ASIANS' GROWING AFFAIR WITH THE CELLULAR PHONE

MANILA,
February 16, 2004 (STAR) By Eden Estopace - Siemens, one of the leading cellular phone manufacturers, has released another study that sneaks a peep into the mobile lifestyle of people in the Asia-Pacific region, and the results are more revealing than previous surveys on mobile phone use in this part of the world.

The indispensability of the cellphone in peopleís daily lives appears to be getting stronger as more and more people in China, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and India say that if they had left their phones at home, they would most likely go back and get it.

The Siemens Mobile Lifestyle Survey, now on its third year, actually reports that more than 50 percent of people in the Asia-Pacific region will feel the need to go through the hassle of going back home to get their cellphones.

This is strongly felt in China, where 70 percent of the respondents say they will travel the extra mile to retrieve their phones. The Philippines is not far behind at 65 percent. India, an IT powerhouse in Asia, has 63 percent of its mobile phone users saying they canít manage life without their phones even for a day. So are users in Indonesia (62 percent) and Malaysia (60 percent).

This is because, as the survey also shows, almost half of the mobile phone users in the region perceive the handsets as a technology extension of their personalities.

According to the Canada-based Institute of the Future, the technology horizon is also a cultural horizon in the sense that "new technologies are driving the world toward more connectivity." And as these technologies mature, they will most likely create new behavior.

The Siemens study is actually an effort to understand these "new behavior" and gain insight on cellphone usage and habits. This yearís survey, concluded in December 2003, covered nine Asia-Pacific countries and the trends spotted are surprisingly familiar yet unnervingly radical.

The Filipino In A Cellphone Society

Valentineís Day or not, Filipinos are the most romantic people in the region, the survey says.

This we know already in previous surveys. In the 2001 survey, 51 percent of Filipino males and 61 percent of females said they used SMS (Short Messaging Service) or "texting" to send love messages to their partners or spouses. In the 2002 survey, this situation hardly changed as 58 percent of Filipino survey respondents, both males and females, said they were more expressive in love via SMS.

In the most recent survey, 54 percent of Filipinos say they "call or SMS their loved ones plenty of times in a day" as opposed to 24 percent of Hong Kongers, 34 percent of mainland Chinese or 13 percent of Thais.

But hereís a new twist: In public, Filipino men (43 percent) talk louder than women (35 percent) on private topics. Again, this is the highest in the region.

The survey statement goes: "Sometimes, I get so engrossed in talking on my mobile phone, that Iím often unaware of my loud voice while discussing my private life in public." On the average, only 34 percent of males and 30 percent of females in the Asia-Pacific say they agree with this. But in the Philippines, not only do people talk louder on the phone, they do so while conversing about private matters as well.

What happens to the popular notion of the male species being the more reserved and the more tongue-tied of the two sexes, especially in the area of love and romance? It seems that all they need to be more open and expressive is a cellphone.

Still in the area of love and intimacy, Asia-Pacific men (25 percent) love their gadgets and play with their features more than women (19 percent), the study shows.

But in the Philippines, 34 percent of males, the highest in the region, say they toy with their mobile phones, especially the MMS feature, which they say has "enhanced" their love life because they can send "for your eyes only" pictures. However, it is the women who will most likely keep the SMS or MMS.

Interestingly, only eight percent of survey respondents in the Philippines say they love to talk dirty with their loved ones on the mobile phone. Mainland Chinese out-perform Filipinos in this department (31 percent). Clearly, the "hot stuff" is not for Southeast Asians as only seven percent of Malaysians, six percent of Thais and nine percent of Indonesians say dirty talk is their cup of tea.

Ethics also seem to be at work as cellphone users in the Asia-Pacific region hardly use their camera phones to take a sneaky peek into other peopleís lives. In the Philippines, only three percent say they have taken a picture of someone without his or her knowledge or permission.

The Cellphone And The Self: The Changing Dynamics

There is no doubt that the cellphone has become an extension of its user. Fifty-three percent of Filipinos say they plan most of their social activities using their cellphone. And this is even more pronounced in China where 63 percent of survey respondents say they use their phones to plan their social life. Almost half of the users in the region are also into mobile music and gaming and make use of their contacts and messages a lot.

In China, people are almost always in the loop. No matter where they are or what they are doing, their phones are right by their side. Eighty-one percent say they usually pick up their mobile phones wherever they are or whatever they are doing.

The statistics are equally high in the rest of Asia for this behavior ó India (70 percent), the Philippines (65 percent), Indonesia (66 percent) and Hong Kong (60 percent).

Seventy-seven percent of Filipinos even say that if they donít receive an SMS or a call for a long time, they begin to check their mobile phones constantly. The less fidgety with their gadgets are the Australians (20 percent).

Between a cellphone and a PC, the former wins hands down. Forty-two percent of all respondents say they will choose to retain their mobile phone if forced to make a choice to forego either one for a whole day. In the Philippines, 59 percent will pick the mobile phone.

The plethora of new handsets in the market may have its advantages as more and more people in the region admit that chasing after new models is crucial in keeping up with trends. This is particularly true in India where 68 percent say they love looking for more fashionable models.

The mobile lifestyle has clearly delighted people in the region but the downside is that most South Asians and Australians are bothered that todayís society has become less courteous and considerate of other peopleís personal space because of the cellphone. Fifty-seven percent of Australians and Filipinos feel this way.

As the mobile communications mania takes us deeper into a new dimension, perhaps it helps to be reminded that there are aspects of our private selves that are not fit for public consumption and that sometimes the personal is not always political.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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