Japanese Cybercultures

Japanese Cybercultures

Japanese Cybercultures

Japanese Cybercultures

Synopsis

After English, Japanese is the most widely used language on the Internet. This text looks at the development of the Internet in Japan, the online dynamics of Japanese language use and the differing ways in which broad groups such as men, women and students use the Internet.

Excerpt

When I was asked to write the preface for a book called Japanese Cybercultures, I was not sure that I could do it: as a Western academic with an interest in the Internet and its users, I was already aware of, and embarrassed about, my lack of detailed knowledge about non-Western cybercultures. But the editors assured me that I cannot be alone: this is, in fact, the first English-language book dedicated to life on the non-English-language Internet, even though, on today's Internet, only two-fifths of the content is in English. Happily, when I came to read this fascinating collection, I found it to be an excellent remedy for (part of) my ignorance.

Popular media give us, in the West, a particular image of this topic: the Japanese are a super-technological people, fascinated or even obsessed with the latest computers and gadgets. We imagine, perhaps, that their homes are gleaming temples to the latest cool technologies, and we might expect that they would have embraced and wholly mastered the Internet some time ago. This book shows that this vision is not really true to the everyday lives of most Japanese people (apart, perhaps, from the interest in little gadgets). Indeed, as Nanette Gottlieb and Mark McLelland point out in their introduction, even by 2000, Japanese take-up of the Internet in the home was less than half that of countries such as Canada, Iceland, and Sweden.

This relatively slow adoption of the Internet on PCs in Japanese households perhaps explains why a book such as this has been so long in coming. But it could also reflect the complacency of Western scholars: we assume that people in other countries, using other languages, are probably doing things with Internet technology that are pretty similar to those applications we are familiar with. This book shows how wrong that assumption is in many ways. Most striking, for me, was the way in which Japan has embraced the mobile Internet. The WAP protocol for mobile phones - which enabled users to access ultra-basic versions of Web sites, which had to be prepared especially, and which were too small and too slow to be much use - has already been pretty much discarded in the West, having enjoyed a brief period as the much-touted "next big thing" in the run-up to the Christmas of 1999. In Japan, however, a variation of this technology has been wholly embraced and is being put to a fascinating range of uses, creating another kind of cyberculture which - by virtue of both its reach and its complexity - is rather unique to Japan.

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