Saturday, April 21, 2012

Technology and culture: a test case

This relates to Lisa's post, It's a Facebook thing and ignorance of the internet. Both make me think of high school debate topics in the late 50s. I was set to write "remind." They are not the same. "Better Dead than Red vs Better Red than Dead" was a popular topic along with whether or not to recognize China. 

Which is stronger: technology's power to shape local culture, or local culture's power to influence the way technology is adopted and used?

If it's the former, as I suspect it is, then technology becomes a homogenizing force, tending in time to erase cultural differences. If it's the latter, then technology plays a subservient role; the uniformity of the tool does not impose uniformity on the tool's use. Culture prevails.

We're going to get some insight into this question over the next decade or so as e-readers - in the form of both devices and apps - spread and become even cheaper. As Caroline Winter of Bloomberg Businessweek reports, in two of the most prosperous Western countries - the U.S. and Germany - the adoption of electronic books has so far taken very different routes. E-books are booming in the U.S. Less than five years after the introduction of Amazon's Kindle, e-book sales already account for about a quarter of all U.S. book sales, and that percentage continues to rise sharply. In Germany, where e-readers are also readily available, e-books still represent just 1 percent of overall book sales.

The difference is largely a cultural one. Germany, the birthplace of Gutenberg...

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