Confucianism and Trade Imbalances

The enlightened dictatorship of money

Tech wars and value rigidity

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The Washington Post this week had an interesting article about Japanese manufacturing.  I don’t inherently trust Western declinist views of Japan, and clearly the Washington Post is aware of the political context of its piece.  (It had another piece a few months ago on Japanese fondness for the fax machine, which while cute, clearly had a political subtext.)  But in the manufacturing article, this section stood out to me as being plausible:

Those who study the consumer electronics industry describe a decade of missteps and miscalculations. Japan’s giants concentrated on stand-alone devices like televisions and phones and computers, but devoted little thought to software and the ways their devices synced with one another. As a result, their products don’t always work in harmony, in the way an iPhone connects naturally with a laptop and a digital music store.

In the heyday of Japanese manufacturing, quality was the typical selling point of an electronics product, whereas today that’s changed.  Now, I can’t help think about this comment in light of the current rivalry between Google and Apple over maps.

Apple has just released its iPhone 5, which has been heavily criticized for its premature mapping technology. For some background, Apple has been making huge profits in China.  Its products are must-have items, which I would put in the category of luxury “face” goods.  These small, integrated electronics goods are quite suitable for Asian consumer preferences, of which I’m reminded every time I try to take my laptop on the bus to do reading, and can’t fit it on my lap.  These are the sorts of things that are more expensive in China than abroad, because of occasional supply shortages.

Google, with its mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” has had a tougher time in China.  One might point to specific disputes it has had with the government regarding censorship, but I wonder if there’s a deeper cultural undercurrent here.  Its most innovative projects now involve geographical information, and it is pushing its maps to new frontiers (South Pole?  underwater?).  This sort of work has also been banned in China, where geographic information is extremely sensitive.  (Curiously CCTV anchor Yang Rui, in an unrelated and totally unprofessional rant against foreigners, accused us of compiling GPS data, among other things – giving us more of an insight into his mind than reality.)  Satellite maps are required to have a certain amount of inaccuracy, so that anyone bombing China will be forced to use map view.  In some ways, this mirrors Google’s prior larger controversy over censorship, but it is also different.  There are no blatant political  motives here, but I think there are more in the way of cultural biases.

So I wonder if China, in its clamor for handheld devices popular in its heyday (which I would say ended around 2009, when the stock market started its quiet death plunge) is going to miss out on the next wave of geographical technology, just as Japan also did when high technology ceased to be about things simply not breaking down?


Written by Maofucious

October 2, 2012 at 5:47 PM

Posted in Confucianism

Tagged with , ,

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