Riding a bus up Third Avenue in New York City last week I encountered a young adult in her early 20’s chatting up a friend on her cell phone. Most passengers on the crowded bus were visibly annoyed as she turned up the volume of her voice. Several stops and a few minutes later her fellow passengers knew what she was doing for the evening, where she was going and what she was having for dinner. Enough! I excused myself for “interrupting” her with “it’s a TELEPHONE not a MICROPHONE!” Applause erupted as she whispered into the phone.
The cell phone is now so embedded in our culture that it is taken for granted, often abusing an expected etiquette that comes with ownership. Cell phones are morphing into appendages that provide gaming, photography, email, texting, scanning, entertainment, data, e-commerce and more. We put up with this marvel of technological progress because we demand it …. Culture drives technology and easily abuses it.
Cultural differences between countries become strikingly obvious as we observe “cell phone culture” around the world.
In Japan, for example, mobile phone culture, or "keitai culture" talking on a mobile phone while riding a bus or train is frowned upon and messages asking passengers not to make calls and to switch their phones to silent mode ("public mode" or "manners mode" in Japanese) are played frequently. As a result, texting is huge in Japan, overshadowing the U.S. in volume. It is so prevalent that phone manufacturers have abandoned the common flip-phone, for a more open model that makes texting easier and faster…. culture driving innovation.
In the U.S. music often defines “who we are”. Music projects our personal taste. Not in China, where music is not as important as fashion. In China, fashion defines who you are resulting in a dizzying array of phone skins and colors.
Laws also affect cultural change as it has in Saudi Arabia where conversation between the sexes is taboo. As a result, texting has taken root.
In Sweden, punk subcultures like big clunky phones, as an expression of who they perceive themselves to be in relation to world culture and in Belgium, text messages are far more common than voice calls. A lot of text messages are “teasers” that aren't intended to provoke a response.
The world has become a petri dish of sorts for examining the cell phone culture that surrounds us.