Phone addicts: Hong Kong welcomes you!

Long public transport commute? Why not apply your eyeliner while catching up on the new crime thriller “Thunderous Drug Raid” (雷霆掃毒) with your smartphone. Feel like a bashful tourist for taking a picture of that local specialty you ordered in Wan Chai? Be at ease, every single other person in the cafe has already Instagrammed their lunch. Boring dinner with your long-time girlfriend? Pull out your phone and play a game. She’s already doing the same thing on-the-sly under the table’s edge.

The phone is king in Hong Kong. Those without a smartphone (me for example) will find themselves engaged in conversations with people listening with one ear while scanning their phones with both of their eyes. Such Luddites will also waste lots of time on the MTR staring into the middle-distance while over-thinking their transient expat existences.

The Numbers 

As of this summer, the mobile phone saturation rate in Hong Kong was 221%. (See Hong Kong Office of Communication statistics here.) That’s over two mobile phones in current use for every member of the population. It’s quite possibly the highest current rate in the world and in league with heavy-hitters Macau, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Montenegro. (See relatively recent global comparisons, but without the updated Hong Kong number, here and here.)

I did spot an actual corner pay phone the other day; I have no idea what it is used for other than as a receptacle for cigarette butts and late night urine.

Pusher of Mobile Phones to the World

Hong Kong not only loves its mobile phones, it also feeds them to far corners of the world via Tsim Sha Tsui’s infamous Chungking Mansions, a rat’s nest of shops, hostels and micro-restaurants and a key focal point for low-end globalization:

When it was first built, Chungking Mansions was the domain of Chinese immigrants, who moved up and out. Today “this is more a Third World gentleman’s club,” says [anthropologist Gordon] Mathews, who estimates that 20 percent of the cell phones in use in sub-Saharan Africa pass through here.

(SourceMichael Paterniti, “In China’s Shadow,” National Geographic, June 2012, US edition.)

Perhaps that ancient Walkman-branded Sony Ericsson I lost in the seat cushions of the Alexandra House Starbucks is being used right now by someone at a bus stop in Nairobi to avoid making eye-contact with a panhandler.

Street art spotted near the Sai Kung Market in New Territories, Hong Kong

30 responses to “Phone addicts: Hong Kong welcomes you!

  1. It’s amazing, isn’t it? On the other hand, they’ve been such a boon for poor places like Sri Lanka, where we used to have to wait 10 or so years for a land line connection that would cost the earth to instal, if the line ever came our way … As you can imagine, take up and penetration here has been phenomenal 🙂

  2. As one who recently joined the smart phone class it is amazing what you can do with it – but I’ve had a work blackberry for years now. Thought provoking.

  3. I hated cell phones until I got one. I hated smart phones, that is until I got one. All in all though, they’re great. But I still think its rude as hell to pay more attention to your phone than the person you’re with. I hate that shit. It is there for my convenience and entertainment and no one else’s, and that’s one thing I’ll never like about cell phones in general. but 220+% percent? now that’s crazy. Why do they all need two???? for the lover on the side?

    • I know as soon as I get a smartphone, I will love it too… As for the reasons for two phones: some enterprising taxi drivers have upwards of six on their dashboard, some people may have one for work and one for personal, and a lot of the foreign domestic helpers from the Philippines and Indonesia have one for Hong Kong and one for their home country. But it’s still crazy.

    • It’s quite possible that urban Korea is just as bad (if not worse) than Hong Kong. In world statistics Hong Kong and Macau usually get broken out separate from China because of their “Special Administrative Region” statuses. So Seoul or any other urban center in Korea for that matter, could be just as saturated as HK if not more so. Maybe a silver lining?

    • This reasoning wouldn’t apply so much in Hong Kong and I’ve also sat with plenty of HK-based Americans and Brits with their faces stuck in their phones. Might be something in the water. 😉

    • explain yourself, “social immaturity (not having been able to see how to act from their parents, who in turn had no education from their parents, at least in China)” what the –?!

      • Yes, seems like rather a broad, strong generalization…. but maybe developingcityblog will pop back with a funny reply (or maybe they were just having a bad day in China)?

  4. This is hilarious.. It’s interesting you mentioned Saudi and UAE. Your post could honestly be describing the Gulf region. Having lived in Doha, Qatar for 7 years, I can tell you that you’re the odd one out if you aren’t walking with a mobile phone in your hand. More recently you’ll notice more and more young people carrying a blackberry and an iPhone, and now a Galaxy as well! The social status linked to mobile phones there is taken to a whole other level. I’ve witnessed several nearly missed collisions in shopping malls as you can imagine. Sadly, that’s not to mention the horrific car accidents that occur as a direct result from texting behind the wheel.

    • I’ve suspected there could be a few funny parallels between the Gulf Region and Hong Kong: mobile phones, obsessive focus on designer labels, and pretentious property developments seem to round out the comparison between at least one “exclusive” strata of each place.

  5. How funny. I’m in Japan for work this week and I can really notice the difference walking around the streets here to Hong Kong…people actually have their eyes raised and aren’t permanently attached to their phones. And they ride bikes, lots of them! Because they have two free hands! I think the saturation rate in Hong Kong is slightly skewed by those taxi drivers who have seven or eight phones lined up on their dash 😉

    (PS I freely admit I am an obsessed HK phone user! OBSESSED!)

    • Very interesting. I would have guessed that Japan might be just as bad (from another commenter, it sounds like Korea is). Lovely to hear that it is possible to be a technologically obsessed society, but still be socially engaged in the here and now (with your eyes up riding a bike!). Enjoy your week in Japan.

  6. Oh hey, you mentioned Chungking Mansions! But have you wandered through its warren of grey market shops and “messes” yet?
    What bothers me as much as the lack of volume control is the presence of pseudo-quiet cars on the KCR (MTR)– the tvs are on mute instead of the mobiles. Courtesy, the noun that Hong Kong forgot.

    • I haven’t visited the Chungking Mansions yet… Sadly, I only make it out of the New Territories about 2x a month, but it’s on my list of things to do.

      Glad someone else has noticed that the “quiet cars” are a complete joke.

  7. Pingback: Expat Bar to Grassland Yurt: One Stolen Phone’s Journey | Expat Lingo·

  8. Pingback: Phone addicts: Hong Kong welcomes you! « This could be you.·

  9. Pingback: Independent Hong Kong Flag | Expat Lingo·

  10. Pingback: If a Kaiju really attacked Hong Kong | Expat Lingo·

  11. Pingback: Hong Kong’s Smartphone Habits | Pinoy HK·

  12. Pingback: Expat Lingo’s top ten predictions for 2014 | Expat Lingo·

  13. A social movement against gadget addiction is being soft launched right now. An interesting Facebook page named “take back our lives” has been started by a New York based ad man and his friends. The FB page aims to be fun and humorous and not be preachy.

    Please check this FB page . Feel free to “like” the page, “share” the page and bring in as many friends as you wd like. Contribute to the page by sharing your experience/ideas/suggestions/photos/videos.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s