Sunday, March 09, 2003

Japanese Mobile Phone Etiquette

This piece (via slashdot) on how social customs in Japan (particularly amongst young people) are evolving due to near ubiquitous mobile phone use is quite interesting. Amongst the customs discussed are the fact that members of social groups of younger people are contacting one another constantly throughout the day to keep in touch with what their friends are are thinking and doing. For doing this, text messaging is a much more important medium than voice. This is interesting, and is an aplication that the designers of cellphone networks did not anticipate. At all. The same thing has happened in Europe. (The greatest social sin that can be made is now to forget to bring your cellphone, or to allow its battery to run out).

Two other things are mentioned that I have also noticed. Firstly, people no longer have to arrange times and places to meet one another, but plans can be fluid and decisions are gradual rather than at once. Being late is no longer a cardinal sin, as long as you keep people informed about where you are and when you will (or will not) arrive. (I have certainly noticed this. It is probably the number one reason I have a mobile phone). Secondly, people are sending text messages before making a voice call, to check that it is a good time for a conversation. The telephone is a relatively intrusive technology, interrupting you from what you are doing and demanding attention. Sending a text message is much less intrusive, and doing this first is much more polite. (I do this myself, although typically only at times when I think there is a strong chance a voice call will be convenient, such as late at night or around meal times. At other times, I will just make the call). Here though is a situation where mobile phones are adding subtlety to etiquette rather than taking it away. Lots of people consider the mobile phone to be a technology that has increased crassness. This does not have to be so, and here is an example.

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