Ten years of WeChat, from “digital survival” to “digital life”

Twenty-six years ago, computer scientist Negroponte made such a prediction in his book "Digital Survival":

Calculation is no longer only related to calculation, it determines our survival.

The "digital existence" that looked like science fiction at the time has now become a portrayal of people's lives. Everyone has become a digital citizen of the online world, immersed in digital life.

As Negroponte said, " information DNA" is rapidly replacing atoms and becoming the basic element of human society .

In the past ten years, the popularization of smart phones and mobile Internet has accelerated the "digital migration" of human society, and has completely changed everyone's lifestyle.

In this "digital migration", WeChat puts the mobile Internet in everyone's pockets. The countless ordinary "moments" in WeChat together constitute the digital lives of 1.2 billion people.

The changes in communication methods, social structures, and business relationships are no longer just simple extensions from offline to online, but are reshaped into many new models.

In ten years of WeChat, an online Chinese society began to take shape .

Ten years of social changes, the reshaping of an online society

The changes of an era often start between the details and moments.

Ten years ago, the color ring tones were still ringing across the country, and we were still sending greetings and blessings through text messages.

Ten years later, "add a WeChat" has become a new social etiquette, and "I WeChat you" has become our usual life scene and communication method.

These seemingly small changes reflect the ten-year changes in communication methods.

The beginning of all this came from the green app that was born ten years ago with only four simple functions.

Although the 1.0 version of WeChat can only send text messages and pictures to friends, it allows users to have more efficient peer-to-peer communication, which paved the way for the advent of digital life ten years later.

▲ WeChat 1.0 interface.

It is said that the mobile Internet has reshaped the way of life, starting from changing our communication methods and social habits .

Each of us is a node of this huge social network, and the way of communication between people determines the way a society connects. This means that the change in the way of group communication may spur the reshaping of the entire social relationship structure .

As WeChat connects more and more acquaintances, China's traditional social patterns have also begun to quietly change.

Sociologist Fei Xiaotong pointed out in the book Rural China that traditional Chinese society has always maintained interpersonal relationships based on geography and blood ties, but as the process of urbanization continues to accelerate, it has begun to transform from an "acquaintance society" to a "unfamiliar society."

More and more people leave their homes and families, and family members are scattered in different cities, which to some extent disintegrates the original acquaintance society. People are like the little man standing in front of the earth on the open WeChat page, becoming an increasingly lonely existence in the world.

After the emergence of WeChat, the "offline defamiliarization society" that sprouted in the first decade of the 21st century began to evolve into an "online acquaintance society" in the past decade .

WeChat’s changes to communication methods have created new social relationships in the digital world. People's social methods are no longer restricted by physical space. WeChat account becomes our coordinates in the digital world, and uses this as the origin to connect with all social relationships and form different WeChat social circles.

Today, when WeChat monthly activity has reached 1.2 billion, this app has accommodated China's most complex real social network relationships. It not only includes the circle based on blood and geography in traditional social relations, but also expands the circle based on interest and work.

In the digital community of WeChat, the connections between people are even more diverse than in the offline world .

The concept of friends and netizens has been redefined. Even strangers who have never met can become "friends" by adding a WeChat account. When our social relationships settle online, and the most familiar friends and relatives are also "netizens," an era of "everyone online" begins.

WeChat meets people's diverse social needs. Public and private domains, real and virtual, online and offline, and various social relationships coexist here. This is the basis for the formation of an online society .

And those various mobile Internet services that cover people's food, clothing, housing, and transportation are just the infrastructure. They can gather a large number of "people" but cannot carry a complex and diverse social relationship.

It can be said that whether a product can evolve into an online society, the core element is not the magnitude of the user, but whether it can provide users with a public field that connects all social relationships .

Anthropologist Daniel Miller once said that the virtual world and the real world have become two equal spaces. It not only refers to the availability of goods and services in the physical world on the screen, but also the online reconstruction of interpersonal relationships.

It is all these that constitute our digital life and evolve towards an online society.

From "Digital Survival" to "Digital Life"

In 1999, there was a sensational "72-hour Internet Survival Test" in China. Volunteers had to spend 72 hours in a hotel room using only the Internet.

Back then, it was as difficult as throwing you into the Amazon jungle. An 18-year-old volunteer, after enduring 25 hours of hunger, finally couldn't hold on to declare "surrender."

Nowadays, the "72-hour network survival test" has become the "72-hour network-free survival test". Our lives have long been deeply bound to mobile Internet services. Once the network is disconnected, it will "live like a year."

