...fascinating ... It’s a weird, delightful and unsettling tableau. In Blockchain Chicken Farm Wang introduces us to dozens of such quixotic figures, hopscotching across the country on a mission: to document how technology is transforming the lives of China’s rural poor ... Wang has a keen eye for the steampunk-like details of ancient rural areas now shot through with internet opportunity ... Wang has written a nuanced and thought-provoking account.
The combination of the surreal, faintly humorous and possibly momentous typifies this eminently readable foray into some of the farther reaches of technology’s tentacles ... significantly, Blockchain Chicken Farm isn’t really a 'China book' at all: Wang is peering into the future of tech and society and finds—convincingly—the most important signposts in China rather the United States ... a fascinating (and fun) discussion of how technology development plays out differently in China, but more importantly, it provides a mirror, largely unfogged by priors, of how the push and pull between technology and society may well play out not just in China but possibly everywhere else.
Each chapter provides a view into not just how we use technology but why and to what end. Emphasizing the often-hidden human engine that powers our app-driven economy, Wang exposes the flaw in our tendency to conflate societal and cultural aspirations with the promises of technology and challenges us to honestly measure what value technology delivers ... Most of Wang’s vignettes relate to Chinese agriculture. This decision, which roots the narrative in the visceral language of human sustenance, grounds the heady subject matter ... they largely succeed in their goal of reframing our understanding of technology as neither the cause of nor the solution to our problems but rather as a force reshaping the human experience in fundamental ways.
Xiaowei Wang’s Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside arrives in our oversaturated digital moment as a welcome reprieve, reminding us that there is more to technology than our thumbs hovering over our phones, unable to escape ourselves ... Discussions about tech, Wang writes, are often 'caught in a long list of binaries' ... Can we ever break out of the binaries? Wang’s cautiously optimistic approach advocates for the messy, imperfect power of being human: that an algorithm or data can never sum up who you are and will become; that technology, when harnessed properly, can one day serve open systems. It is also telling that one of Wang’s last case studies, concerning a group of countercultural nihilist Chinese youth known as shehui ren, those who believe they cannot advance to the 'upper-middle-class life promised to them in advertisements' and who reject conventional values of jobs, marriages, and families, turn to live-streaming platforms and lifestyles that valorize the hustle ... Wang appeals, counterintuitively, for us to look at the way we relate to ourselves and to others offline, gently exhorting us to continually exercise awareness and care.
You don’t have to be interested in blockchain to be taken in by this endlessly thought-provoking book ... It’s rare to read a book by a technologist that isn’t a polemic placed squarely in the pro or con camp. Wang is genuinely interested in discovering a more nuanced approach.
Engaging travels through a Chinese countryside in which high technology meets the old ways ... Wang’s whirlwind discussion, smart and well argued, turns to many other topics as well, from racism in high tech to microlending, trade wars, risk tolerance, and a rapidly changing rural China, with delicious recipes as a lagniappe. Technology writing with flair looking to a future that’s fast upon us, with China playing a leading role.
[A] thought-provoking if inconclusive inquiry into how technology is transforming rural China ... without a clear central argument, the narrative occasionally drags ... Still, this is a unique and detailed survey of an underexplored aspect of Chinese innovation.