The Luxury of Being a Crash Test Dummy

I have a confession to make: I’ve never really thought (or cared…like at all) about the different types of internet usage on different continents – or much less, developing nations. Where’s that damn Confession Bear when I need him?

From news stories and articles, I was aware that the internet and technology was becoming more accessible all over the world, so I am not entirely shocked that it has sprung up so quickly in Africa (Nigeria more specifically, according to the CNN article), but the manner in which it in being utilized is very interesting methinks. (#Random #ShakespeareReference. #YoureWelcome.)

The thought that crossed my mind while looking through this week’s readings was, “Wait, doesn’t the exact same thing happen to us?”

I mean only that when other countries develop technology well before we do (I’m mainly thinking of Japan here), it seems as though we use their experiences as a sort of BETA experiment. Think Camera Phones or Smart Phones. Many years ago, I remember seeing in the news that nearly everyone in Japan had a camera phone.

Wow! They’re so lucky! Said a High School version of Ryan who was still using a pay-as-you-go Virgin Mobile clam-shell. (That’s me btw. In case anyone was confused…)

But, sure enough, just as the Nightly News predicted, within 5 years it was more difficult to find a cell phone without a built in camera than otherwise.


An April 7 article from The Japan Times claims that “smart phone usage [in Japan] has nearly doubled over the past year.” ( claims that as of 2012, Android operating systems are dwarfing iOS in Japan, South Korea, and China. ( I’m not psychic, but I am preeetty confident that we’ll see the same level of increase in the following years.

Android Markets

Ok – back to Nigeria! The video we watched in class about Mxit was fascinating, but, technologically speaking, it’s really only different than what we have because it is catered towards what Nigerians need it for! The CNN article mentions that “across sub-Saharan Africa, only 1 in 5 adults own bank accounts.” Soooo – ipso facto – the people of that region (or service providers more likely) have molded the technology to their specific needs. No doubt they are to some extent aware of the technology utilized in the West and the East (ie. Tablets, Laptops, Desktops, Gaming Consoles, etc.) but “mobile phones [are] cheaper to own and easier to run than PC’s,” so they have selected to Mobile Phone as their tool-of-choice.

I got to wondering, did these guys just watch a bunch of crazy-rich Americans WASTE spend billions of dollars on the very SHITTIEST first phase of the evolution of mobile technology? Maybe we (or the Wealthier, more like) are the “Technology Crash Test Dummies” that allow developing nations to sift through all the CRAP models that don’t survive Consumer-Natural-Selection.

This would mean that the Nigerian method of consolidation to mobile phones (using cellular devices for the tasks Americans typically delegate to desk and laptops) is quite possibly better than the system we have in place. I’m sure the Credit Card giants would hate to think about us swiping their plastic with every purchase we make… Hell – I bet Steve Jobs would be rolling in his grave if Americans started figuring out that you don’t need a Mac, an iPhone, an iPod, an iPad, and an iPad Mini (What?! It’s for the day’s I don’t want to lug around a sleek ‘n sexy 10.3’ tablet everywhere I go! GEEZ!!) to get through a single day.

All ranting aside – I think we have some learning to do from Africa’s technological innovations. Whether that be adapting an FDIC-backed form of Mobile-Funds-Transferring or simply entrusing our smartphones with more daily tasks such as paying for groceries or – dare I say it? – bar tabs!


Here are a few questions that I won’t lose sleep over tonight. Knock yourself out…

  • Are American technology consumers “Crash Test Dummies” for developing nations?
  • Do we have things to learn from developing nations’ use of technological advances?
  • Does anyone remember when the Motorolla Razr used to be cool? **shudder**
  • Does Nigerian consolidation – that is, using the Mobile Phone for way more than Americans do – create an argument for the need to consolidate devices we use here in America?
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4 Responses to The Luxury of Being a Crash Test Dummy

