A culture of watching soap opera on the street has emerged from a specific social economic condition. Most migrant workers only use lightweight tools for communication, so normally have no access to television or computers. This cost-free social entertainment has become a stable of their personal lives.

Dark back streets of the industrial areas are lit with outdoor televisions, provided by local shops, restaurants and even hospital clinics. The gathering crowd creates bottlenecks, slowing down traffic in dark pedestrian zones.

Clusters form, where viewers organically divide in order of their viewing preferences. A few families and friends regroup outside a restaurant whilst waiting for their program to appear online. A bird-eye view of the street would be a physical minute-minute data chart of viewer behaviour, as each program generates specific cravings.

Many female workers gather to watch weekly medical programs outside a hospital. An opportunistic vendor sets up a placebo health-related drink and snack stall under the screen, but joins the crowd until adverts reappear.

A large group of men gather around a historical action program shown in front of a Red Bull advert.

The street soap culture bleeds into suburban squares. On Sunday evenings, families gather to watch a historical soap based on characters from the Sino-Japanese war. The hero is put under danger. A roar is heard as an audience of thousand TV viewers let out an “oh” before returning to silence. This is the sit-down version of football.

There is no better way to regulate crime than gathering people where they can be watched and occupying spare time with patriotic media. Police carts conveniently stop to survey the crowd, whilst the storyline entice officers.

Families make use of the temporary security in a mid-night picnic on the paving. Television has become a platform for social cohesion. A fun evening of shared cultural activity to relax and a rare environment of unregulated safety.

Written by Lisa Ma

Lisa Ma is a Speculative Designer & Researcher whose recent work is a kind of service design with a twist. Through an ethnographic research process she explores fringe groups that are largely ignored by society. Although finding insight in the extremes is a common approach within design, the research typically tends to focus on increasing mainstream utility in some way. Lisa’s projects uniquely emerge as services that look to create functional and mutually beneficial interactions between fringe groups and the mainstream populace. Her design methods become a platform for engagement, creating radical new kinds of relationships, a sort of Community to help us explore alternative futures. Her work has lead to the creation of some surprising services, including parasitic spa therapies by cat ladies, doorstep water filtration sessions from conspiracy theorists, and historical village tours for stranded passengers by Heathrow activists. In her latest field-trip, Lisa lived in a joystick factory in China, where she explored the idea of ‘Situational Fringes’ and the modern slums. Lisa holds a Masters Degree in Design Interactions from the Royal College of Art, and a BA in Art, Design & Environment from Central St. Martins. She has worked professionally as a designer at Conran and Pentagram in London and most recently in service design for Deutsche Telekom T-Labs in Berlin. Lisa shares her adventures at fringejoyride.com, and is currently based in London.

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