One of my favorite things to talk about (well, argue about) is technology and the way it is shaping our lives. I recently interviewed one of my fans, Gloria Kwan, who is sixteen years old and lives in Hong Kong. This is a real person, just like you, going to school, and dealing with technology and how it is impacting our lives. One of her issues with technology is the “head-down family,” a virus that is spreading in her country. She is fighting to avoid it. Here are some of Gloria’s thoughts about technology in the real word:
As a student in Hong Kong, can you describe what a typical school day is like for you?
I am studying in an international school, and a typical school day would be sitting in front of my lap top for most of the classes for the entire lesson. During lunch time, I use technology (laptop) for homework and studies.
How does technology play a part in your school life?
We don’t usually use textbooks nowadays, we use laptops for most of our lessons, so laptops have replaced the use of textbooks almost completely.
How does technology affect your social life? How important is it to you and your friends?
In Hong Kong, people mainly communicate with Whatsapp, Snapchat and Facebook. As people use these apps all the time, your popularity on these social websites are your reputation in real life. In order to be famous or have a good reputation at school, you need to spend a lot of time online to “connect” with your friends. The more you use it, the more swag you’re considered to have. Moreover, our topics and gossips are mainly about others’ online statuses, so you have to be alert to the latest online trend in order to stay in your group. Basically everyone has at least one of these apps. The more you use it, the more popular you are at school!
How much time do you spend behind a screen on a given day?
During school days, apart from sleeping and dinner, I spend most of the time in front of the screen, at most 2-3 hours without my laptop. There’s no way you can avoid it, because every piece of homework needs to be done online.
During weekends, I only spend 2-3 hours in front of the screen for homework. It is because my parents have persuaded me not to use technology too much. But for most of my friends, they just spend most of their time in front of the screen too, even more than on school days.
Can you discuss the “the head-down family” and why you feel this is a virus you don’t want to catch?
“The head-down family” is a social phenomenon in Hong Kong due to the abuse of smart phones. When you take the MTR (underground train) in Hong Kong, there will be 90% of the people with their heads down, flirting with their phones, as everyone is busy using their smart phones. You barely see anyone with their heads up. Since the invention of smart phones, the head-down family virus has spread like moths. The situation is even more obvious in Hong Kong.
Luckily, I’m immune to this virus, well at least I’m still fighting against this virus. It is because of my parents, as they are also anti-smartphones. They refuse to let me be one of them (the head-down family), because they start to ignore everything around them and cut themselves off from the real world. People don’t notice small things around them, all they care about are their smart phones. I just don’t want to be a part of that. I don’t want to waste all my time in front of the screen. I’d rather spend more time with my family. I’d rather see my friends in real life than text them every single minute. I don’t want to be a smartphone slave!
How do you think technology is affecting your culture?
First of all, the only time I use pen and paper now is either exams or math homework. As technology is more convenient, our knowledge of language is being affected. Especially for Chinese, we can type Chinese characters without actually writing it when we are trying to send messages. It seems like everyone is forgetting how to write Chinese in real life now. The less time we use to write, the less Chinese characters we remember. Chinese words are difficult to remember, and with less opportunities we have to write, the culture will certainly be affected.
On the other hand, I think more and more people are staying indoors, because you can talk to a lot of people without actually seeing them. In Hong Kong, a lot of boys play video games at home and they never get out. We have a special term for them, which is called “home-boy.” I think because of this consequence, less people are willing to go out now. Therefore, their communication and social skills are considered as bad.
Moreover, people talk less and less nowadays, because they can communicate without speaking. They use less with their voice and more with their fingers. Even sometimes, my friends text me when we’re having dinner together while they’re just sitting right across me!
Do you personally know anyone who is addicted to technology? (Tweeting, facebooking, texting, emailing, gaming, watching TV…)
Yes. I think 90% of my friends are addicted to technology now. I am not exaggerating the fact, it is true that I can barely find any people who can leave their phone for more than an hour now.
Do you think your country is more “plugged-in” compared to other countries? Why or why not?
Yes. I think Hong Kong is a more “plugged-in” city, but China may not be the most “plugged-in” country. It is because the demand of smartphones is increasing rapidly. Moreover, Hong Kong is a busy city, people intend to do things in a faster speed, and technology is the only way to solve the problem. Hong Kong has a really high density of population but not enough land. Since everywhere is so crowded in Hong Kong, people avoid going out and choose to stay indoors for less troubles. Therefore, the only entertainment we have is the internet.
Why does my Awaken series connect with you?
The Awaken series has pointed out the problem we have nowadays. Although it is a dystopian story that is set in 2060, I don’t find it exaggerated or unreal, because I am sure that such a society will happen in a blink of an eye. Especially with the serious situation in Hong Kong, I don’t even find anything odd about the series. The story is the consequence in the future if we keep on ignoring the problem now.
As the major idea of the series is about being unplugged, I think that is what everyone should listen to. People are blinded by the pros of technology but they don’t even realise that they are so “plugged-in.” The Awaken series has reminded us what kind of problem we are facing and the consequence it will lead us to.
The Awaken series have given me sparks of hope, when I think the world is going downhill, it gives me hope that we may change the world if we are willing to. That’s why I feel so connected to the book, because I no longer feel lonely about my special point of view towards technology. I finally find someone who feels the same as me.
What do you and your friends enjoy doing for fun?
I enjoy being surrounded by people, and discovering different places in Hong Kong with my family. My favourite thing to do is go swimming at the beach with my parents at least once a week in summer. I love doing all kinds of sports with my friends, because I’m a really sporty person. To be honest, as long as it includes interactions with others, I consider it fun.
For my friends, they really enjoy going on Tumblr, Youtube and surfing online or maybe going shopping in the malls. Even though I love making friends who love being outdoors, I think it is really rare now.
When I was answering the above questions, I felt really bad for what our world is turning into, especially when I am writing about the problems in Hong Kong. I feel really desperate about it. I have witnessed people around me who have changed since the invention of smart phones and the saddest part is the people who inspired me to stop using smart phones (my parents) are turning into a part of them without noticing it. I really hope more people can read the Awaken series and change their minds because I feel like I’m losing people around me day by day and I really hope such problems can be stopped. I hope people can wake up.
~Thanks so much to Gloria for her time and thoughtful answers to all of my questions! I hope you enjoyed reading about her perspective. I think this is a very important dialogue to have circulating.