China in pictures on one traveler's Instagram feed

Tricia Wang two phones
My friend Tricia Wang is an amazing tech ethnographer who's crisscrossing China — and recording her observations on an amazing Instagram feed.

I love following her notes — it's like peeking over her shoulder as she explores the ways Chinese society is evolving economically, technologically and culturally, both in the big cities and the far-flung rural provinces. Tricia's pictures are striking enough on their own, but she often includes an extended caption describing what's going on, and her analysis is always nuanced, smart and eye-opening.

I also love seeing social-networking tools put to uses that one wouldn't expect. Instagram's early appeal was all about the filters and quick visual sharing; but the fact that the captions allow for a few hundred words (apparently the current limit is 2,200 characters? Anyone have better info on this?) allows for Tricia to turn Instagram into what is basically a sort of visual microblogging tool.

Her caption for that photo above is:

#bytesofchina – I am watching a person using her Huawei smartphone to video record a video on another shanZai Samsung smartphone. I asked her what she was trying to do, she said she wanted the video on her own phone. I then realized that despite widespread smartphone ownership in rural areas, people may not necessarily understand how to manage files or even have the concept of file structure. Later on, the woman asked me to become wechat contacts. I automatically opened up wechat on my phone and opened up my QR code, as this is how I always add or am added to new wechat contacts. She then looked at me in confusion as I placed my phone near her phone. It took me a moment to realize she may not know how to use the QR Code feature. She then asked me what I was showing her, I then explained that QR Code scanning was one way to add people on wechat. This moment reflects many ways that the context for smartphone use in rural areas is different from urban areas. For example, in rural areas, QR codes are not common in stores, e-commerce is not concentrated, and there aren't apps for geographically located communities such as restaurant reviews or taxi service. #triciainchina #livefieldnote #guizhou

A few other of her recent field notes follow. Here's one on furniture
Tricia Wang sofa

#bytesofchina – A furniture store in rural #guizhou selling pink velvet couches. Once purchased, furniture owners usually cover the couches with sheets and towels, so the color of the couch is usually never revealed. For a peasant, buying cloth furniture such as a couch is an indicator of upward mobility. It also reflects a behavioral shift from working the land to other forms of labor. It also symbolizes a mindset shift to engaging in leisure activities such as watching television in a common area. And it points to a spatial shift in the design of a "house." In a typical village home with a household that is actively farming the land, a couch isn't practical as it would requires a another designated common space for relaxing behavior outside of the eating area and the concept of common leisure time outside of eating. These furniture stores remind me of the same stores that you would find in low-income areas in the U.S. marketing to black and Latino consumers. #livefieldnote #triciainchina #livefieldnote

… and one on the weeds that are overtaking abandoned farms in the provinces:

Tricia Wang weeds

#bytesofchina – The place in the field where the weeds begin and the vegetables end tells the story of modern village life in rural China. My host showed me around the edge of the town and explained that the owners of this land no longer grow vegetables to sell, as a result weeds have taken over. Many village homes are run by elderly people because those who can work have become migrant workers in cities where they can earn more money to send back to their family. As a result, much of the land is not used and only a portion is farmed for subsistence living to feed the family. In recent years, the public has become more aware of the social impact of migration on villages. Kids are raised by elderly people who often don't know how to supplement their education or even enforce school attendance, poor diets and malnutrition are common among the elderly and young, and village infrastructure slowly crumbles as the population dwindles. #livefieldnote #triciainchina

And one on preparing a chicken for dinner along with a family:

Tricia Wang chicken preparing

#bytesofchina – Little Apple song is playing in the background while we bleed the chicken out before defeathering it. A baby watches over the boy opening up the chicken's beak. A few feet away, adults talks about each other families around a mobile fire pit. Customers walk into the store to buy winter leggings. A dog is walking up the street behind me, waiting for fresh organs to be thrown into the garbage lying on the street. Neighbors walk by as our hosts tell them to come join us for our dinner. In the background, a permanent layer of winter fog enshrouds the mountaintops. #livefieldnote #triciainchina #guizhou