Does Standardization Make the Right People Happy?

Flickr Photo by JPellgen

There was an interesting article in the July 19 New York Times, Why Japan’s Cellphones Haven’t Gone Global.  The gadget Lover’s dream, their mobile phones are Internet ready, they feature e-mail, double as credit cards and boarding passes, and even body-fat calculators.  And the pocket devices have become an integral part of Japanese culture.  According to this December 2007 Sydney Morning Herald article, half of Japan’s top ten selling novels (at that time) were written on cell phones. (( Norrie. Justin. “In Japan, Cellular Storytelling is all the Rage,” The Sydney Morning Herald 3 Dec 2007. Web.22 Jul 2009. <–handhelds/in-japan-cellular-storytelling-is-all-the-rage/2007/12/03/1196530522543.html>. )) Yet, you wont find one here in the U.S., in Canada, Europe, South America, or …

“Japan is years ahead in any innovation. But it hasn’t been able to get business out of it,” said Gerhard Fasol, president of the Tokyo-based IT consulting firm, Eurotechnology Japan. ((Tabuchi. Heroko. “Why Japan’s Cellphones Haven’t Gone Global,” The New York Times 19 Jul 2009. Web.22 Jul 2009. .))

They have a name for the problem: Galápagos syndrome. Darwin found fantastically evolved plants and animals, dramatically different from their mainland cousins, and completely unsuited to prosper or survive  anyplace else.

From the Socioeconomic Data and Applications CenterClick image to enlarge.

One reason for the hyper-evolution of Japanese cell phone technology is the preference they have for the pocket devices over full PCs. Although far below the population densities of small states like Macau (11.3 Mi2) and Monaco (.75 Mi2), Japan’s 870 people per square mile live mostly in the coastal cities. ((“List of countries and dependencies by population density.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 21 Jul 2009, 15:20 UTC. 21 Jul 2009 .))  Most of the country’s almost entirely mountainous terrain can’t be built upon in any large population-supporting way.  Tokyo’s pop density is over 15,000 per Mi2, approaching five-and-a-half people per square foot.  I took a quick scan for apartments in Chuo-Ku (Central Ward) Tokyo and found units from 250 to 312 square feet running from ¥102,000 ($1,091) to ¥109,000 ($1,166) a month.

So where are you going to put your laptop and that 19 inch external display?

Another reason is the Japanese telco’s rush to build functionality into their cell phones and fashion network protocols to support them, vastly out-pacing the networks in other nations.

These cell phone companies need to reach a larger market. Kanshi Tazaki, with the consulting firm Gartner Japan, said that, “Japanese cellphone makers need to either look overseas, or exit the business.”

OK, lets leave the article now and ask two questions.

  1. If Japan could alter their phones so that they would work and be desired by an international community, would the CEOs of Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba, and Fujitzu be happy?
  2. Would their products be better phones?

I would have to answer those questions with a “yes” and a “no.”  Even though Japanese electronics company may have no choice, Standardization is not always a good think, especially of your aim is to provide the best product or services to your individual customers.

Lurching over to my usual topic, education, it seems to me that emphasizing standards over softer issues may actually be a hindrance to the vastly different needs of communities across the U.S. and the world.  The basics of literacy and a working knowledge of our geographic, cultural, environmental, and historic similarities and differences should be standardized, in order to build a common ground for working together.  But the rigor of deep learning — knowing, comprehending, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating what we know about our world might better be managed locally and personally.

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.