In his new book, Smart Mobs, Howard Rheingold describes mobile phones as heralding “the next social revolution.” He opens his book with a description of roving mobs of mobile phone-toting youths in Tokyo‘s Shibuya crossing, the place with the highest density of mobile phone use in the world.
The keitai has become a social necessity in Japan, particularly among the younger set. According to a survey by the Mobile Communications Research Group in November 2001, 64.6 percent of all Japanese owned a mobile phone. Among twentysomethings this number was 89.6 percent, among those enrolled in college, 97.8 percent, and among high school students, 78.8 percent. The mobile Internet is the most distinctive aspect of Japanese mobile phone use ever since NTT DoCoMo launched the i-mode keitai Internet service in 1999. Youths, again, are the heaviest users of these services, particularly keitai e-mail, where they send text, graphics and photographs between mobile phones.
The changing dynamics of meeting-making are only the tip of the iceberg in the changes that mobile media bring to how we coordinate, communicate, and share information. The older generation complains that keitai are linked to bad manners, particularly when people use them on public transportation or during meals. Parents worry that they can?t keep track of their children?s friends anymore, since the home phone is no longer a site of incidental intergenerational contact. Yet even those who complain about keitai are usually keitai users themselves, and are participating in the social negotiations defining and regulating their use.