I first traveled to Asia 15 years ago. Luckily, the first country I went in Asia on this business trip was Japan. It was a huge shock for me. Their culture, outlook on the world, their business methods, skills and knowledge made me feel like I was on another planet.
The fact that I transferred immediately to Nagoya from Tokyo increased the level of my initial shock–there were no signs in English in the city. They put me through training on the first hours of the consulting and education program which would take a week. They said that no one would listen to an instructor unless they garnered respect, which would therefore be the end of business before it even started. No matter your knowledge, without an understanding of Japanese traditions and culture, you are not considered an authority in Japan.
After I transitioned into the field of internet, I found myself in Asia again. South Korea and Japan are the first countries that come to mind when we say video games. Asian countries are also the biggest consumers of technology and digital content.
If you think that Turkey or Europe is fast when it comes to switching to smartphones, think again. By the end of 2013, a significant majority of the South Korean population used smartphones. In the West, we see that large scale websites are still not fully mobile-compatible in 2018, which is not the case in Asia since 2015.
As websites, digital services or mobile applications become more sophisticated, and different and new features are added, we see that the usage rates go down in the West. In Asia, it is the opposite. The more features that digital content includes, the more important it gets. What gives it importance is the experience of people. We are talking about a community that is open to innovations and learning and shows high digital adaptation.
Last year, I went to one of the modern popular art zones of Shanghai after Chinajoy, a gaming expo. Street entrances to a large area were closed with barriers and an art festival was taking place inside the area. The district was filled with galleries, museums and modern art workshops. Nobody was hopping over or going around the barriers–they were using controlled points that provided entry into the festival area. As I was beginning to become impressed by the artistic and cultural development of China, I tried to give the entry fee for two to the worker girl at the entrance–in cash. The girl gasped when she saw the cash. She was telling me that they did not accept cash and asked me if I could pay with “WePay,” or “AliPay,” etc. As you might have guessed, they did not accept any payment other than WePay, the payment tool of the instant messaging app WeChat, or AliPay, the digital payment method of Ali Baba. Nobody wanted to deal with issues such as the risk of counterfeit bills, hassle of calculating the change or carrying cash on your person.
While we in the West are still using Whatsapp, which has very limited functionality, as an instant messaging app and finding it very convenient to create a Whatsapp group when we compare it with SMS, when you go to Asia, you see that in the East, more than 1 billion people communicate, make payments, download games and apps through the store, conduct trade electronically and utilize many other features professionally via WeChat. In Japan, LINE is the most commonly used communication tool with similar advanced features.
I was very impressed when I heard their vision in Japan from the CEO of LINE. Their goal was to enable cute and fast communication with emojis without using any letters. Humans have managed to create a new language to understand each other without using any letters.
As we move to South Korea, we are greeted by Kakao, an instant messaging app. Building on all these features, Kakao has launched a new digital bank. They are aiming to calculate credit scores by tracking routine user movements such as going home every evening or visiting their families. Don’t you think it is more meaningful to be able to track whether a person has close connections with their family instead of collecting their family information on paper?
Despite these digital examples, we should not forget that Asian countries consist of communities that have a strong connection with their traditions. Especially in Japan and South Korea, virtues such as respect, solidarity and honesty are very strong. In short, digitalization does not have to lead us away from our culture and traditions.