Hong Kong Expats
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Hong Kong’s Smartphone Habits

It has come to everyone else’s attention that smartphones are now more powerful and high-capacity that people in Hong Kong are practically glued into them.

For protagonists and advocates of mobile websites, mobile advertising and smartphone optimized applications, this could be your golden age. But for people who wish to continue living a normal — otherwise known as old-fashioned — life, it comes at a price. In Hong Kong, smartphones are changing people’s  lifestyles that it’s close to impossible not to notice it.

The MTR just changed its escalator announcement
Ever wondered the old-familiar voice you hear on escalator asking you to hold the handrail while taking this 19-second ride is no longer around? The voice of that all-familiar woman may have been replaced but the message remains — with a subtle addition. Yes, the old reminder to hold the handrail is still there, but the MTR has added don’t-just-focus-your-attention-to-your-mobile-phone thing. If Crocs trapped in escalators is so 2007, a more timely accident these days could be more embarrassing: falling on stairs while watching her favorite Korean drama on smartphone.

In the MTR, the very first thing people access to, practically next to nothing, is their smartphones. The Octopus card, a required pass to get in the station, sits comfortably inside the smartphone wallets. Passengers have turned from free daily newspapers to the mobile apps to read the day’s headlines. This brings more elbow space and less distraction to both readers and their neighbors.

Do lovers’ infrequent face to face interaction mean they stopped loving each other?
Just because you’re together with your girlfriend means you’re actually spending quality time. It’s not my or anyone else’s business, but maybe the relationship’s taken into a whole new level, that while it appears that both boy and girl do not appear visibly intimate, they are actually making use of that uber-useful device as a bridge of the relationship. Hanging out at Starbucks? Why talk in person when we’ve been talking on the phone even before they met at the venue.

Families are ‘together’
The same goes with families who gather over at a shopping mall fastfood. While waiting for their turn to come in, kids could get insanely bored so they need to play their favorite iPad game, while the mother may need to review the grocery list and father his stock portfolio, they dwell separately in a virtual world while waiting to address their physiological needs. The act gets repeated when they occupy the table but wait for the menu to arrive.

‘How’s your day, son?’ ‘I thought I replied to you on Whatsapp I am fine mommy.’

For the loners out there, the smartphone is a perfect friend and entertainer that serves multiple purposes. It continues to bridge communication between this person and a a) nagging girlfriend or b) demanding boss while doubling as a micro television and surround sound entertainment system, among others, while distancing themselves from those around them.   At the dining table, the smartphone is conspicuously present: To take photo of the food for social media purposes, watch a movie or read the news. The experience doesn’t end there; as long as battery power is intact, the smartphone use will continue, even when crossing the street. That is why this new lifestyle is even more dangerous than previous warning of sending SMS while on the road. When people send text while walking, at least they hear a car’s horn blowing.

Fueling this addiction to smartphone is the fact that Internet connection is virtually free across many places in the city. The MTR, shopping malls, double decker buses and public parks and facilities have been wi-fi enabled for a long time. Smartphone apps have proliferated, websites were built with mobile users in mind, hoping to take advantage of the constant connectivity of users from their desktop and laptop devices in the office to their mobile phones during transit. Yet, despite the high rate of broadband and wi-fi penetration, Hong Kong mobile users lifestyle when it comes to purchasing online trails the world’s average, according to a Comscore study.

With the current lifestyle of a typical Hong Kong smartphone user, battery life do not last a day (I mean 24 hours), so it spawned a new industry of battery packs and power bars in the market. New gadgets mean more expenses as tablets and smartphones occasionally need replacement of covers and cases, new paid apps or these indispensable  battery packs. But smartphones can also cut costs. For instance digital subscriptions (say New York Times) is cheaper than the paper version, or doing online transaction saves time and money on a traditional route.

People have turned into zombies

But as Hong Kong people’s addiction to smartphone has shown worrying signs,  I think these worries of eroding relationships due to reduced face to face interaction are a little exaggerated. As people’s eyes have become more fixated with their devices, an eye opening experience that’s painful, embarrassing one might teach a lesson or two. Talk about a viral video featuring a well-dressed woman falling in the escalator for failing to pay attention to the ever-familiar announcement.

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