The Land Without Internet

Chris Beam visits Aba County, a rural part of Sichuan province where rather than censor the Internet, the Chinese government has turned it off altogether :

Aba was first stripped of its connection in 2008, after riots in Tibet led to unrest in this place known for its wide grasslands and Buddhist monasteries. Both mobile phone signals and the Web have been erratic ever since, coming back for months at a time only to disappear again, usually after a Tibetan monk sets him or herself on fire in protest. For example, the Internet returned last December and January and then, according to residents, disappeared again in February. With politically charged “incidents” occurring as recently as September, no one knows when—or if—the information blackout will end for good.

Beam’s hosts explain what life is like for them:

Over tea, [22-year-old Shuangquan Zou] told me that he arrived in Aba last year and found the transition jarring. He had missed some big announcements—his friends threw a huge graduation party without him, because he never saw the invitation—and had trouble keeping in touch. Relationships, he explained, become stratified by communications tools: There are close friends and family, whom you call; less intimate friends, whom you text; then still less intimate ones, whom you message on QQ or WeChat. Removing social media doesn’t mean you start texting and calling those less intimate friends. It just means you lose touch.