One of the fastest growing technologies in the world has been the cellular telephone. Interestingly, this apparatus has come to represent more than just a convenient, universal solution. The use of a cell phone, or as some call it, the “mobile”, has been used differently in different cultures.
As an American student studying in Spain during 2003 and 2004, I made the rather narrow assumption that cell phones were fairly standard across the globe. At this time in America, cell phone plans provided a generous amount of talk time, at a relatively low price. I had quickly become accustomed to just picking up the phone and dialing friends and colleagues without giving much thought to the cost of making the call. Upon arriving in Spain, and purchasing a Spanish cell phone, I quickly learned of the naivety of my assumption that the world used the technology in the same way.
Not only was the cost of a cell phone much higher in Spain, but the etiquette that accompanied its use in public was different as well. Little did I know, but the Spanish people were providing a glimpse of the future in America. It was a rarity to find people, regardless of age, use a cell phone to make calls. More frequently, Spaniards used the cell phone as a text message device. This option was not only cheaper, but also more efficient.
In an article in The Economist, this very topic takes note of the transformation of cultural norms around the world because of this device. There is an apparent convergence of how, when and why people use mobile phones. Both general adoption of the technology as well as airtime usage have increased dramatically over the past ten years.
What is driving this change? Beyond the obvious answer that this technology answers the need of people of the world to communicate more quickly and easily, there is another answer. Cell phone users offer a glimpse at the global trend of a more homogenous global cultural identity. The successful deployment of McDonald’s and Starbucks across the globe is also an example of this shift.
The global business community is at a turning point. The shift from unique cultures to more homogeneous societal norms will also drive changes in how and why products are sold in other countries. Furthermore, the design of a product will be less contextual to the culture than it has been in the past.