Sociology of Technology in One Decade Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2057 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: History - Asian

Sociology of Technology

In one decade, the number of cellular phone users in the United States skyrocketed from 34 million to 203 million and numbers are increasing as more and more children are given their own phone for personal use (Leo, 2006). The cellular phone has gradually replaced the land line in many countries as the medium of choice for telecommunications, largely because land line infrastructure was already pervasive in the United States when cellular phone technologies made the scene. In Asia, where land line infrastructure was less extensive than it was in North America, cellular phone usage plays an even more important role. While it may be tempting to cite cultural differences as reasons for differential cellular phone use in Hong Kong vs. North America, the differences in infrastructure between North America and Hong Kong account for most of the reasons why cellular phones serve a different sociological function in those two societies.


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Although cellular phone usage is embedded within both North American and Asian cultures, the sociological function of the cellular phone in these two societies differs a great deal. For example, text messaging (SMS) is popular in HK, and not as much so in either Canada or the United States. Similarly, Canadians and Americans rely on landlines for long conversations during the day, and may only use their mobile phones after 7PM when airtime is free. On contrary, Hong Kong users speak continuously on their cellphones without considering the time due to rate plans that are as affordable and convenient as land line plans. Hong Kong users also text message on a regular basis and collect email on their phones too -- in short, the cellular phone is part of the Hong Kong users' everyday life and is used more as a luxury in North America.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Sociology of Technology in One Decade, the Assignment

The reasons for these differences may have little to do with cultural differences or class differences. Rather, the reasons for difference cellular phone usage can be traced to two important factors. First, cellular phone infrastructure and coverage is more comprehensive than it is in North America, and it is in fact more convenient to use cellular phones in Hong Kong than it is in North America. Hong Kong boasts one of the most advanced technological and specifically, telecommunications, infrastructures in Asia. Chowdhury & Yeung (nd) note that Hong Kong has one of the most saturated cellular phone markets in the world. Second, wireless companies offer consumers far more incentives to leave land lines behind in Hong Kong. Coverage is more consistent, billing is more sensible, and wireless services in Hong Kong are far more comprehensive than they are in North America. For instance, Hong Kong users can easily stream live television whereas such services seem more primitive in North America. Data in this report will focus on Hong Kong and Canada.

Technology can, as Heilbroner (1967) points out, determine the socioeconomic order in a society. However, cellular phone usage in both Hong Kong and North America seems not to reflect a Marxist view of technology. Cellular phones are common in both Hong Kong and North America and their use largely transcends social class now that rate plans have matched land line plans in terms of cost. Consumers in both North America and Hong Kong can use cellular phones in lieu of land lines: eliminating the need to pay two bills.

A more likely explanation for usage differences between Hong Kong and North America is described by Norman (1988). Norman (1988) contends that technological objects sometimes function in counterintuitive ways. Doors without handles require signs that tell the user to push or to pull, when a strategically-placed handle might make the push-pull decision a lot easier to make. Users can and do work around the annoyances of items like cellular phones, whereas others hold up their hands and demand more advanced, better designed objects to suit their needs.

Cellular phones became a part of Hong Kong culture far earlier than they became a regular feature of Canadian culture. Hong Kong is one of the most cellular phone-saturated markets in the world ("Cellular Phone Usage Statistics."). Because of their head start on familiarizing themselves with the product mapping of cellular phones, Hong Kong consumers have become more cellphone savvy than their North American counterparts.

Research: Methods

100 subjects were interviewed and observed for this research. Half (49%) of the participants were college students born in Hong Kong, who have lived in Vancouver for at least two years. The other half (51%) of the participants were college students born in Canada. All 100 subjects attend the same university in British Columbia and all subjects interviewed currently own a cellular phone and use a contract plan with one of the local providers including Telus, Fido, and Rogers. Participants who only used pay-as-you-go plans were excluded from the current study.

Interview questions focused on two areas. First, I explored the participants' exposure to cellular phones in their households and grade schools. Second, I explored the participants' past and current use of cellular phones. Observations of actual cellular phone use were later incorporated with the participants' responses on the survey.

Research: Results

Results supported the primary hypothesis that cellular phones are more entrenched in Hong Kong culture than they are in North American culture. Of the 49 respondents from Hong Kong, only one reported that their parents did not own and regularly use a cellular phone in their household. Only three of the Hong Kong-born respondents did not have a cellular phone when they were in high school. On the contrary, 30 of the Canadian-born respondents reported that their parents owned and used cellular phones. Only 15 of the Canadian-born respondents owned their own cellular phone when they were in high school.

When asked if they use their cellular phone to send and receive e-mail, all 49 Hong Kong-born respondents claimed they used their cellular phones for both sending and receiving mail and 47 reported daily use of their phone for e-mail. Of the 49 Hong Kong-born respondents, 45 stated that they regularly (more than three times per week) used their cellphones to surf the Internet or to shop.

Canadian-born respondents were far less likely to use their cellular phones for anything other than voice conversations. Of the 51 respondents born in Canada, only 15 used their phones for e-mail and of those 15, none reported sending and receiving e-mail on a daily basis. Canadian respondents were also averse to using their cellular phones to surf the Internet or to shop. Only 2 of the Canadian respondents reported regular use of their phone for Web surfing and/or shopping.

The results for SMS were similar. All 49 Hong Kong-born respondents reported using SMS daily. Only 10 Canadian-born respondents reported similar frequency of SMS use and 12 reported "never" using their cellular phones for text messaging. Observations of the interview participants substantiated their claims: Hong Kong-born respondents did use SMS services and appeared far more agile with text messaging. When asked why they did not use SMS services, some of the Canadian-born respondents admitted they had never learned how and that none of their friends used the service.

Finally, respondents were asked whether cost was a factor in their decision to use their cellular phones to rule out possible socioeconomic class differences as causes for differential cellular phone usage. Of the 49 Hong Kong-born respondents surveyed, 12 noted that they purposely avoid using advanced features of their phones for financial reasons and 5 claimed that their selection of rate plans depended on budget considerations. None of the Hong Kong-born respondents reported using a land line in lieu of a mobile phone to save money.

On the contrary, 35 of the 51 Canadian-born respondents selected the "cheapest" rate plan available by their carrier. And 25 noted that cost considerations prevented them from using their phones for advanced features that cost more such as e-mail. 15 of the Canadian-born respondents used a land line occasionally to save money. All Canadian-born respondents did, however, report using their computers for e-mail, Web surfing, shopping, and instant messaging.


Pinch and Bijker (1992) refer to the social constructivist perspective of the sociology of technology, which suggests that technology evolves from real social needs. The RIM Blackberry illustrates this point. While the Blackberry is often heralded as a great Canadian technical achievement designed by Canadian engineers, this research suggests that Blackberries may simply serve Canadian users unfamiliar with or uninterested in text messaging or emailing on a 12-button keyboard. Thus, the RIM invention appears to reflect a cultural phenomenon: cellular phone use became more entrenched in Hong Kong society earlier than it did in Canadian society. Hong Kong consumers were used to using a 12-button keypad for SMS and as a result, cellular phone users are more savvy in Hong Kong than they are in Canada.

Donald Norman (1996) describes the "frustrations of everyday objects" to show how technology and psychology interact (p. 1). Canadians who were not brought up inundated with cellular phone… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Sociology of Technology in One Decade.  (2007, April 2).  Retrieved September 26, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Sociology of Technology in One Decade."  2 April 2007.  Web.  26 September 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Sociology of Technology in One Decade."  April 2, 2007.  Accessed September 26, 2021.