Data Sheet—How ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Illustrates Asia’s Mobile Messaging Obsession

August 22, 2018, 1:13 PM UTC

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Greetings from Singapore, the setting for this summer’s surprise box office hit, Crazy Rich Asians. The film opens here in The Lion City tonight, but I managed to snag an invitation to last night’s premiere at the Capitol Theatre, an exuberant affair attended by director John M. Chu, star Henry Golding, and many other cast members. It’s a great flick, worthy of the rave reviews it’s earning. And it has me thinking about the complex connections between language, culture, national borders, and technology.

What got my wheels turning was an early scene in which Rachel, a Chinese-American economics professor at New York University, is invited by her boyfriend Nick to accompany him to his hometown of Singapore to attend a friend’s wedding and meet his family. Unbeknownst to Rachel, who has never been to Asia, Nick is the scion of Singapore’s richest clan. Their conversation is overheard by a woman who knows exactly who Nick is—and that his family’s vast wealth makes him Singapore’s most eligible bachelor. She snaps a photo of the couple on her mobile phone and sends it spiraling across social media to discover the identity of Nick’s new flame.

It’s not easy to portray on film how a piece of gossip goes viral in the Digital Age. Chu explains his solution in this “anatomy of a scene” clip, which shows an explosion of text boxes, video images, and maps animated by colorful snippets of emojis and the logos of Google and Facebook’s Instagram as well as Tencent’s WeChat and Sina’s Weibo, two social media platforms based in China’s mainland.

The montage is deft—but glosses over big differences in how the world’s Chinese use social media in different markets. Behind the Great Firewall of China, WeChat (with more than 1 billion active users) rules social media, while Baidu dominates search; both services are heavily censored, and there is much evidence to suggest mainland users are just fine with that.

But beyond the Great Firewall, Chinese prefer other digital tools and networks. In Singapore, with a population that’s more than 75% Chinese, the most popular websites include Google, YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo, Instagram and WhatsApp, according to Alexa. Baidu ranks 15th. WeChat doesn’t crack the Top 20. In Hong Kong, 75% of Internet users are on Facebook, 74% use WhatsApp, 73% use YouTube, while only 44% use WeChat. In Taiwan, only 24% of Internet users are on WeChat.

The entire plot in Crazy Rich Asians turns on Nick’s mother’s insistence that a Chinese girl raised in America—even one who speaks perfect Mandarin and plays a mean game of mahjong—is just too different to marry a Chinese boy raised in Singapore. You’re not our kind, she hisses to Rachel at one point. But when it comes to social media and the technology that is increasingly the basis for organizing our daily lives, the more than 50 million Chinese who live outside the Great Firewall are more connected to and have a lot more in common with each other than they do with the 1.4 billion Chinese who live within it.


Worser and worser. A study released on Tuesday found a correlation between anti-refugee violence in Germany and Facebook usage. Towns where Facebook use was higher had more attacks on refugees, even after accounting for local political orientation, size, and wealth (analyst Ben Thompson has raised some serious questions about the study's methodology, however). The headline conclusion puts even more importance on Facebook's efforts to fight fake news. In that realm, the company has begun assigning users a secret reputation score on a scale from one to zero. Facebook product manager Tessa Lyons talked to the Washington Post about the system but wouldn't reveal in detail how scores are calculated. “I like to make the joke that, if people only reported things that were false, this job would be so easy! (But) people often report things that they just disagree with,” she said.

Time suck. The average person spends more than three hours each day on their work email, according to a survey of white collar workers by Adobe. Adobe also asked which common e-mail phrases were most annoying. “Not sure if you saw my last e-mail” was the most hated, followed by “per my last e-mail.”

Time suck, the sequel. While not in email, the rest of the average worker's day is probably spent in a messaging app like Slack. That popularity helped Slack raise another $427 million of private backing in a deal that valued the company at $7.1 billion. Also on the fundraising hunt, peer-to-peer car rental service Getaround raised $300 million from SoftBank, though at just an $800 million valuation.

Start your Xerox machines. Copying small startup Robinhood, mega-bank J.P. Morgan Chase said it will offer a new service called You Invest that will let customers make up to 100 stock trades in one year for free via the bank's existing mobile app. But after the first year, customers must hold at least $15,000 at the bank to qualify for another 100 free trades. Customers with at least $100,000 will get unlimited free trades per year.

Crazy rich Asians. Chinese phone and gadget maker Xiaomi said its revenue jumped 68% in the second quarter to $6.6 billion and adjusted profit rose 25% to $310 million. Xiaomi sold 32 million smartphones in the quarter, a 44% increase from last year.

Meet cute. The popular dating app Tinder announced a new college-only version of its service. Called Tinder U, it will be offered exclusively to active students and will only display prospective dates who are also college students.


Silicon Valley is known for its high-flying startups. Above, we just reported on several raising more money amid rapid growth. But what happens to the majority of startups that don't make it? Adrian Daub has written an interesting profile in The Guardian of Martin Pichinson and Michael Maidy, a pair of 70-somethings who help insolvent startups cash out their assets, titles, and property through a legal process known as “assignment for the benefit of creditors,” or ABC. It's not a high-profile business, Daub explains:

The clean-up crew stays deliberately out of sight. “It’s in bad times that they hear about us,” Pichinson says, and he sounds regretful about it. The careers being made in Silicon Valley have something magical about them, and perhaps for that reason all of the professionals working behind the scenes get the sense that their clients think consulting them will constitute a capitulation. An admission that what they’re running is a business, that their career is in the end just a career, that gravity has some kind of purchase on their meteoric trajectories.

Although most of Sherwood’s work is with investors, employees and vendors, they also hold a massive database of patents amassed from their assignees. “We probably monetize more patents than anyone else in the world,” Pichinson says. And he’s not wrong: Agency IP, Sherwood’s sister company, is nominally a consultancy, but in fact spends most of its time actively exploring the applicability of patents left behind by the companies Sherwood has buried. Like what William Morris agency does for screenplays, says Pichinson, who now operates from LA’s “Silicon Beach.” He makes it sound glamorous.


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Taipei's National Palace Museum uploaded 70,000 high-resolution images of items from its collection online for free downloading. The catalog goes all the way back to the Shang Dynasty in 1600 BC. I'm partial to the incredibly realistic cabbage sculpture carved from jade. You may prefer the lotus leaf-shaped brush in bamboo.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

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