As our family prepared for travel to China to finalize the adoption of our child, we were instructed by our adoption agency to download the app, WeChat. Outside of adoption circles, I was not familiar with this particular service, but it would be an understatement to say it was huge in mainland China. The thing about this social networking service is that it offers many functions to users. Now, some would say that Facebook does the same for users in the United States. To some degree that is true. Certainly Facebook offers chat services and video conferencing, but WeChat has become something that Facebook has not yet…ubiquitous. WeChat is at the center of the Chinese life. I am surprised more and more every day on my journey’s around Guangzhou, Guangdong province.
We were originally told by our guide that people in China use WeChat for everything. We did not understand the reality of what that meant. WeChat is connected to the bank accounts of users, much like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and FitBit Pay. However, unlike the
fractionalized experience Americans have with these various services, WeChat offers a much more seamless fit into the everyday life of Chinese consumers. There are a couple of other services in use for these same purposes in China. One is offered by Baidu, another Chinese company attempting to own every aspect of the consumer and social person’s life. However, WeChat has certainly made its mark on this use case.
Since we arrived in China, I have seen people use WeChat (and it’s QR code scanning ability) to pay for meals by scanning codes on tables, pay for bike rides by scanning codes on hundreds of bikes found along the roads, and pay for goods and services at kiosks and shops. Everything has a QR code which can be scanned to pay or simply to get more information about the thing. For instance, in the parks, trees have QR codes hung on them which can be scanned for more information about the tree or plant. It really is something to behold.
I guess this might make some wonder where I stand on the ubiquitous nature of social networks. The pervasive nature in which WeChat invades the everyday life is somewhat unnerving. While I love the utility of this network, I am somewhat concerned of what it could mean for everyone. I expect to see more and more of this coming. The heavily fractured nature of payment services in America may prove difficult to overcome for services like these, but I think the simplicity will cause many to be intrigued. It would certainly behoove Americans to watch countries like China to see what the pros and cons are before we are presented with choices to make. For the time being, I am going to enjoy the simplicity and the functionality of a great social network. After all, payment services are just aspect of a wonderful utility for keeping in touch with friends and family.