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Sociotechnological imaginaries of mobile phones in Japanese popular culture

Sociotechnological imaginaries of mobile phones in Japanese popular culture
Date Issued
the Society for Sociological Theory in Japan
Japan has been regarded as one of the most culturally dynamic and technologically advanced societies in the world; one built upon an indisputable reputation of rapid economic and cultural success. In the early 1990s, during the collapse of the bubble economy Japanese society began to dissociate itself from the globalised world in a number of ways, and set about constructing its own unique socioeconomic ecosystem. This trend was coined ‘Galapagos syndrome’, and is typified by Japanese consumers’ refusal to follow the global trend of using smartphones like iPhone. Instead, mobile technology users in Japan clung to feature phones called ‘Galapagos keitai’, which are typically referred to by the portmanteau, Gara-kei. Interestingly, this unique way of using technologies has even been translated into popular culture. What’s more the way of representing mobile technologies in popular culture seems to be closely associated with social and moral orders from which people make imageries of their ideal situations. This study focuses on interactions between technological artifacts and sociocultural elements in popular dramas and films, and in particular, how social and collective imaginaries including hopes, desires, visions, and dreams, are constituted through the process of building up the system of mobile technologies. This research raises several questions related to the social phenomenon of ‘Galapagos syndrome’ in Japan. Firstly, it explores why Japanese society took a distinctive pathway of technological innovation that has been decoupled from the global technological system. During this recessionary period of dramatic transformation, while economic circumstances seemed to force people to take the Galapagos pathway, sociocultural imaginaries of technologies, which are entangled with cultural practice in popular media, have also acted as a transformative force in shaping new forms of life. Secondly, as certain groups of people tend to impose their sociocultural imaginaries on a specific type of technological artifact, this article shows how sociotechnological imaginaries are represented in popular media like television dramas and films. This article focuses on a multi-layered practice of techno-cultural imaginaries. In particular, the sociotechnological imaginaries of gara-kei became a focal point to capture the multi-layered cultural practice of technoscience. Currently, the sociocultural impact of keitai is drawing an increasing amount of scholarly interest in Japan as well as around the world (Gottlieb and McLelland, 2003; Ito, Okabe and Matsuda eds, 2005; Okada and Matsuda, 2002; Daliot-Bul, 2007). As keitai has been rapidly and deeply embedded as a necessary product in everyday life, simultaneously the social and cultural status of keitai has also been transformed into an artifact of expressing personal identities (Daliot-Bul 2002; Fujimoto, 2005; Ito 2005). This technocultural practice of ordinary Japanese consumers is reflected in areas of popular culture including TV dramas and films. The intersectional nods between techno-material and cultural practice can be a significant focal point in locating the reason for which Japanese consumers have built their own pathway of developing technologies. In order to capture how consumers build up their identities through technological artifacts, it is necessary to research the way that technology is represented in films and dramas. We analysed every character that appeared to carry a mobile phone in 224 dramas and films produced between 2010 and 2017 (144 drama series and 80 films). The process of selecting the dramas and films was randomised in order to reduce the potential bias of the researchers. The main purpose of the research is to find any repetitive patterns and relationships between using specific types of mobile phone and personalities depicted in dramas and films. The results demonstrate that there is a strong relation between normative roles and the use of mobile phone.
Article Type
14th Annual Meeting of the Society for Sociological Theory in Japan, page. 1 - 45, 2019-09-07
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