J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 252
Friday, November 21, 2003
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>> VIEWPOINT: Cellphone Psychology
** NOTEWORTHY NEWS: Russia, China and South Korea Ink Oil Deals
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>> VIEWPOINT: Cellphone Psychology
One of the great problems in reporting on Japan is the temptation to
turn a chance observation into a generalized theory. You go to Harajuku,
spot a dog dressed up in a tartan and start to write ecstatically
about a canine sartorial craze sweeping the nation. Or you hear about
some grim high-school murder and decide that now is the time to churn
out that groundbreaking 5,000-word think-piece on escalating Japanese
youth violence. But even the gentlest bit of journalistic probing can
deflate any notion that such isolated "trends" are the makings of
major social patterns.
So we were delighted this week when we received an invitation to
hear two American professors laying out the results of their study
on mobile phones and the use of the mobile Internet. Finally --
a chance to solidify our reporting with precisely the kind of
empirically derived facts that trend-oriented stories on mobile
phones generally lack.
The professors predicated their presentation by announcing
how surprised they were at the results of the various surveys and
studies they conducted. Straight away they revealed that the story
of the mobile Internet in Japan is studded with failures -- flashing
on their giant display screen a quotation from our very own
publication (J@pan Inc) to illustrate their survey results:
Fewer than half of their respondents used the Mobile Net
more than 5 minutes per day, and only 26 percent of those
users actually pay for Net usage, with 60 percent of those
who pay forking over a measly 500 yen per month.
So much for the popular image of a Japanese populace addicted
to their Net-connected keitai.
There is a "killer app," of course, and that is the cellphone
messaging/email service, to which many users do seem addicted --
or at least wedded. A full 73 percent of respondents peg it as
their No. 1 phone function. Communication is critical, though
hardly a massive moneymaker for providers.
To put the analysis in a nutshell, the professors found
very few usable patterns determining when and where people log
onto the mobile Internet. And they found that people's feelings
towards their cellphones were strikingly similar no matter where they
were in the world (in this case, Japan and Indonesia), and finally,
that people's use of the mobile Internet was -- surprise --
largely determined by where they spent most of their time. If
you're a homebody, you're on your cellphone in your living room;
if you're a workaholic, you're thumbing out emails at your desk.
Perhaps most stunning of all was the professors' contention that Japan
was really not so different from the rest of the world when it came to
the mobile Internet -- and even mobile phones in general. What we found
doubly dubious was the methodology employed to obtain respondents'
"personal feelings" towards their phones. Asked to draw pictures or
present graphics representing their deepest emotions, respondents
offered imagery directly in tune with advertisers' campaigns and
mass media tropes. Cellphones gave individuals "freedom" and
"independence" and helped keep them "in touch" with others. At the
same time, they "intruded upon private space," "contributed to
addiction and crime" and a sense of "inescapability."
When we noted this in the Q&A session afterwards, the professors
acknowledged the difficulty of going beneath the radar, so to
speak, to obtain authentic personal responses. The room grew pretty
quiet, and it was hard not to sense the unease. In a modern
environment virtually defined by the very "inescapability"
respondents complain of, the inescapable conclusion is that
people respond the way they're conditioned to respond -- by
savvy marketers with their cool campaigns, and, yes, by journalists
and their multi-media assaults on consciousness.
Perhaps the greatest risk for analysts, professors and journalists
seeking to comprehend the keitai craze anywhere in the world is
the seduction of the virtual -- the abstract world of tech wizardry
that seems to be the point of it all.
Consider this: On our way back to the office, we strolled past
numerous sidewalk cafes filled with Tokyoites, nearly all of whom
had their sleek and colorful keitai sitting dormant on their tables
as they sipped lattes and people-watched. The very physicality of
the phones was what appealed here. Back home in New York and London,
most cellphones are black and pragmatic; more like smaller
walkie-talkies than space-age icons. In Japan, phones come in a
dazzling array of colors and designs. Users from age 8 to 80 festoon
them with cartoon characters, beads, miniature photographs, tiny
icons of one's choice -- all in an effort to personalize the
product. My cellphone is a part of me, they seem to be saying,
as they place their product on the bar or the cafe table. And
by displaying my cellphone, I am a part of the community.
Look, ma! It's Me in the Matrix.
-- The Editors
"Keitai Cartoon Antics get Personal," from J@pan Inc magazine,
J@PAN INC magazine - the journal of business, technology and people in
Japan - invites you to participate in a "VALENTINES"special ad section
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Date/time: November 21, 2003 (Friday), 14:00-16:00
Venue: Ran Room, Imperial Hotel
Charge: Free (sponsored by Ibaraki Pref. Govt.)
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** NOTEWORTHY NEWS: Russia, China and South Korea Ink Oil Deals
Russia's Rusia Petroleum, China National Petroleum Company
(CNPC), and South Korea's Korean Gas Corporation presented a $17
billion pipeline project on November 14 for natural-gas deliveries
from Siberia to Asian markets.
Set to become operational in 2008, the 4,887-kilometer pipeline will
eventually carry 20 billion cubic meters of gas a year from the
Kovykta gas field in eastern Siberia to China, and another 10 billion
cubic meters of gas to South Korea. The pipeline's projected cost
has risen from an $11 billion estimate in 1995.
Some analysts said the higher cost estimate might raise questions
about the viability of the project. Russian-British joint venture
TNK-BP controls Rusia Petroleum, and TNK-BP spokesman Vladimir Bobylev
explained to The Moscow Times on November 14 that the next step will
be for the firms to "submit a feasibility study to the governments of
Russia, China and South Korea."
CNPC Vice President Su Shulin told reporters at a November 11 press
conference in Peking that his company is in talks to purchase a 25
percent stake in Rusia Petroleum, Kommersant-Daily reported the
next day. Rusia is the operator of the Kovykta gas field,
Russia's largest with an estimated 1.8 trillion cubic meters of
gas reserves. TNK-BP controls 62.42 percent of Rusia; Russian
industrial holding Interros is preparing to sell its 25 percent stake
CNPC is not the only contender, however. Gazprom is mulling an
offer from Interros to purchase the stake. Aton analyst Steven
Dashevskii told the newspaper that the situation is a difficult one,
with both companies a potential boon to the project and neither
likely to settle for anything less than a 25 percent stake. "It would
be ideal for the project to have both Gazprom and CNPC involved,
guaranteeing support from both Russia and China," the analyst said.
Shulin also cited the Chayanda gas field, located in eastern Siberia,
as another possible area of interest. Russia's Natural Resources
Ministry plans to auction the rights to Chayanda in 2004; potential
bidders include Gazprom, Yukos, and Surgutneftegaz. Finally, Shulin
discussed the possibility of developing oil fields in Russia, and
perhaps Kazakhstan, with Russia's LUKoil on a shared risk basis.
LUKoil responded cautiously to the idea. A company spokesman told
Izvestiya on November 12: "We hold talks with many companies, but
there are no agreements with the Chinese yet and I can't name any
concrete projects under discussion."
-- Gordon Feller
"The Sakhalin Oil Boom, Parts 1 & 2," from J@pan Inc
magazine, July 2003:
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Mike Alfant, President of Building2 and Chair of the High Technology
committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan will be
presenting, "Keeping six inches of water above your head."
Date: Tuesday, December 2nd
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