The best and worst Internet experience in the world

On a recent night out in Beijing, a friend in her late 20s sent me a message on WeChat to ask which new restaurant I’d like to try: Thai or Italian? Then she sent me a location “pin” on the popular Chinese social-messaging app to help me navigate to the chosen address. After dinner, we took selfies while clinking cocktail glasses, and she enhanced our pixels using MeituPic, a popular photo retouching app, to virtually brighten our lipstick and smooth any dark circles under our eyes before posting the photos to her WeChat timeline with the caption “Fabulous dinner!”

While I got up to hand my credit card to the waiter, my friend transmitted her half of the bill to my WeChat Wallet account with a few clicks on her gold iPhone 6. As we strolled outside toward the Workers’ Stadium, enjoying the balmy spring evening, she hailed a taxi using the app Didi Chuxing, which arranges 14 million rides a day in China. A driver would pick her up in three minutes. Sometimes, she explained, she also checks Uber, but since it has fewer cars on the road and typically longer wait times in Beijing, she—like most of my Chinese friends—prefers Didi.

It’s hard to overstate how quickly the mobile Internet has transformed the social rhythms of urban life, including a Saturday night out, in China’s cities. This is especially the case among the younger and wealthier folks most likely to wield the newest smartphones, but it’s not true only for them. Among the country’s roughly 690 million Internet users, 620 million now go online using a mobile device. Far more than the U.S., China is truly a “mobile first” market.

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MIT Technology Review
June 8, 2016