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In China, heavy cell phone users are known as the ditouzu. This slang term roughly translates to the “heads-down crowd,” and describes the types whose heads stay glued to their screens in all situations: at work, on the subway—even in the bathroom.

Nonstop cell-phone use is a phenomenon not unique to China, though the country has seen its share of injuries from so-called “text neck,” the hunched posture required for marathon scrolling sessions.

It makes sense: Since 2012, China has been home to the most mobile users in the world, and in 2017, 753 million Chinese people accessed the internet through their cell phones.

TechNode visited one of the highest-tech areas in one of China’s highest-tech cities—the Huaqiangbei electronics market in Shenzhen—to ask Chinese cell phone users, “What are you doing on your phone?”

There were leisure users, like Zhang Qingna, a 36-year-old civil servant. She said she had been reading celebrity news about Hong Kong actor and singer Myolie Wu’s vacation in Malaysia.

Yang Xiaodong, a 45-year-old system analyst, said that he’d just been using his phone to play card games, and he’d won. “Just as you guys came I had very good luck,” he said.

Others were using their phones for more urgent tasks. Guixin Chen, 22, had just arrived in Shenzhen for a weekend trip and was looking for a place to sleep.

And others, naturally, were shopping. Guang Xu, 29, and Zhou Jie, 28, were researching a newly released sneaker, and Yu Hui, a 33-year-old bank administrative worker, was maneuvering a shopping rewards program.

All agreed that in today’s China, mobile access is a crucial part of daily life.

Jie said, “In the lives of people today, if they don’t have a phone, it’s not doable. Whenever I stop working, I think, ‘Is my phone there? Is it charged?’”

His friend, Xu, added, “You unconsciously pick it up and want to check it.”

Cassidy McDonald is a Beijing-based multimedia journalist who covers technology's effect on Chinese society. She tweets at @CMcD123.

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