Monday, August 24, 2009

Understanding mobile phone culture

by Yevgeniy Shishkanov

Mobile phone users’ cultural attitudes are evident in how they use mobile phones in public, especially in the early stages of technology adoption. This is especially true for developing countries with low per-capita GDP and mobile penetration rates. For instance, just a few years ago in Uzbekistan and other Central Asian republics, people were reserved with their mobile phone and limited their conversations to just a few minutes. This was greatly contrasted with Western societies where mobile phone users are comfortable having long (and often loud) phone conversations during their commutes on public transportation (e.g., buses, metro). In Uzbekistan, the more reserved usage is explained by both the high cost of mobile phone calls as well as the pervasive cultural norm of being quiet in the street and not attracting undue attention in public. Conservative or minimal usage of mobile phones can also be attributed to the restricted/oppressive nature of the political environment - mobile phone users may deliberately exercise self-restraint in order to avoid unnecessary attention from local militia that is prevalent in the day-to-day life of society.


Paradoxically, mobile phones are very prominently displayed in cafes and restaurants in Uzbekistan. Mobile phone owners - predominantly, a very well off segment of society - lay their phones on the table to exhibit their social status. These phones are often very high-end and frequently boast features that are completely useless in the country. In India, ringtones are the focus. People try and find a very creative and distinct – and Indian - ringtone to call attention to themselves. They may even let it ring just a little longer than required on a bus just to make sure everyone heard and appreciated their unique ringtone.

Understanding mobile phone culture and usage habits in developing countries provides valuable insights for market researchers and business planners. It also sheds light on the diversity of mobile phone users in the various parts of the world. In order to take full advantage of these insights, it is recommended to study the socio-political role of mobile phones in developing countries in addition to traditional economic factors. With a more complete understanding of the cultural, political and economic trends, multinational corporations can offer the right products/ services their customers and expand their markets through knowing of how mobile technology is used for serving mobile phone users in developing countries.

1 comment:

Tania said...

I knew about mobile phone culture in former Soviet bloc. From ‘social status’ stand point, it is true for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus too where iPhones are displayed on the tables in the restaurants. From ‘lifestyle’ standpoint, I’ve heard about girls walking around on the street of Moscow with tennis rackets and iPhones in their hands. I wonder if they all can play tennis or if they use any iPhone features? Just like any expensive ‘thing’ it attracts attention and it is cool to have.
It was interesting to learn about ringtones in India. Besides, different cultures, it would be nice to know about ringtone trends for different demographics men vs. women, boys vs. girls or teens vs. adults.