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    AI Friends, Self-Care, Alter Egos: What Young Chinese Want in 2024

    Drawing from a survey of over 3,800 users, mainly aged 18 to 27, a recent report on likely social trends in 2024 reveals new preferences and mental wellness strategies among young Chinese coping in a complex, tech-driven world.

    A surge in interest in AI-powered companions; forming uncomplicated relationships that respect personal space; embracing “self-love” over the feelings and evaluations of others; and coping with anxieties by imagining themselves as someone else.

    These are among the emerging trends reshaping the social fabric of young Chinese today, according to a new report by Just So Soul, a research institute under the popular Chinese dating app Soul.

    Drawing insights from a survey of more than 3,800 users, predominantly aged 18 to 27, the “Insight Report on Social Trends in 2024” offers a glimpse into the evolving preferences and mental wellness strategies of a generation navigating an increasingly complex and technology-driven world.

    With 30 million monthly active users, Soul is among China’s most popular dating apps, allowing users to connect through a personality test and communicate using customized avatars. The app particularly resonates with younger generations, with 80% of its users being members of Gen Z.

    Stepping into 2024, here are some of the trends likely to shape social, consumption, and lifestyles choices of young Chinese.

    Zero-sugar networking

    Akin to the concept of enjoying a sugar-free Coke, “zero-sugar networking” refers to relationships without any of the emotional burdens. According to the Soul report, this meets the need for casual yet meaningful connections among an increasing number of young Chinese, and are often short-lived and revolve around common interests and activities.

    Such associations are described with the buzzword dazi, meaning “companion.” The report shows that one in every four individuals born after 2000 has a dazi, indicating a strong preference among them for uncomplicated, effective companionships to counteract feelings of isolation in the digital age. This trend is prevalent across various Chinese social media platforms, with dazi seekers ranging from college students to working professionals.

    Despite the rising interest in low-commitment socializing, over 90% of young Chinese still value social interactions. The report states that they spend an average of eight hours weekly with friends. When asked about their ideal form of friendship, 54% of the young respondents favored maintaining regular contact with friends while also preserving their personal space.

    Bonding with bots

    The report also underscores the impact of the rapidly evolving AI technology in the social lives of young Chinese. “The interaction between humans and AI was once only imagined in science fiction stories,” the report states, “But the breakthrough development of AI-generated content has opened up new possibilities for social interaction.”

    According to the survey, 9% of respondents have found companionship with AI-powered entities over animated figures and celebrities. Yet, the majority — about 48% — still find the most companionship in real-world friends.

    Last year, social media platforms were abuzz with individuals describing in minute detail their romantic relationships with AI-powered entities. And with tech giants looking to replicate the success of ChatGPT, multiple AI chatbots capable of engaging in diverse and interactive conversations, including one designed by Soul, are likely to grow in popularity in 2024.

    The trend towards AI seems to be driven by feelings of loneliness, with 65% of those surveyed reporting that they feel lonely “from time to time,” while over a third said they “constantly” feel lonely.

    Another survey conducted by the app in August showed that 95% of users have a neutral view of AI-generated content. Among their reasons were entertainment value, convenience, and the ability to enhance work efficiency.

    Creative escapism

    Another method of coping with work anxieties identified in the report is “imagination of the other.” This involves individuals temporarily stepping out of their own identities to assume another persona.

    One example of this trend is the increasing interest in an online genre dubbed malou or monkey literature. According to the report, this resonates with young people who see the stoic expressions of monkeys as a reflection of their own work lives, emphasizing perseverance and effort.

    The report notes a significant uptick in interest on Soul, with malou-related posts increasing by over 2,000% in 2023 compared to the previous year.

    Love thyself

    The Soul survey also found a shift in the attitude of young Chinese towards an emerging concept dubbed “self-love romanticism,” associated with putting the self first before others, looking after one’s body, and fulfilling small personal desires.

    Over 90% of respondents hold a “non-negative” view of the term, with about a quarter seeing “self-love” as a form of romance.

    “It’s a kind of rebellion against East Asian culture that has long been telling us to respect others’ feelings and opinions. Now that we’ve grown up, we can take back control of our lives,” Zhang Zhenyu, 22, told Sixth Tone.

    This trend was also evident on social media last year, with the topic “reparenting yourself again” gaining widespread attention. On Soul, related hashtags, such as “Live the way you like,” have garnered over 700 million views, according to the report.

    In a related social media campaign launched by Soul in July, many users openly discussed their imperfections, ranging from physical traits to a lack of talent in sports, encouraging others to embrace their flaws and individuality.

    Editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: From @SoulApp on WeChat and re-edited by Sixth Tone)