Cell phone culture: How cultural differences affect mobile use

On the phone | Ginza, Tokyo by jamesjustin

On the phone | Ginza, Tokyo by jamesjustin

Part of an excellent series on CNN that examines how cell phones and tablets are changing the way we live.

It is a device that three quarters of the world’s inhabitants have access to, according to the World Bank, but the words to describe it and etiquette of how to use it differ starkly across cultures.

In the UK, it is called a mobile, in the U.S. cell phone, in Latin America celular, in Japan keitai (portable), in China shou-ji (hand machine), in Bangladesh muthophone (phone in the palm of your hand), in Sweden nalle (teddy bear), in Israel Pelephone (wonder phone) and in Germany a handy.

In Japan, train commuters receive a barrage of recorded announcements telling them to switch their mobiles to silent or vibrate, referred to as “manner mode”. Using a mobile in public is frowned upon in a land where collective needs are put above the individual’s.

“Japanese culture highly values social harmony and social disturbance is heavily sanctioned,” explains Satomi Sugiyama, associate professor at Franklin College Switzerland.

If someone tries to board a bus while taking a call, the driver will not let them on, adds cultural anthropologist Mizuko Ito. “In Japan your cellphone shouldn’t be a nuisance to others,” she says. “This means generally keeping it on manner mode when out of the house, and not taking calls in cafes and restaurants. If somebody’s phone rings, they will be flustered and silence it or take a very quick call,” Ito explains.

Cell phone culture: How cultural differences affect mobile use