The Controversial Digital Life of Chinese Rural Population on Kuaishou

“How do the different internet usages and digital leisure culture in digital divide cause prejudices and affect people’s digital life?”

Yunfei Xu

SID: 500202702

Introduction 

Since 2014, the world’s overall goods and trade business has entered in stagnation stage gradually, while the leisure economy has stepped into our eyes and rapidly grown with the development of internet technologies (Hoontrakul, 2017). Besides, internet access has been more and more approachable with the popularization of smartphones, the development of 4G technologies, and the decrease of mobile data price. As a result, more and more people, even the people in rural areas gradually connect with digital technologies in an entertaining way. Digital leisure becomes one of the biggest parts of people’s digital life. 

However, when some people experience the fun and joy from digital leisure, some others are trapped in the digital divide. It is known that the digital divide would bring the Imbalance of internet technology development, innovation and adaption ability (Arora, 2019).Besides, the inequality of discourse power. Due to the differences in internet usage are also a byproduct brought by the digital divide. (van Deursen & van Dijk, 2014), some people may prefer to use the internet for personal development, while others may prefer to play games. When people with privilege believe using the internet for entertainment is wasting time and failing the technology, they may impose their ideas on other people and criticize others making no effort to seek progress. And sometimes, these differences may result in disputes and prejudices. 

How does the digital divide influence the rural people’s digital life?

As I mentioned before, the digital divideonly represents resource inequality, but also brings inequality of discourse power. 

Resource inequality: 

For instance, the infrastructure like internet access and broadband speed in rural areas are much worse than what we urban residents experience every day. 

Moreover, some corporations and people with digital privilege could take advantage of the digital divide and inequality. For example, they claim that investing money and infrastructure could mitigate the digital divide, while mitigating the digital divide leads to the lessening of poverty (Arora,2019). However, this announcement is with hypercritical kindness and based on their developmental needs. Some corporations just want to reinforce these arguments to scale their new technologies and products in rural areas (Arora, 2019). So, in the long run, they may indulge the digital divide enlarging to maintain their dominant positions and advantage, which may hinder the digital development of the rural areas and affect rural people’s digital life. 

Inequality of discourse power:

Furthermore, there are many invisible imbalances in digital world. Privileges not only exist in facility aspect, but also in emotion aspect. People with digital privilege are possessing the discourse power and dominating position. In some way, they are easy to be condescending and with prejudices.

These prejudices brought by digital divide also greatly affect rural people’s digital life. Due to the inequality of education and infrastructure, there are many differences between urban citizens and rural people like tastes or the internet usage. Although they share spiritual equality, due to the inequality, the rural people are at a distinct disadvantage. It is common that some people with digital privilege possess prejudices of the rural people. They may feel superiority because of the dominant position they possess and make comments on rural people’s digital life and mock their digital leisure tastes with a commanding tone. What is worse, some people with digital privilege would criticize harshly the rural people seek leisure over development is a mistake. In the long run, it may hurt the rural people’s feelings, hinder the digital development of rural areasand enlarge the digital divide further.

How could we deal with digital divide?

According to Arora, the focus on leisure enables to detach from claims that poverty could be lessened by mitigating the digital divide (Arora, 2019). Besides, in a way, prejudices on the global poor’s digital leisure life and the poor’s demands, are highly restricting the developmental possibilities and imaginations. So, we should get rid of this prejudice on entertainment and find a new way to deal with digital leisure. Instead of considering digital leisure as a harmful thing, it is better to find a proper way to utilize it and get benefits from it. Besides, encouraging the rural people to express themselves bravely and freely on the internet and helping them fight for the discourse power are also important. 

It is known that seek entertainment is human nature. Everyone hungers to socialize and be entertained, and demand drives the momentum and spread of these new media (Arora, 2019). According to woody’s book in 1957, leisure existed to serve labor, while labor existed to produce labor, which reflects the relationship between labor and leisure clearly. Besides, Arora pointed that new technology developments are truly stimulating reorganizations in leisure and labor patterns nowadays (Arora, 2012). Roberts also announced that leisure is a lucrative and exponentially growing consumer product in itself (Roberts, 2006). 

