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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 secondNow, it's very tempting for outsiders to generalise about the Chinese despite the fact that they're actually the world's largest population. For the last two videos of Xinyuan and my own field sites have shown how, actually, they could hardly really be more different from each other, both in terms of people's core values, but also in the way that they actually use social media in their own lives. But as usual, things aren't quite as simple as that. So even in my own field site, people there, too, were also interested in using social media to experiment with and imagine new ways of becoming more modern.

Skip to 0 minutes and 35 secondsSo a good example of this would be that although people use social media mainly to communicate with their own friends, they were also keen to explore those unprecedented possibilities that social media offered for connecting with strangers. Now, some of this was to alleviate boredom in a town where everybody knew everybody else. But there were also other reasons. So in the video that we're now going to see, we'll see the case of a pharmacist in the town who used social media to connect and talk to complete strangers about his hobby of digital photography that nobody else in the town shared. You want to photograph the flower's temperament.

Skip to 1 minute and 14 secondsLike when you are trying to photograph plum blossom, you don't need some kind of macro-focus. You just need to select those few different, unique twigs You want to photograph the plant's proud, unyielding aroma There's a… it's called 'Nikon D7000', a specialist web forum, they’ll tell you which part of your photo requires improvement. Light, composition, aperture, They all comment on what part of each photo is lacking It’s a forum where everyone can study from each other If there are people on the forum you feel comfortable chatting with, it's also fine to add them as friends [on social media].

Skip to 1 minute and 47 secondsBecause I like this thing, I’ll have a look to see if there are any new photos, and we can comment on each others’.

Skip to 1 minute and 56 secondsLook, it’s all praise, not a single criticism

Skip to 2 minutes and 3 secondsNow, students also contacted strangers in order to try to increase the number of friends that they had online. And I even met a few married men in the town who tried to use social media to talk to strangers to organise extramarital affairs. So really, although these people care a lot about preserving tradition, they're actually quite happy to use social media to have different kinds of relationships and also to experiment with different ways of living. It's very interesting that my study helped you to realise that people in your field site are also using social media to experiment with alternative ways of living.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 secondsAnd actually, you'll study also inspired me to look into how Chinese rural migrants use social media to connect with their place of origin. On many migrant workers' QQ profiles, there's an album called 'Homeland' where people uploaded many photos of the villages where they come from. Remember, these people are called floating populations in China, because they're on the move all the time. Hua, a female factory worker, said to me, "Homeland is a place you always miss, but not a place you really want to return to." So there is a deep ambivalence.

Skip to 3 minutes and 24 secondsOn the one hand, they really want to get rid of everything which reminds them of where they come from, because they see villages as backward, and they want to become modern. However, they do recognise that where you come from defines who you are. Especially when you are floating, you have nowhere to call a home. So although they really don't want to move back to their home villages and stay in contact with these villages much less than I expected, they found a way through the Homeland album to somehow move their homelands onto their QQ. Similarly, many migrant workers also shared a lot of images of deities of Chinese folk religion on their QQ.

Skip to 4 minutes and 12 secondsSo in a way, social media has become a temple where people can go and perform traditional rituals. So social media not only helps people to achieve their aspirations towards modernity, it also helps people to retain certain traditions which help them to live through the change in their floating life. But really, both of these cases have shown how looking at social media and its role in social change can take our understanding to a whole deeper level. We've seen how people use social media to imagine and to attain a new kind of future while also still retaining those links with the past.

Skip to 4 minutes and 53 secondsBut I don't think that would have been as clear if we had considered any other case than China where the country has changed so much in recent decades. And people are really trying to figure out who they themselves are and also what position they will occupy in this new and changing country.

Alternative uses of social media in China

This video complements the previous two, as Tom explores a modern use of social media in a rural context, and Xinyuan explores migrant workers’ links with their home villages.

It is clear that in China people strongly associated social media with simply being more modern. Do you feel the same way, and what aspect of social media seems particularly modern to you?

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Why We Post: the Anthropology of Social Media

UCL (University College London)

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