Smartphone culture has taken on a whole new meaning in China. Photo: AFP / Johannes Eisele

In the 1960s cult classic Night of the Living Dead, a zombie army staggers around in the darkness like mummified corpses.

Fast forward more than 50 years, and a similar sight can be seen in broad daylight every day of the week as the iGeneration stalk the planet.

From the metro system in Beijing to the Bakerloo Line in London, you will see gangs of social media addicts glued to their smartphones. Constantly searching for their next fix, these trivia junkies appear oblivious to the world around them.

But in China, the joy of having a connected high can quickly be replaced by ‘cold turkey’ guilt.

“A total of 84.9% of people in a survey said their obsession with smartphones had made them spend less time communicating with their families and 78.9% said they felt guilty for doing so,” a poll released by the influential state-run China Youth Daily confirmed.

“This feeling appeared to be even stronger among people in their 30s – the ‘1980s-generation’ – as 91.4% of them complained about the ‘phubbing impact,’ [the habit of snubbing someone in favor of a mobile phone,]” the report revealed last year.

Smartphone culture

The rise of smartphone culture in the world’s second-largest economy has been phenomenal in the past decade with China now the largest market on the planet.

Data from Statista underlined the scale and scope of the online craze. More than 25% of worldwide smartphone sales are generated in the country.

“Around 713 million people in China used a smartphone in 2018,” the data website stated and the figure is still rising.

Naturally, this appetite for social media and internet shopping has boosted the fortunes of home-grown smartphone manufacturers, such as the big four of Huawei, Oppo, Xiaomi and Vivo.

“The China (mainland) smartphone market improved sequentially in [the] third quarter [of] 2019 as shipments reached 97.8 million from 97.6 million in [the] second quarter,” Canalys, an international research company, reported.

“Huawei extended its market lead by shipping 41.5 million smartphones to reach a record market share of 42%, an annual growth of 66%,” it added.

Media debate

But as sales continue to climb in China, “the side effects” have triggered a heated debate in the media with the People’s Daily wading into the row.

The official mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party acted as an aging agony aunt when it warned readers of the dangers of living, and even sleeping, with their smartphones.

“Social media, taking pictures, payment, navigation … The continuous flow of information is like bait being spread around a fish that makes the fish too busy to focus on one thing,” it pointed out, referring to an All-China Women’s Federation survey released in 2019.

“People said the more they use [their] mobile phones, the lonelier they felt. It is up to all of us whether we alienate our friends and family members or transfer our passion from phones to the people around us?” the People’s Daily added.

Still, kicking that zombie habit might be easier said than done, fuelling nights of living hell for the social media in-crowd.

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