3 January 2010

The Apparatgeist calls

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How you use your mobile phone has long reflected where you live. But the spirit of the machines may be wiping away cultural differences, claims The Economist.

The article, that quotes design researchers Mizuko Ito and Younghee Jung, describes at length the cultural differences in mobile phone use, but then asks if “such differences between cultures [will] persist and grow larger, or will they diminish over time?”

Companies would like to know, because it costs more to provide different handsets and services in different parts of the world than it would do to offer the same things everywhere.

A few years ago such questions provoked academic controversy. Not everybody agrees with Ms Ito’s argument that technology is always socially constructed. James Katz, a professor of communication at Rutgers University in New Jersey, argues that there is an Apparatgeist (German for “spirit of the machine”). For personal communication technologies, he argues, people react in pretty much the same way, a few national variations notwithstanding. “Regardless of culture,” he suggests, “when people interact with personal communication technologies, they tend to standardise infrastructure and gravitate towards consistent tastes and universal features.”

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