Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘Facebook

On Distraction, WeChat, and the endless staring at screens

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On any given day my waking hours might be colonized by the time spent staring at screens. During the working week I might spend hours, in accumulation, looking at a computer screen (my Lenovo Ideapad S210 Touch laptop) or staring down at a mobile screen (my LG G3 smartphone).

It has reached a point where the habit is so routine that I wonder whether my mind is now corroded in its capacity to dwell undistractedly.

You probably know what I’m talking about.

Being a freelance writer I have perhaps more freedom than most to spend time staring. And throughout the day I’ll have my phone close to me, sometimes pausing to look at it, to see whether its tiny beacon of light is shining.

Notifications have become gratification, even when there are none…

WeChat is the app I spend the longest time with. It’s China’s version of WhatsApp, but far superior in its functions and utility. It acts as social portal and work-related messaging platform. It’s a gateway and hub for my personal and professional life.

Facebook is a reflexive distraction, where I’ll pay attention to unimportant and not really very interesting items uploaded by friends and “friends”.

I do feel more distracted.

And work doesn’t help. I don’t spend a day outside doing wholesome, outdoorsy things to compensate. My work also involves staring at screens: it might be writing emails, articles, or researching. I do use pen and paper. But a laptop is required for the business end of completing work and sending it off to clients to make a living.

And then I’ll stare at screens some more in off-work hours.

The reasons are varied for my reliance on screens: work/technology, life in a big city, geography, a freelance life, etc. And there doesn’t seem to be much I can do to be rid of the reliance. What would I do instead of staring at screens? I live in a large, highly urbanized city; I cannot go to the woods or the mountains or the sea. I could instead do more productive things like learning a language, painting, etc. Yes I could be more productive and use my time more usefully. Couldn’t we all?

I am aware of the screen and attention and distraction problem, even as companies like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube et al are increasing their sophistication in hooking and retaining my attention.

For a freelancer like me, when daily life is not structured according to the commute, office, lunch, standard working hours, what can I do?

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

December 9, 2016 at 6:41 am

10 reasons why using Facebook sucks in China

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1. The biggest problem with using Facebook in China is that you can’t. Facebook, like many western social media sites, is blocked by China’s so-called Great Firewall. YouTube, Twitter, several news sites, Instagram, and Dropbox, among others, are all disabled. There are ways to get around the firewall and most expats in China use a VPN (virtual private network) to leap over the wall. This makes getting in touch with your friends and seeing those all-important messages dependent on the reliability of your VPN.

2. The fact it’s banned means only a tiny minority of Chinese people — usually those who have had the most contact with foreigners — have used Facebook, making it harder to stay in touch with your Chinese friends. You can’t add friends if they aren’t on it.


What a desktop VPN looks like

3. Chinese internet can be slow; this added to the not infrequent lag of your VPN provider (China sometimes employs its army of hackers to attack VPN services), can cause serious slowdown. This can lead to a reluctance to upload photo albums onto Facebook, a learned unwillingness to share content.

4. The Chinese government is notorious for its paranoia and censorship, about topics like pollution, human rights, Tibet and Xinjiang. Foreigners know this. This can create a small but noticeable sense of paranoia, manifesting itself into a shadow of self-censorship when you comment or post on Facebook, and other social media.

5. The ubiquity of Facebook means a lack of effort for more traditional, more intimate forms of communication. A dearly addressed email or a Skype call can be easily foregone when you have the convenient blue hub of Facebook. (Handwritten letters and postcards would be even better, in this writer’s opinion).

6. It can be a serious distraction when you find a cafe that has WiFi with a built-in VPN as everyone logs on to those sites usually blocked.

7. The “Like” button is the most inane, shallow form of interaction ever conceived. (Apart from perhaps the now disappeared “poke” feature, also a Facebook creation).

8. As a tool for interacting with less close friends and acquaintances, Facebook is both great and terrible. It’s great for passively consuming other people’s news, but also terrible for instilling this sense of passively watching other people while not really engaging with them. Commenting on an acquaintance’s post can feel almost intrusive or embarrassing; a ridiculous feeling.


A few of these complaints may not be specific to China

9. The way Facebook encourages a feeling of “tidying away” your messages. The way that Facebook messenger has been built — tiny little chat boxes that pop up at the bottom of the screen — makes it seem as if getting a message, from a friend or family member, is like a distraction; a blip that needs to be dismissed as soon as possible. More time spent on newsfeed, and less time spent on messaging, means more time for Facebook’s advertisers and data collection.

10. The tenth reason why using Facebook sucks, in China, is because you’re inadvertently encouraging Mark Zuckerberg to be obsequious to the Chinese leadership. The Facebook founder was widely criticized last year for his fawning behaviour to China’s president Xi Jinping, following his suggestion to his employees to read the Chinese leader’s book The Governance of China, so they “understand socialism with Chinese characteristics”. A US current affairs magazine noted at the time: “for the free publicity he is providing the Chinese leader, Zuckerbeg has been widely condemned on the Chinese internet“. Lately, he was seen to be trying to impress Xi by speaking to him in Mandarin when the Chinese leader visited America in September.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

October 15, 2015 at 5:35 am