by Anne Marie Zeif

The German publishing house Langenscheidt nominated the neologism ‚Smombie‘ as the so called youth word of the year 2015. It is a combination of the two words smartphone and zombie and describes people who are staring at their smartphone and fading out their environment. The excessive use of smartphones in present-day society is a highly discussed topic in Austria, but the smombie mode of Shanghai’s citizens takes it to another level.

When you take the subway in Shanghai it is hard to ignore that almost everyone in there is chatting, watching series or calling someone with their smartphone. If there is a generation gap in China – and in some respects there surely is one – the elderly people jumped over it very successfully if it comes to smartphones and the Internet. It does not matter if someone is around their twenties or over sixty years old, the smartphone is a constant companion. So, it is not a rarity that someone is almost missing his or her stop because of being engrossed in a movie or an online conversation.

Within ten years, the Internet penetration rate in China rose from 10.5 % (2006) to 52.2 % (2016) (source: These numbers show the fast development of China’s Internet world and maybe explains the captivation of being online every minute.

This does not mean that the use of smartphones and Internet on the way is always something negative or reprehensible. During the stay abroad, the MCM students bought Chinese SIM cards to have Internet access on their smartphones as well. Sure, it is very helpful to be able to use apps like Google Maps in a foreign city. And of course, it is also nice to use social media and to stay in contact with friends and family at home as well as with the MCM colleagues. But if you start fading out your environment or missing your station, you should maybe rethink the situation and keep your head up and your eyes open again. However, it will be interesting to see how the smartphone usage will develop in the next years – in China as well as in Austria.