One morning a month or so ago, I was listening to a really interesting story on how the US and Japanese vise and view cellphones and the internet. The emphasis in the following transcript is mine:
MARK PHILLIPS: This brings up one of the biggest differences between U.S. and Japanese cell phone culture. While most Americans use computers to develop an intimacy with the Internet, the Japanese access the Internet primarily through the cell phone. U.C. Irvine’s Mizuko Ito:
PROFESSOR MIZUKO ITO: Broadband Internet came in relatively late compared to, say, the U.S., and the mobile Internet came in relatively quickly. You saw in the late ’90s that people were really starting to orient towards the mobile phone as their primary portal to the Internet, and this bias still persists today.
MARK PHILLIPS: Many Japanese actually say they prefer the cell phone keypad over the computer keyboard because they can type faster on it. And perhaps, most importantly, they don’t have to share their phones with anyone else. That’s why the pager fad exploded in the ’90s, because it was so personal. DeNA’s Satoshi Tanaka.
SATOSHI TANAKA VIA INTERPRETER: With computers, although there may be one per household, it’s unlikely that it would be your own. With cell phones, on the other hand, it would belong to you exclusively. Thus, you have the freedom to access anything, whenever you want.
MARK PHILLIPS: This has produced two different trajectories for cell phone evolution. In the U.S. we’ve been upgrading our cell phones with the hope of recreating the Internet experience we’ve had for years on the computer. In Japan, since the cell phone has traditionally been the gateway to the Internet, the evolution has instead been in the incremental improvement of the cell phone network and hardware.
This last part is really interesting because I experienced some of the value of personal computing when I volunteered at Boston Tech Day and volunteered for technical support on some middle and high schooler’s laptops. As part of the school program, some had individually received Eee netbooks. The relationship these teens had to these machines that were theirs was quite different from the teens that brought in a family computer to be fixed. Those with their own netbook showed a lot more responsibility for their computer and seemed to be more active and able in their literacy of its operations.