From Anxiao Mina’s report:
I became familiar with Wang’s work, appropriately enough, through what may be the world’s most famous Internet cafe (albeit one where people bring their own computers). At SXSW 2011, she gave a talk titled “Sleeping in Internet Cafes: The Next 300 Million Chinese Internet Users”. It was part of the event’s Future 15 series, which addresses diversity on the Internet.
She explained that Internet cafes in China operate as “third spaces,” a concept developed by sociologist Ray Oldenburg. Between the totally public space of work and the totally private space of home are third spaces, like bars, libraries, and public parks, where people can socialize and share information.
She compared 21st century Chinese migrants’ use of Internet cafes to early 20th century American immigrants’ use of bars and saloons in the early 1900s. These third spaces strengthen the ties of the community, especially amongst disparate immigrant groups new to a city. Newcomers etch out a social home for themselves through spaces like bars and Internet cafes (in fact, the ba in wangba is a loanword from the English “bar”).
But unlike saloons, wangba are both online and offline, and they foster community in three different ways, according to Wang. One obvious way, of course, is the physical space itself. People who spend time in a cafe are more likely to chat with each other and help each other at the computer, and they meet others from different provinces and towns throughout China. Wangba also allow migrants to connect with family and friends back in their home towns while accessing crucial information about their new city and potential job opportunities.
- The yin and yang of the Chinese Dream – Helen Wang (chinaherald.net)
- Why Weibo is cuter than Twitter – Tricia Wang (chinaherald.net)