Sunday, 19 November 2017

Why Taiwanese People Love Social Media

Many of us are in some way addicted to social media. Nowadays our politicians tweet, our friends update their status on Facebook, our colleagues send us messages through WhatsApp. There are apps and websites for almost everything: from making friends to dating, from chatting to finding people with similar interests. 

It has gone so far that it is hard to imagine how things used to be when there was no internet. I was born in the pre-internet era (well, the internet existed but it wasn't as ubiquitous as today). I remember using phone booths on the street, reading newspapers in the morning, and being completely cut off from the rest of the world. Times have indeed changed. 

But in Taiwan, people seem to have a particular obsession with social media. According to Statista, in 2016 81% percent of Taiwan's population were active social media users and Facebook was the most popular social network, with a staggering 83% penetration rate. 

By comparison, the social network penetration rate is 75% in Hong Kong, 66% in the United States, 64% in the UK, 56% in France, and 41% in Germany. How can we explain this contrast?



Of course, I don't have a scientific explanation. Here I just want to share some thoughts and observations based on my own experience, and I hope that someone else might share their own point of view.

I have written in lengthier posts about some fundamental elements of Chinese/Taiwanese culture: face (mianzi,lian), hierarchy and social roles, and work motivation

Because of the hierarchical and face-based nature of Taiwanese society, people tend to create a public persona that caters to different audiences: the filial daughter/son; the virtuous wife/husband; the good student, etc. People are indeed obsessed with 'face' (image, status, reputation), and it seems that many value nothing more than being praised by society for their achievements. 

Therefore, it is very important for people to cultivate a positive image. Now, it depends on the individual what kind of image they want to project. But usually, I would say that most people in Taiwan care about 'face' and therefore put a lot of thought and effort into gaining a reputation, status and creating a positive imagine of themselves - most people will accept society's standards, some will reject them, but few are immune to the influence of 'face'. 

Social networks are very important in this respect. I have friends from different parts of the world, but I feel that in Taiwan people care about their social media profiles and posts more than in any other place I've lived in. Taiwanese update their relationship status, post all kinds of pictures of boyfriends, gifts, dinners, and food, take group pictures and selfies, share their travel experiences, etc. as if it was a duty.   

It seems to me as if for many Taiwanese people their social media (and especially Facebook) was some kind of show, and they expect others to watch it. Some people I know complained to me because I never 'liked' their Facebook posts. Obviously they believed that all of their friends must show that they care by interacting on social media and 'liking' their pictures and important life events. 

Let me know mention two examples. 

Once I was in a restaurant with a friend and I saw a group of young people occupying two tables. They were all dressed casually, but in that Taiwanese kind of casual that is actually very thought-out. At the end of their dinner all of them got up and took group pictures on which they all smiled and posed as if they had rehearsed it. I noticed that their behaviour was somewhat ostentatious and unnatural, as if they were almost performing. 



I guess it was a reunion of old friends, a 'big event' in which former classmates meet again after a long time. They all update each other on how they life after 'entering society' is etc. And they have to take group pictures because they have to post them on Facebook, and then everyone has to 'like' them, so that they all can share their great experience with their wider circles of friends, who also have to like the pictures on Facebook if they are good friends. That is what society expects, and what they have learnt that they have to expect. If you go out with your ex-classmates, the event can only become a 'big event' if it is put on display, if it draws the attention of your personal audience. 

The second example are Valentine's Day dates. Couples are supposed to do something special and then share it. Usually it's a dinner and a gift from the boyfriend. This is also a 'big event', and many girlfriends like to show off that their boyfriend is, if not better than, at least equal in romanticism and generosity to all of her friends' boyfriends. Sharing pictures of the date is almost a face-gaining social duty.      

There is also another reason why I think Taiwanese love social media. Many of them are so busy that they hardly have any time for real, meaningful, face-to-face social interaction with their acquaintances and friends on a regular basis. Taiwanese are so busy that weeks or months may elapse before they can get to meet most of their friends. 

I also suspect that, given the extreme competitiveness of every aspect of social and work life in Taiwan, many people also feel lonely. Some people have a very small number of really good friends they can talk to. As a result, social media are a way to interact, try to draw people's attention on oneself, vent one's anger or share thoughts with others. They are, in a way, a substitute for the kind of social life and personal relationships that people cannot have due to stress and lack of spare time.    

What are your thoughts on this issue? Please feel free to comment and share your views. 


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