Furthermore, as a result of technological advancements and globalization, the productivity of goods and services has highly improved and the costs of production have decreased, which results in higher living levels and lower labor demand. The low-cost, high-speed wireless internet connectivity and smart mobile devices have greatly accelerated the process of smart internet life. Both of these factors work facilitate the arrival of the leisure economy (Hoontrakul, 2017). According to Hoontrakul’s book, this new mode of economy will free up a great number of business possibilities by deepening, extending, and integrating the supply chain with new consumer demands and marketing orientation (Hoontrakul, 2017). 

So, different from criticizing the poor pursuing digital leisure over development, transforming leisure into the imputes, connecting the global poor with the digital technologies through leisure is quite necessary. 

What should be done: 

1. grasp the opportunities brought by the leisure economy, providing multifarious internet services to satisfy rural people’s demands. 

2. Taking model innovation, Changing the traditional thinking and cognitive pattern, respecting the poor’s needs, recognizing their rights to pursue entertainment. 

3. Making full use of the hidden impetus in leisure, attracting the rural people with things they are really interested in. 

Interestingly, this is exactly what some platforms in developing countries representing right now. 

Case study: the controversial digital life of Chinese rural population on Kuaishou

In this case study, I will show how do the different internet usages and digital leisure culture in digital divide cause prejudices and affect people’s digital life.

With the popularization of smartphones, the development of 4G technology, and the decrease of mobile data price, more and more people in China participate in short video recording. In 2015, Kuaishou transformed from a picture-sharing app into a short video-sharing platform. in 2020, the daily active user on Kuaishou has already exceeded 200 million and became one of the biggest short video apps in China (“Kuaishou Technology Announces Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2020 Financial Results”, 2021). People from all works of life are fond of sharing their life with others and viewing the different life experiences on Kuaishou.

It is noticeable that many users of Kuaishou are with low-level of education and low income. Some of them are farmers, fisherman, and truck drivers, taking the heavy laboring work, but receiving a slender salary. They are happy to use the internet to amuse themselves and enjoy the joy second rather than taking online training classes. 

Several kinds of sharing content

  1. Share the different life experiences. e.g. Boatman or truck drivers’ daily life on mobile vehicles.
  2. Chasing music or dancing dreams after heavy work. 
  3. The skit that represents their daily life in the village.
  4. Agricultural hand tools’ making process.
  5. Cooking or harvesting scenes.
  6. Or anything they feel happy about.

In their perspectives, life has already been tough, the internet is a place they can escape from work and catch their breath freely. What is more, by presenting and express more, the rural people in China gradually occupy more portion of Chinese media producing market and the rural culture comes into the mainstream sights.

Moreover, getting emotional satisfaction through the internet is not the only thing they get from their entertainment. They also get extra income by play with the internet. Since 2012, the development of Chinese instant sharing communities and platforms are extremely rapid. To mobilize the innovation and creativity, the Chinese government launches the “Mass Entrepreneurship and Innovation” policy. It encourages people from all walks of life to utilize the opportunities brought by the digital leisure economy to find and realize the new value of life (“Mass Entrepreneurship and Innovation: New Impetus to Development”, 2016). In this context, platforms like Kuaishou have rapidly developed from a simple picture-sharing app into a thriving instant video-sharing community. With the help of these online sharing platforms like Kuaishou, many of them harvest a huge number of fans on Kuaishou and get a considerable extra payment. As a result, some of them are not only being emotionally satisfied, but also getting material support through the internet.

Prejudices and controversy of the Chinese rural population’s digital life on Kuaishou 

However, the controversy of Kuaishou’s content and community has never ended. For a long time, Kuaishou has been rejected by most of urban digital users due to its different internet usage and special rural leisure culture.

In some radically traditional worldview, the poor are different from the normal digital users. The poor are utilitarian in nature, preferring knowledge over entertainment through the internet. The poor should be attracted by the internet tools that could help them get rid of poverty. They believe that further funding should be invested in education and economic development instead of leisure demands. 

However, according to Arora play dominates work, leisure overtakes labor is one common phenomenon in the poor’s digital life (Arora, 2019). The rural people are more interested in entertaining themselves through the internet. Regardless of their financial situation, they enjoy romance, sex, game, and any other things that can bring relaxation and happiness to them. They prefer to use the internet to chat with others on social media platforms or play the most popular games among friends rather than take the online training lessons for further career consideration. 

