Electronic East Asia

17 November 2004
I'd like to get a handle on some emerging phenomena that anthropology provides at least some tools to think about. These phenomena are presaged in the handout from yesterday:
China's "new media" appear to be reaching a critical mass. While news of unrest is usually blacked out of the Chinese media, word is now spreading quickly via the widespread use of modern communications, involving mobile phones, faxes, instant messages and the Internet, reaching Chinese nationwide... dissatisfied Chinese citizens have begun to contact foreign journalists directly using mobile phones, short messages, faxes and e-mail. (Asia Times, 15 Nov)

A Culture [a Society] is a communication arena, within which members exchange information in multiple coded forms. There are a million things to study in that framework, but we'll look today at the Emergent Present.

Looking at the present moment, and emphasizing technology as a facet of cultural development, we might ask: how are Internet capabilities [and other information technologies] actually being used in the nations of East Asia? What should we have on our radar in this area? One way to begin exploring the Internet and other bits of cyberlore in East Asia is via Howard Rhinegold's Smart Mobs, but there are many other sources we might entertain:

last year, one of the members of Anth230 quoted a WSJ story to the effect that Korea had more bandwidth per capita [?] than any other nation... google search suggests that it's 40x per capita [what does this mean?] that of the US...

So there's really something going on: Korea Becomes Battlefield for Mobile Phone Makers (Jan 2004), Korea's Weird Wired World from techdirt.com ("Increasingly, people are looking to Korea as a testbed for what a totally connected world is like. "), and Korea's Weird Wired World from Forbes:

South Korea has gone gaga over broadband. This nation of 46 million people, packed into an area smaller than Virginia, has quickly become the world's most wired nation. Politics, entertainment, sex, mass media, crime and commerce are being reshaped by a population as online as it is offline. Some 11 million homes, or 70% of the total, have broadband accounts, and at peak times just about all of those homes are online. Nearly two-thirds of Korean mobile phone users have shifted to so-called third-generation handsets that offer speeds up to ten times that of mobiles in the U.S. Here, residential broadband isn't expected to enter 50% of homes until late 2004.
Ubiquitous, fast and cheap access to the Internet has upended Korean society in dramatically unexpected ways...

Koreans realized they had entered a new era after the last presidential elections. By 11 a.m. on Dec. 19, exit poll results showed that the iconoclastic Roh Moo Hyun, 56, a 2-to-1 favorite among youth, was losing the election. His supporters hit the chat rooms to drum up support. Within minutes more than 800,000 e-mails were sent to mobiles to urge supporters to go out and vote. Traditionally apathetic young voters surged to the polls and, by 2 p.m., Roh took the lead and went on to win the election. A man with little support from either the mainstream media or the nation's conglomerates sashayed into office on an Internet on-ramp. The traditional Confucian order had been flipped upside down, and a symbolic transfer of power from elders to youth took place.

(see Internet at Center Stage in Roh Presidency (Jan 2003) and Roh Re-Embracing His Online Supporters (28/x 2003)

To update this, consider several starting points: see 'korea' search in Techdirt... and wired.com search for 'korea' (300+ hits) ...and 'china' at techdirt... and Mobile Phones As A Way Of Life In Japan )

animation of [past and projected] Internet growth

...and a factoid harvested from slashdot.org, from ITU story:

a report by the International Telecommunications Union shows the US lagging in broadband adoption. S Korea and Japan lead with between 60 and 70% of S Korean households wired for speed, with Japan catching up quickly. The U.S. ranks 11th...

China Internet Use Grows and The cost of China's web censors (BBC)

We could ask the interesting question: what are cell phones/mobile phones doing to human relationships, to social activity, to 'popular culture'. Of course, we could start by asking it for W&L... I just walked between the Science Center and the Business Office, and 1/4 of the people I passed were on cell phones... NONE of them made eye contact with me, let alone made any effort to Speak.

google: korea teenagers "mobile phones" (13,900 hits...)

google: china teenagers "mobile phones"

japan teenagers "mobile phones"

Japanese cell phone culture and Keitai: Japanese Cell Phone Culture and Showcase of Japanese Keitai Culture, and Keitai Log from Japan Media Review ...and another I just happened upon (Mizuko Ito: "A New Set of Social Rules for a Newly Wireless Society")

Keitai Eye Candy

Every morning thousands of Japanese women take their temperature and punch the results into their cell-phones. Later, if they have that ‘lov’in’ feeling, they can whip’em out, push a button and a little animated Kuala Bear will appear. If the Kuala moves up the pole then their temperature has risen and they are ovulating. Therefore if they have sex they may become pregnant.

