Hi, my name is Sonia, and I’m addicted to WeChat.
I hate to admit the irony in delaying this confession. But…I was preoccupied with WeChat the last two nights after I had this epiphany. I had sat down, ready to make the confession—but ended up spending my last waking hours these past two nights on WeChat. The irony is too real, I know.
But here we are. Just don’t expect me to not check WeChat during this.
I’m an American-born Chinese who graduated this May from Boston University. I made to decision to ship off to China to live and work, much like a typical expat, language barriers included.
What else is included? WeChat addiction.
Look, you wai guo ren are probably addicted to Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, even Facebook—and find yourself checking them whenever your phone is in hand. But in China, without VPN, WeChat is all we have.
So no matter where we’re from or what we do, if we plan to stay in China for a long period of time, then having a WeChat account is like having RMB. WeChat is, in many respects, our currency. We use it to pay for literally everything, from milk tea to Uber rides. Why, I just paid for three months of rent through it.
*pause, as the ridiculousness of this statement dawns on me*
The thing is, I like to think I’ve assimilated well, despite the natural, occasional culture shock and subsequent annoyances. So what exactly made me “realize” my addiction, you may ask? I mean, if everyone’s as bad as me—my being on my phone constantly and speaking to my phone in public places—how did I declare it anything more than just #CHINA?
Well, on the night I had the epiphany, I was taking a shower. No, I didn’t have my phone in the shower with me—but I might as well have. I caught myself looking through the glass over at the phone lying next to the sink, trying to read through the foggy glass the new WeChat notifications I had just received.
Suddenly, I saw exactly—painfully—how absurd my whole addiction was. Is.
But WeChat is just an app, and I would argue that what we’re really addicted to is the human need to belong.
Under this umbrella of belonging, in this technologically driven society, is the need to stay connected. I get that. In China, a country of billions and growing (R.I.P. One-Child Policy), no one is special, unless we’re President Xi Jinping or Jack Ma. We can easily be replaced within a second.
No, no. I’m not in Clarksville, Maryland, anymore.
Here in Guangzhou, Guangdong, if you don’t want to talk to me, scroll through your WeChat contact list of thousands and preoccupy yourself with multiple other friends at the same time. Scroll through Moments. Post on Moments. Book someone to come to your apartment to do your nails, then order a chef to come to your house and cook something and have him or her wash your dishes afterward. While you’re digesting, go shopping for more groceries on Taobao and video chat with your mom. Then refill your data plan once you realize you’re running out from all these interactions you’ve made through WeChat. Oh, then remember to transfer that money you owe to your friend.
I am describing a reality for many—heck, at least the options for the hundreds of millions of active WeChat users.
And in a way, as an ABC in China, we may have it even worse, because our lives were only recently without WeChat addiction. We, I, can make such painful realizations—that because we find ourselves missing that belonging in such an often-overwhelming society, we crave it in the form of WeChat.
After interviewing foreigners today, I asked if they had WeChat, naturally expecting them to say yes and immediately have their phone on hand to scan my QR code.
Alas, reality hit me.
Unless living in China (or otherwise a tech-savvy global citizen), WeChat is nothing more than another chat app. As a Shanghai manager put it:
“There are 2 types of people in the world: people who use WeChat, and people who don’t use WeChat.”
Whether “using WeChat” stands for “being addicted to belonging” or “needing more real-life interactions” or, frankly, “having no real friends,” which type I am is clear.
Now let me go respond to these voice messages from my cousin.