In traditional thinking patterns, leisure is less important than productivity. Taking the technologies for entertainment is considered as a mistake. Moreover, some radical comments even censure that the poor choose to use the internet for fun rather than development is failing the technology. So, the rural digital users are often attacked by using the internet for digital leisure. Some people even censure that the rural people are uncouth, hopeless, incurable and make no effort to seek progress.

Besides, for a long time, Kuaishou has been tagged on the “low” and “negative” labels. Some mainstream media often regards them as a group of rustic people with low tastes and cultural accomplishment. Their representation of life and entertainment sometimes cannot be recognized and appreciated by some city people and upper class. 

Some people even censure that Kuaishou is a place that is overflowing with “self-torture,” “vulgar performance,” and “people involved in absurd actions.” (Liu, 2019). It is true that some digital users on Kuaishou in the rural area prefer to use some exaggerated performance to attract audiences’ attention. However, these people are only one kind of rural digital users on Kuaishou, there still are many positive content producers on Kuaishou that shadowed by prejudices. It is unfair to use prejudices to judge the whole community.

“Say no to these prejudices”

In my mind, these negative tags and labels should not be a good reason to indulge the reinforcement of prejudice and ignore this marginalized group’s digital leisure needs. According to China Internet Network Information Center’s report, by 2017, the number of internet users in rural areas surpassed 200 million, accounting for 27% of all Chinese internet users, which is a huge amount of people. (CNNIC, 2018) So, it is pretty necessary to pay attention to this group and help them connect with the digital technologies effectively and encourage them to utilize the internet in the way they like to make their life better. 

Like I mentioned before, the prejudice is a representation of the inequality. people who possess digital privilege stand on the high ground and judge the rural people’s life are taking advantage of the inequality. In fact, this is actually an oppression for the rural people imposed by the people with digital privilege. Different from the rural population, they could enjoy better infrastructures and education quality, and better internet access. In their mind, showing the disdain to the rural people is a way to weak them up and help them enter a more decent digital world. However, as the beneficiary of digital divide, we should not feel free to take the advantage of the discourse power inequality and even use the privilege to deepen the prejudices and misunderstandings and frustrate their ardor to explore the digital world. it is not only unfair to the rural people, but also a shame for a decent person indeed.

Conclusion

So, in conclusion, the condescending criticizes from people with digital privilege is hypercritical and useless. In the leisure economy era, entertainment is not in conflict with try to live a better life, in fact, once find the right way, entertainment could help them to ease the pressure and life burden as well. Prejudice and hypercritical assumption cannot help them, they would only restrict the imagination and possibility of digital development of the rural population. Follow and utilize human nature, helping them connect with the internet, enter into the digital era and get real support and discourse power from digital technologies effectively is what should we do actually.

References

Arora, P. (2012). The leisure divide: can the ‘Third World’ come out to play?. Information Development28(2), 93-101.

Arora, P. “Prologue.” The Next Billion Users, Harvard University Press, 1–5.

Arora, P. (2019). “The Leisure Divide.” The Next Billion Users, Harvard University Press, 6–30.

CNNIC. (2018). The 41st survey report. China Internet Network Information Center. Retrieved from https://cnnic.com.cn/IDR/ReportDownloads/201807/P020180711391069195909.pdf 

Hoontrakul, P. (2017). Economic Transformation and Business Opportunities in Asia [Ebook] (pp. 143-183). Springer International Publishing AG. Retrieved from https://link-springer-com.ezproxy.library.sydney.edu.au/book/10.1007%2F978-3-319-58928-2

Kuaishou Technology Announces Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2020 Financial Results. (2021). Retrieved 23 May 2021, from https://ir.kuaishou.com/news-releases/news-release-details/kuaishou-technology-announces-fourth-quarter-and-full-year-2020/

Liu, K. (2019). From invisible to visible: Kwai and the hierarchical cultural order of China’s cyberspace. Global Media And China5(1), 69-85.

Mass Entrepreneurship and Innovation: New Impetus to Development. (2016). Retrieved 23 May 2021, from http://en.drc.gov.cn/2016-04/07/content_24350321.htm

Roberts, K (2006). Leisure in contemporary society. Cambridge, MA: CABI Publishing. 

vanDeursen, A., & van Dijk, J. (2014). The digital divide shifts to differences in usage. New Media & Society16(3), 507-526.

Woody, T (1957). Leisure in the light of history. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 313(1), 4–10. 

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