For those of us who have been to Tokyo, Seoul, and other Asian cities, the amount of technology there that we’ve never seen in America is nothing short of jaw-dropping. When we return, eagerly heading for the nearest Best Buy or RadioShack, our jaws drop yet again, this time in disappointment. Where are our robot cooks? Where are our solar-powered cell phones? Why don’t we regularly see rescue bots pull people from collapsed buildings?
Let’s look at the example of automobiles. Award-winning foreign cars like Japan’s Mazda2, which won the World Car of the Year award in 2008. Those of us in North America have only seen it very recently, after Ford relabeled it as their own 2011 Fiesta.
Teenagers in Japan were texting and browsing the Web on their cell phones while American youths were just getting used to calling people off of landlines. Apple’s iPhone is revolutionary, of course—for America. Japan’s SHARP SH002 does the following:
- Resists water
- Runs on solar power for those desperate minutes after the batteries have given out
- Has a five-megapixel camera
- Has a 2 GB memory card
- Has a pedometer that calculates calories lost
- Serves as a mobile wallet—you can buy clothes, a hotel room, practically anything with its mobile-based smart card function
- Has built-in GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi connectivity
- Has a built-in TV tuner, allowing the user to view over-the-air TV broadcasts
As for robots, Japan and Korea are miles ahead of us. Some robots are vehicles for the greater good: Robokiyu is basically a giant scooper that rescues injured people from hazardous areas, and baby-seal shaped “Mental Commitment Robot” assists individuals with degenerative mental conditions. Department store robot, “Palette,” shows off the latest fashions while adjusting her pose according to viewers’ reactions detected by built-in sensors and mechanics. In some restaurants, robotic arms cook customers’ meals before their very eyes. We need not even detail the various gaming innovations and robots that teach university classes.
The Role of Government
So, all this innovation begs the question: Why not in America? Japanese and South Korean officials are well-aware of their country’s strengths and openly promote robotics. Government is the very reason America is lagging in the technological sphere. With mobile phones, the American federal government has fallen victim to the whims of select wireless carriers which only offer package deals, tying down customers to particular providers and contracts (and higher monthly phone bills than in Japan, even while using the same services). The free market is no longer free, illustrated no better than here, where technology growth is stunted.
The Role of Culture
Technology moves slowly in America for the same reason there are Wal-Marts. Americans are just too cheap to keep up with the rapid changes that occur in this arena. The slow uptake of Blu-ray disks serves as a prime example.
Keep geography in mind, as well. As tech-savvy types seem to thrive in urban American cities rather than in rural areas, so, too, does Asia thrive where America flounders. Asian cities boast great density not only in electronic interests but also in sheer population, creating a culture designed for mobile device innovation. Sadly, there’s not much American tech-geeks can do about this except travel abroad and browse our slow-moving Internet to ooh and ah at technology we’ll have to wait for until next year.