Lai See and How Technology Changes Everything
The last two decades has seen technology upend almost every industry, transforming everything from 'sacred' business models to how we deliver and receive product, service and content. So much so that we're at the point now, where we kind of take this for granted.
But every so often, we're reminded that we can still be surprised.
I was personally reminded of this, this week, on my trip to Hong Kong, where the city is prepping for Chinese New Year (coming up in the next week or so).
A key tradition of Chinese New Year is Lai See - which has been an integral part of Chinese (and other Asian) cultures for centuries.
Lai See is the red packet or red envelope, that contains a monetary gift, and is given on special holidays (especially in Chinese New Year) and other occasions (such as weddings, graduations or births).
When I was growing up in Hong Kong, we would look forward to Chinese New Year, receiving these red packets, and carefully opening them to see what our bounty would be.
It was always a physical experience. You'd meet someone, they'd hand you a physical red packet, you'd say your thanks and off you'd go.
Well, even that changed a couple of years ago.
In 2014, WeChat (an instant messenging service) allowed people to deliver virtual red envelopes containing money to whomever they wanted, through its mobile payment platform. It was an interesting take on a very traditional practice.
Within two years, during Chinese New Year 2016, 3.2 billion such envelopes were distributed. (Of course, competitors such as Ali Baba have entered the fray as well.)
For those of you who have experienced the Lai See tradition, that's a major change. Not just the change in the practice but the scale and rate of adoption.
But it's also a pointer to how technology can change accepted practices, reinterpret them and, as importantly, how consumers - in this situation, kids (who are the primary recipients of Lai See) - aren't beholden to any of our beloved practices and traditions. (Kids just want the money and virtual red is as good as physical red!)
It's worth bearing in mind, every time we think we know how something works, that we can't change behaviors and models that we think are ingrained.
At the end of the day, you just need to think of the audience, and what really moves the needle for them.