Just downloaded an app called WeChat / Weixin by Tencent that a good local friend has been telling me I should use for months. At heart, Weixin is a voice-and-text instant-messaging app but it integrates aspects of social media - particularly find-and-flirt/Grindr-like features for you to manufacture connections with the people around you via messages tossed out in virtual space.
After adding the contacts from your cell phone’s phone book, you can use a Wifi network (instead of your phone plan’s texting or data plan) to send voice messages, text messages, pictures, your location coordinates, a contact card, start a video call, send wacky Emojis. The best part is the voice message. It’s like leaving an audio note for a friend - without the annoying-ness of an old-school voicemail system.
Weixin’s key social media functions are: ”look around”, “shake” and “drift bottle”. Looking around is like Grindr - you get the usernames of those 100m, 200m or 500m from you. You can send them a message, invite them for coffee right then and there.
To shake your phone, toss out a bottle or pick a bottle, it’s a bit more random. You can record a brief voice message (no more than 1-minute), “toss” it out to a big blue ocean and see who responds. To respond to a message in a bottle, you “pick” a bottle out of the ocean, listen to it, and decide if you want to “throw back” or “reply”. If you shake your phone, you can connect and “bump” into other people also shaking their phones for random encounters and meetings.
It’s fascinating to see how prevalent Weixin is as it is still very new - maybe a year and a half old. Curious about the demographic using Weixin for social purposes, I have shaken my phone, tossed out a bottle and picked some up as well. The space seems to be inhabited by teenage boys looking for love (or easy hook-ups?) - mainly in Beijing but also in other provinces. It’s weirdly thrilling to record a voice message, toss it out and immediately get male voices in response. My first one, in English, was, “Just tossing this out to see what is out there.” Within a second, I got a text reply, “讲中文.” “Speak Chinese”, presumably, so he could understand, and maybe respond.
My friend shared an example of one night while she was working at her old office past midnight, she sent a voice recording, asking, “I am still at work, is anyone else still here?” She tossed the bottle into the blue ocean (the graphics are simple but effective) and immediately got responses. There were a few people still working in the office building and they told her to not work so hard, to take care of herself and to go home soon. Not a terrible way to “connect” with your fellow white-collar ghosts, eh? No commitment, fleeting assurance, enough to pass the painful moments and then you forget about the pain and also the solace.
She tells me it’s mainly used by China’s urban working class, waiters, service workers, hair dressers, who lack resources for more exciting social outlets. It’s a cheap and easy way to find social connection. Modern life is indeed this lonely.