The popularization of smart phones and 4G networks laid the foundation for the advent of digital life, and mobile payment is the kind of fire that detonated the tremendous changes in personal lifestyles to the entire business society.

The popularization of mobile payment has been realized in the form of a cultural custom with the most Chinese characteristics-the Spring Festival red envelope.

The social nature of WeChat red envelopes brought the first explosive growth of mobile payment. How many middle-aged and elderly people embraced the mobile Internet era started by grabbing red envelopes, and then a small QR code allowed mobile payments to fully cover offline And online consumption scenarios.

Since then, mobile payment has become a universal payment tool like a spark, opening the golden age of mobile Internet. Not only has it reshaped the way of life of the Chinese people, it has also gradually changed the business form of various industries in China and the world.

WeChat introduced the blueprint of "a lifestyle" in version 4.0 in 2012, and mobile payment is an important piece of the puzzle. This is the hub to build a closed loop of a digital economy through the connection between people, services and information .

In this context, Maslow's five-layer human needs, from physiological, safety, social, respect and self-realization needs, can all be met in the digital world, and digital life is truly complete.

This can explain why WeChat has evolved from a communication tool into a way of life, intervening in all aspects of people's lives in the past ten years.

Zhang Xiaolong mentioned in his WeChat Open Class PRO speech last year that in the past, the size of a person’s world was determined by the walking radius of his feet. Now the size of a person’s world is determined by the information he has obtained. It depends on the breadth.

The breadth of information is actually the depth of digital life. Digitization is not only related to our survival, but also profoundly affecting our way of life.

"Digital abandoned people" -the other side of the online society

The Internet was born half a century ago. Negroponte put forward the concept of "digital existence" 25 years ago, but the true online society only took shape in the past decade.

Because an online society should be able to accommodate everyone equally, in other words there should not be too high barriers to entry. And this is precisely a problem that is difficult to solve in the PC era.

To cite the simplest example, the PC era needs to use the keyboard to input text. This actually excludes many middle-aged and elderly people with low learning ability and education level from the Internet. Now, voice input represented by WeChat voice, Only then did these groups begin to build their online social relationships.

This kind of interaction threshold not only hinders the popularity of the Internet, but also makes many digital services that make life easier and more convenient for some groups, which greatly affects the laying of online social infrastructure.

In addition, the digital society may also produce a harmful by-product: " digital abandoned people . " This is a concept put forward by Hu Yong, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication of Peking University, referring to groups that have been abandoned in digital development.

Migrant workers who cannot buy train tickets home because they don’t know the Internet, the elderly who are turned away by the subway because they cannot show their health codes, and the elderly who cannot receive pensions because they don’t bring their mobile phones are all classified as "digital abandoned people."

When digital life has risen into the fabric of society and improving efficiency has become the main theme of society, "digital abandonment" is a social problem that must be faced. An online society covering 1 billion users has arrived, and a barrier-free experience should be the most basic right of everyone, not a favor. As Ai Faner said in an article not long ago:

Humanistic care for the "vulnerable" is one of the most cherished qualities of a society, and it is also a noble goal that the scientific and technological community has always pursued.

From this perspective, the " technology for good" advocated by the technology Internet industry in the past two years is not only a value and mission, but also a product capability .

Fortunately, in the sigh of the "digital abandoned people," we also saw some light of humanistic care.

Elderly people in sixties with inconvenient legs can receive pensions without leaving home.

Blind entrepreneurs who have lost the light can also retain customers through WeChat, complete bookkeeping and fees in the store, and create their own social value.

In remote areas where medical resources are scarce, patients can form long-term connections with doctors thousands of miles away through small programs, and it is no longer "difficult to see a doctor."

The "digital divide" brought about by the rapid development of digitalization must also be filled with warmer digital services .

In a flash of ten years, digital life is no longer a prediction in science fiction, but has gradually become an existence like air and water.

As Hu Yong said, digitization is one of the main driving forces of social development in the 21st century. It has already triggered fundamental changes in the entire society, allowing mankind to move from the industrial age to the network age .

WeChat is an important lever for instigating change. By reshaping social relationships, business relationships, and lifestyles in the digital world, we have an online society of 1.2 billion people.

▲Picture from: "Black Mirror"

When we are talking about digital life, we are actually not talking about a specific technology, but thinking about how to live better in the online and offline world.

At this moment, 1.2 billion people are constantly generating new "moments" in WeChat.

In the next decade, the turning point in the transformation of digital life may happen at some point.

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