Friday, February 20, 2004

Internet Cell Phone Access

Interesting post by Brian immediately below on the rise of cellphone internet access among the Japanese. Most of the increase has happended since I moved away from there (I lived in Tokyo Sept. 98-June 99), but the reasons for the 70 million internet cell phone users are (1) systemic and (2) less exotic than you might think. I'm pretty sure there are basically two factors at play here. First, almost all Americans with personal internet access connect through their homes, over the general phone lines using a computer and a modem. One of the reasons they do this is that it's pretty inexpensive to make a phone call with your modem and dial into an ISP. In Japan, however, local phone calls are VERY expensive compared to the U.S. (sorry, I don't have exact numbers, but it is significant), while intense competition in the cell phone market drives prices down and incentivizes the introduction of new features, like camera phones (previously) and internet access.

The second reason is more sociological in nature, more chic, and given rise to more bad analyses, bad writing, and mistaken facts (like much else about Japan, but that's a topic for another day), but Japan basically has this love affair with the new, and new technologies. Explanations for this vary: (A) it's the result of fairly wealthy population with a great deal of disposable income and relatively few outlets to spend it on; (B) it's nothing new, but simply a continuation of the same process you saw in the Meiji Restoration in the latter half of the 19th century where Japan went out to try to get the best from the West, and make it better (see Gerschenkron, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective); (C) relatedly, it's part of a longstanding Japanese cultural phenomenon, broken down into (i) a culture that lack independent voices so that when it moves in one direction, it does so wholeheartedly and without perspective or reason, (ii) the sharp dichotomistic preference for either the very old or the very new and/or (iii) Japan, it's a foreign country, and they speak a different language, and they write so different, and it's just that odd and wonderful (what I think of as the Lafcadio Hearn school).

Out of time for now, I'll have to say more later.

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