Sleeping in Internet Cafes: The Next 300 Million Chinese Users

Techrice has posted a South by Southwest presentation by Tricia Wang on rural migrants’ use of Internet cafés, which extends beyond web and computer access to accommodation and even child-minding. The enormous popularity of ‘wangba’ (“net bars”) has unsettled the government and other segments of society, a mood Wang compares with pre-Prohibition America’s attitude towards saloons. However:

… Counter to what the government and the media argue – that internet cafes are places of moral corruption – my observations revealed that cafes are places of safety, stability and comfort for migrants living in city that seemed at times hostile to them.

It’s totally new – migrants accessing networked digital technologies, coordinating with each other online, and creating new communities. For the first time ever, non-elite users have access to the same technologies as elite users.

People are using cellphones and internet cafes to create the middle-class/elite identity they desire.

Illustrating this, the slideshow includes a poster for a computer school where migrants who may lack formal education can learn to program.

The abundance of these kind of colleges reflect how migrants are trying to reinvent their lives through opportunities found on the informal market. With all these migrants learning programming languages, they are unleashing a lot of human capital.

See also Wang’s account of “How I Was Treated on the Subway While Doing Fieldwork as a Migrant Worker”, via CDT.