanized through low-cost digital tools. Thesemigrants are a major force of contemporary urbanization. Together, digitization + migration + urbanization, are changing our world because these processes alonefacilitate dreams, the creation of desires, and emergence of new practices.
workings of digital urbanism tech
& protocol product practice people economic (code/networks/ (hardware, (subjectivity, policy standards) content) (communication, identity) (legislation) spatial) rural-urban belonging migration Hardware: low- cost tech tools non co-present communication digitization of dreams widespread information infrastructure organization software: workﬂow desires social media/ gamingstate managed growth community blurring open web private/public standards and changing programming kinship ties languages re-mix internet ﬁltering digital/material regime #300MM work @triciawangIn my research, I account for several processes that contribute to Digital Urbanism from tech policy to protocols. But whatʼs really at the core of my work and alsowhat I really want to emphasize today are the hopes and dreams of the people living on the margins. Because it is these hopes and dreams that are driving theChinese economy, US economy, and global economy. It is these dreams that are informing the kind of leisure activities people decide to engage in from games tomusic and shopping.
world population: add 3 billion
in 30 years it took 10,000 years to reach 3 billion 2011: 6.7 billion more evenly developed less evenly developedGetting some insight into these 300 million users is only the beginning. There are millions of new non-elite users getting online outside of the US. Weʼre going tobe adding another 3 billion people to our planet in the next 30 years and the overwhelming majority of these people will be located outside the US. Just for somecontext, it took 10,000 years for the human population to reach 3 billion.
can the planet support the
millions of migrants who have dreams to join the Chinese middle-class? #300MM @triciawangphoto credit: edward burtynsky But the question really is, can the planet support the millions of migrants who have dreams to join the Chinese middle class?
Will cheap digital tools be
the game changer? #300MM @triciawangAnd are cheap digital tools going to be the game changer? I believe that answering these questions requires us to look at third places - physical places where poorpeople are using networked digital communication tools to mediate and create their dreams - these are the spaces to watch because these are the places wherepeople are actively reprogramming urban space to work for them.Itʼs important to grasp these changes from the bottom up and from these peopleʼs perspective (as opposed to from our own position) because if we want to workwith, market to, collaborate with, and build with China, much less any part of the world- we have to genuinely want to understand of how the largest group of techusers are making sense of the world. We absolutely have to.
Iʼll have some observations to
report in 2012! (if the world doesnʼt end) #300MM @triciawangThank you for allowing me to engage you in the ethnographic imagination. It is my belief that a deeper understanding of the present can give us a very groundedvision for the future. Iʼm moving to China for my ﬁeldwork, this is my last stop in the US so Ill have some more observations of Chinese people sleeping in internet cafes to report in2012!
thank youto friends who listened
and gave me advice: kristen taylor, kevinslavin, kenyatta cheese, morgan ames. And thank you SXSWcommunity for all the feedback after my talk!thank you to friends who listened and gave me advice: kristen taylor, kevin slavin, kenyatta cheese, morgan ames. And thank you SXSW community for all thefeedback after my talk!