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Location: United States

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The keitai culture

"Keitai isn't just a new technology, it's a new culture" reads a Wired news story from Feb 2006 that I stumbled upon today. Keitai is Japanese for cell phone. Whether the rest of the world will go the Keitai way or not is for all of us to see. However, I have a lurking suspicion that a lot of us will.

You know what I'm going to say - for entreprenuers, as I keep on repeating, we need to design services for the Keitai culture, for the mobile experience and not just translate web-based services to the tiny mobile screen!

Here are some excerpts from the story:

Walking through Tokyo's Ginza district one Friday evening last month I saw an extraordinary sight that will soon become an ordinary one: A businessman was talking into his keitai (the Japanese word for cell phone), holding it out in front of him rather than to his ear. Suddenly, smiling, he raised the device to his lips and kissed the screen.

It wasn't hard to piece together an explanation -- the man was making a video call to his lover. His lover had asked for a screen kiss, or perhaps they'd synchronized one. It was my first glimpse of this behavior, and it happened in Tokyo, but I knew it wouldn't be my last. Soon enough we will see this scene repeated in New York, London, Paris, Berlin and San Francisco.

...and this...

Increasingly, when I go out here in Osaka, what I'm observing in public places is people silently surfing on their i-mode keitais. I tear myself away from the internet only to enjoy endless vistas of other people using it.

I shouldn't be surprised.
Japan Media Review tells us that there are 89 million keitai subscriptions in Japan. Seventy percent of the population owns at least one keitai.
This saturation has a very literal impact on my movements through the city: it's not unusual to have to jump out of the way of a young man wobbling along Osaka's narrow backstreets on a bicycle, concentrating on the glowing screen of his keitai. Perhaps he's lost and consulting a GPS navigation service, or, who knows, he may even be reading a Wired News column in translated, stripped-down
Hotwired i-mode format. He may be reading me, which would be great, but has he seen me?

And later in the article:

It's also a little worrying to see two girls in a cafe running out of things to say and sitting face to face in silence, each reading their keitai screen. The massive success of keitai culture in Japan is largely due to the decision, taken in the late '90s, to market the phones to women and young people. It would be sad if their online conversations had silenced their cafe conversations.

Then again, information ubiquity is great. You can sew facts into conversations on the fly. It's great, for instance, when you're in the middle of a si- or seven-hour drinking and eating session in a
reggae izakaya, and someone mentions an island where there's an art installation, and with a few clicks you can call up and save the details of exactly how to get there.


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