The application is just one of a number of animated utilities offered by 104.COM’s Keep it Simple Stupid Personal Information Management Software, which the company provides for Japan’s multi-billion dollar cell-phone or Keitai industry. The company has a similar animation to help customers track their weight gain or loss - only in that case it’s a pig that moves up or down the pole. Go figure.

“Originally, we offered a text version of the service but we found that many people didn’t understand how to use it,” says Arjen van Blokland, vice president of 104.com. “Since we introduced the animated application it has become extremely popular.”

oyayubizoku, which means "clan of the thumbs" or "thumb tribe." ...see one of them ...and another version found via a del.icio.us list

ooooh ooooh look what I found: Children, Mobile Phones and the Internet Proceedings of the Experts' Meeting at the Mitsubishi Research Institute, Tokyo, March 2003 (a 60-page pdf --see Programme with pictures and links to some presentations/PowerPoint slides)

And cell phones have more features/power every time one looks again. They enable a level of personal network maintenance that was simply unthinkable (well, unimaginable, surely) just a couple of years ago.

Joi Ito's blog (brother of Mizuko Ito)

17 Nov:
Today I was on a panel at a JETRO conference with Hong Liang Lu. He has some amazing numbers about telephones China. Chinese are buying 90M new mobile phones a year. (Compared to 80M total mobile phones in Japan.) Japanese are about to make pre-paid mobile phone illegal because they are being used in crime. 80% of Chinese cell phones are pre-paid because of collection issues. PHS (Personal Handy Phone) which was developed in Japan (and I thought was a dead standard) is heavily deployed in China with 70M subscribers vs. only 5M subscribers in Japan. Minutes are as cheap as 1 cent per minute in China. China has 300M land-line phones and 300M mobile phones now.
Two in-press papers by Mizuko Ito are really worth our attention: Technosocial Situations: Emergent Structurings of Mobile Email Use
...mobile phones do undermine prior definitions of social situations, but they also define new technosocial situations and new boundaries of identity and place...

We use the term keitai email to refer to all types of textual and pictoral transmission via mobile phones. This includes what the Japanese refer to as "short mail" or "short messages"...

...messaging can be a way of maintaining ongoing background awareness of others, and of keeping multiple channels of communication open...

What non-users don't realize is taht keitai can be devices for augmenting the experience and properties of physically co-located encounters rather than simply detracting from them. Teens use keitai to bring in the presence of other friends who were not able to make it to the physical gathering, or to access information that is relevant to that particular time and place.

Keitai have transformed the experience of arranging meetings in urban space... [people my] exchange approximately 5 to 15 messages that progressively narrow in on a precise time and place, two or more points eventually converging in a coordinated dance through the urban jungle.

...keitai email augments the properties of a particular place, enabling contact and communication that would not otherwise be available.

One shift we are seeing is a change in our sense of what it means to be co-present, to share a social and physical space.

Research must be attentive to emergent technosocial places as well as prior senses of place to avoid a technically determinist assumption that electronic media necessarily erode social boundaries and the integrity of place.

and Mobile Phones, Japanese Youth, and the Re-Placement of Social Contact
...mobile phone use stirred anxieties about young people making indiscriminate social contact, devolving manners, and unruly behavior in public places...

...mobile phones define a space of persistent connectivity...

...the need to be continuously available to friends and lovers...

a social expectation that a message should be responded to...

New technologies become infrastructure for new disciplines and institutional relations as much as they challenge old ones that they grow out of...

And a new tool, today's addition to life's choices: keitai in Google Scholar (scholar.google.com)

The world of electronic information changes so very rapidly... the suggestion in a blog that TV networks distribute downloadable video probably seemed far-fetched to most readers when it appeared in August, but in the months since the blogosphere has seen the blooming of podcasting, and video blogging is just on the horizon too.

Too Stupid For My Mobile Phone By Mike Masnick

A new study suggests an awful lot of people believe that they're "too dumb" to understand mobile data applications. Is this a call for simpler devices, better education, or more compelling applications?

On Musical Variety podcast and Camtasia screencast