WeChat Obsession in the Modern Age

‘Yes, but I don’t have WeChat.’ 

You would think that I have just admitted something truly worrying. I imagine that those who respond to my declaration are actually hearing something like, ‘I don’t drink water,’ or ‘I don’t use underpants.’ One would think so, based on their reactions.


The person who I’ve just admitted my social aberration to inevitably responds. They are confused. Surely everyone has WeChat. But I don’t.

When we first moved to China, I just didn’t have time to spare to go find a smartphone and sign up. I vaguely attempted before we moved to download one of the world’s largest messaging networks onto my desktop. I failed. It needs a QR code to be scanned. I tried to scan it with an app on my computer. I had shingles at the time. I couldn’t be arsed.

After a few weeks in China, I was still on the fence about getting WeChat. I was getting around just fine with my hand-drawn maps and in touch with those who I needed to be in touch with. I had a new email to stay in touch with friends and I was working in a rather small office, with easy access to my coworkers (a short yell across the room away!). I wanted a camera to take random photos of the craziness that appears at random sometimes while travelling. But I decided to save the money for a smartphone until the next month.

My trusty Nokia Brick.
My trusty Nokia Brick.

And then the next month. And then the next month. And then the next.

Six months into our proposed yearlong stint in Shanghai, I’ve decided to keep it that way. 

I’m not necessarily a born contrarian. I don’t necessarily have strong views about social networks and privacy. I am not necessarily a Neo-Luddite. But I am put off by people wandering around Shanghai and elsewhere in China, phone in front of their faces, with the glowing screen lighting up vacant expressions. It reminds me so much of that movie Wall-E where all the humans are super fat and have screens in front of their faces all day.

The Joy of Travel Part 1
The Joy of Travel: reading your WeChat feed on a bamboo boat

Mind you, all this has happened in less than five years. WeChat launched in January 2011. 

The main reason I don’t want it is the reaction above. Every person that I talk to in China is not only confused, but shocked and maybe even a little outraged that I don’t have WeChat. They forget it constantly. It’s so interwoven with life in China that texting is considered so very passé.

Yes, this is genuinely how I navigate in China. No need for Bing's shitty maps here!
Yes, this is genuinely how I navigate in China. No need for Bing’s shitty maps here!

‘How do you get in touch with people?’

I have texting, several emails, my blog, other social networks, and *gasp* even my mouth with which I communicate.

‘I’ll send you his name card.’

‘I don’t have WeChat.’

‘Oh, I forgot. How will you get in touch, then?’

I have this thing called a phone number. When you call it from another phone, I can answer and speak to you even if you aren’t in the same room! It’s so amazing to live in the 21st century. I’ve even jokingly told people that I’m a ‘conscientious objector’ to WeChat, to be answered with an overly-serious ‘I didn’t know you could do that with social media.’

The biggest annoyance came this past week. I knew that my deskmate was leaving Shanghai. He had made it clear he wasn’t coming back. I knew his last day was a Sunday, and that we’d be finishing work at 6pm. I assumed that they’d be going out.

And they were. But I didn’t know about it until someone asked me for directions to a party I was not invited to. Now he’s gone. I assume that I will never see him again. He didn’t even say ‘bye-bye.’ 

And the whole reason? People took for granted, despite months of me telling them the contrary, that I was on the WeChat group. The person with whom I shared a desk for six months, with whom I spoke to every single working day, from whom I listened to the stresses and problems of the work, who I helped work through a UK visa for a trip to London…couldn’t turn to me during a ten-hour shift (or at any time in the previous weeks) and say:

‘Hey, we’re going out for dinner since I’m leaving. Want to join us?’

Yes, a personal slight. More than likely unintentional. It might seem insignificant. It probably is. But I’m tempted to write something about the mass unraveling of human interpersonal communication and/or how kids these days have no sense of decency.

I have had Facebook since 2006. I have Twitter. I have a blog. I have had smartphones (plural, yes). I have used free instant messaging services. I’m not a dinosaur. I’m not even 28 just yet, damn it!

I have never experienced anything on par with the obsession with WeChat. Never. It’s even spreading beyond the borders of China, and if I want to stay in touch with anyone from my time here, I’m sure I’d have to get it.

But then, given the obsession with WeChat…I doubt that those I meet here in China will even bother to find me of Facebook or any other social network. They haven’t done so thus far. Everyone, otherwise reasonable and generally kind people, tries over and over to convince me of its worth. Frankly, that’s what puts me off the most.

I don’t have WeChat. I will not have it. And despite this, I will live in China. I will have a great time anyway.

And no, I seriously don’t have WeChat.

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