  1. Many countries in Africa haven’t adopted the same technologies as America for a number of reasons. First, they don’t have the per capita income to afford many smart phones. Secondly, they never had a strong phone line infrastructure. Unlike Americans, they did not “grow up” communicating via telephone.
    Your question is largely one of technological determinism vs. social constructivism. However, the answer is a little of both. The technology that we use in America is mainly produced for American culture. Conversely, similar technologies are used very differently in other cultures. Consider Japan and America. Before the iPhone, Japan was light years ahead of in terms of technological advancements. When the iPhone was introduced to Japan, sales were less than stellar mainly because it didn’t use NFC (near field communication), a short range radio frequency that allow users to transfer data between devices. Secondly, the iPhone didn’t offer enough email emoticons for the Japanese market. This was a cultural detail that Apple hadn’t take into account. In Japan it’s also socially unacceptable to speak on the phone in public. On the other hand, it’s commonplace in India. In fact, Indians even answer phone calls in the movie theater, which is unheard of in the U.S. This can be attributed to the fact that Indian culture encourages individuals be available at all times. In Africa, there’s a practice known as flashing. It’s when you call a mobile phone and hang up before the other person can answer. To us, that means “stalker,” or “wrong number.” But in Africa, it means “call me later.”
    Mxit mobile banking works for Africa because if offers an affordable and accessible banking option. Simply, it’s appropriate for them given their resources. In America, Most large banks offer some type of mobile banking. Bank of America, for example, has an app for paying bills but not for making daily transactions. Plastic has its advantages though. I don’t have to charge my credit card every 5 hours.
    And yes, I had a Motorola Razr, two of them.

  2. samkeele says:

    Developing nations are not as far behind as I thought they were. My mind is still sometimes stuck in the 90’s..aka my glory young days, pre- web2.0 era. The fact that developing nations such as Nigeria are using technology as actively as us gives us something to look at. They might not be using the technology in the ways that we are, but we might learn something from the ways they are using them. Unforuntely, I do remember when the Motorolla Razr was cool. My seventh grade self was extremely jealous of everyone who had one. Just the flip phone in general was such a trend that everyone just had to have one…. Doesn’t this sound similar to the iphone/apple trend we see today? Everyone just “has to have one”… including myself. I did fall victim to this trend, but who can blame me? I can tell you one person who isn’t following this trend and its my dad. He just took my upgrade for….wait for it…. ANOTHER flip phone. Yes the upgrade I was going to use for the IPhone 5 has been used on a pathetic flip phone. I was not a happy camper. Whatever floats his boat I guess. If the technology is out there, I say we should take the most advantage of it.

  3. pwalsh778 says:

    I think that we are “crash test dummies” of sorts when it comes to new technology. My mom always taught me that when something new comes out, don’t be the first one to buy it because they haven’t fixed all of the bugs and kinks yet and the next version will be much better (not to mention cheaper). The example that we think of the camera phone was an example of a piece of technology that became popular and was passed down through the different generations to other phones. It works the same way when something isn’t great about the phone. For example when the iPhone first came out you couldn’t send pictures through a text message, but had to email it (or something like that, right). It didn’t take long for Apple to fix that, because the consumers and the people spending money on the iPhone didn’t like that.

    As far as remembering when the Motorola Razor was cool, absolutely I do haha. I remember being super jealous of my friends that had one. Also the commercials were really cool and I would get that “Hello Moto” slogan jingle thing stuck in my head all the time. Thanks for the flashback haha

  4. brittlemoon says:

    America isn’t the only one who is a “crash test dummy” for technology. Pretty much every developed country crash tests different technological advances at different times. It’s always funny to look at a brand new tech that just comes out and how much it changes or falls out as time passes. Things like the original iPod quickly changed from that big ugly low memory block to these new slick fancy looking (not as much memory as they should have) smart devices. But then there are some products that don’t change but instead fall to the wayside and get taken over by a better but very similar product. Most recently we had that battle between Blu-ray and HD-DVD. Actually whenever we have these contest between two new but almost identical movie streaming products my dad always chooses the wrong one. First with VHS vs Beta-max my dad bought a Beta-max machine and then with Blu-ray vs HD-DVD my day bought a HD-DVD player. So in a way my dad was a crash test dummy for me with movies playing devices. But anyways I guess you are right in a way America and many other countries are always testing these new technological advances until one either dies or quickly changes. And while I can’t speak for the rest of the world that doesn’t get technology as fast as the rest; I assume they just skip over the older models or completely ignore the failed products.

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