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.
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.
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.