What we can learn from the Chinese about Digital Communication
By Madison Becnel
Last semester I embarked on a study abroad experience that would not only change my outlook on the world around me, but my perception of communication among different cultures. Beijing, China was not at all what I was expecting it to be. Before going, I had only known a handful of people who had been to China, specifically Beijing. When I asked them for advice, the first thing each of them told me was “Download WeChat.”
Now if you are anything like I was, you probably have no idea what WeChat is. WeChat is the Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app. To break it down into even simpler terms, it’s basically the Chinese equivalent to What’s App. However, WeChat offers more than just a platform to send text messages; it has aspects of Instagram, Facebook and Venmo wrapped into one app.
Benefits of WeChat
The three features of WeChat I found most useful during my time abroad were the text messages, mobile payment and WeChat moments. Texting via WeChat was much more efficient than using iMessage or Facebook Messenger. All of my conversations, whether they were with one person or one hundred people, were organized in one space, making them accessible at all times.
WeChat is especially useful when it comes to group conversations. There is no limit to how many people can join a conversation. To join a conversation in WeChat, all one has to do is scan a code shared with a member already a part of the group. Creating a group chat of this quantity on another app such as GroupMe would be more difficult and time consuming. The only way to add members to a group on other apps is by manually entering their contact information into the app.
I have always refused to convert to only using mobile pay via Apple Pay. Until I downloaded WeChat and got a Chinese bank account, I was hesitant to enter my credit card information into an app. In China, mobile pay is the only way to pay. Some restaurants and stores only accept WeChat pay. Once I was forced to do it, I realized how much more efficient it is. I never had to dig through a giant bag to find my wallet and pull out my card only to have to put it back a second later.
My favorite feature of WeChat was WeChat moments. Like Instagram or Facebook, one can post a picture or a set of pictures to their feed for their friends to see. Friends can then go on their own feed to view the picture and then like, comment or share it. It has a similar purpose to Instagram in that it gives you the opportunity to keep your friends updated through posting content.
The best part about these features? I never had to close out of one app to perform an action on another app.
WeChat in America?
Since coming home from China, I have thought a lot about whether or not a platform like WeChat would succeed in the United States. I think an app like this would free up phone storage because it already includes so many useful features. Not only that, but it would encourage individuals to make the switch to mobile pay which is ultimately more efficient. An app like WeChat would push us to rely even more heavily on our phones. However, I think an app this advanced would allow the U.S. to keep up with the rapidly growing Chinese tech market.