Teaching In Socks

cell erosion
August 13, 2010, 3:01 pm
Filed under: Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Japan used to be the epicenter of new cell-phone technology. When I first arrived here I had designs on grabbing a state-of-the-art cellphone with TV capabilities, a 32-inch screen, super-internet and the ability to conduct all my conversations for me (preferably in a Christopher Walken type voice and demeanor).  Instead, I discovered that, at the time–and still, the most advanced phone on the market was the iPhone (and even that had debuted in Japan many months after it had in America). This was almost as devastating and learning that I would not have robot pets.

I ended up with a phone made by Sharp. It has many many features–more than a standard phone in the U.S. would. Unfortunately, none of these are as useful or user-friendly as anything the iPhone offers. So what happened? As this New York Times article reports, part of the problem is that Japanese cellphone makers evolved too quickly. They jumped to Network structures other nations weren’t prepared to move to, and they developed an overload gadgets that have moved past the point of convenience. For example my phone has the equivalent of the Microsoft Paperclip-helper, except it’s a cartoon beluga who does tricks and sends heart symbols in my direction.

In addition to the beluga, my phone has a cellphone camera that can read bar-codes placed in the corners of advertisements (which takes me directly to their web page). It has an IC chip that allows me to use the phone as a credit card at stores. It has an infrared transmitter so I can transmit and retrieve information from other people’s phones. It has a GPS, TV capabilities (I don’t know how to use), the Internet(but not the real Internet–the Japanese mobile Internet), a touchscreen (sort of), blue tooth and a Kanji reader (that has never correctly read any Kanji for me).

The downside of having all those features seems to be that it doesn’t really work well as a phone. The speaker isn’t loud enough and the microphone picks up a ton of ambient noise. It doesn’t feel comfortable when I hold it to my ear. The whole thing makes me feel like Andy Rooney.

As the New York Times piece points out, in the last year Japanese cellphone makes have adapted their phones to try to fit to a more global market. The clamshell shape phones are gone. Some phone makers still promote their phone’s hardware however it is almost always attached to a piece of software–for instance new camera’s allow you to post videos of your cat directly to youtube or post pictures of that mime you say in Europe to your mixi profile (the Japanese Facebook).

One line of phones in Japan I have found intriguing is the Iida line. They seemingly have shunned both the hardware and software cold war and decided just to make phones that look weird. I like this idea; this is what cellphones used to be about.



The Ply for example, despite it’s claims to change how you feel about your relationship to the phone, appears to offer nothing new in terms of hardware or functionality. But, it looks kind of wild and it has a funny and apt name. It’s the kind of phone you could pull out at a party and everyone would stop to ask you what kind of phone it is and what does it do. The answer to those questions would be “The ply” and “looks cool”. It’s the phone as a conversation piece. Which, from where I’m standing, it way better than a worthless Kanji reader.

Iida’s latest phone is the Light Pool.  It has a boring phone, and probably cannot hold applications that recommend what wine to drink with my meal. It’s gimmick is that it kind of looks like the Hearst building (Norma Foster) and that lights up silly colors. I’m not going buy one (that would kill my Andy Rooney buzz) but it probably works better as a phone than the thing I have now.

shiny things

a “whole” in the logic.
When viewed from afar the arrangement of our educational theory seems a bit off. We tell you children to stop asking questions and instead reward those who cam memorize answers. We ask them (and our asked ourselves) regard the information we are taught as indisputable facts. Then in college and perhaps in High School we are informed that the facts we have digested for the past twelve years are–in many cases–not facts per se, but instead simplified solutions. Suddenly questions are more valuable then answers and just as the whole thing starts to unravel we throw you in a nine to five and tell you to forget about it.
I suppose that’s why, at this age,  I am just starting to discover the humor and chaos in language. It could also be that as a language teacher I encounter more often and have developed an eye for it (but let’s face it as the above paragraph indicates I’d rather whine and moan about how it was Mrs Goldman’s fault in third grade). The fact that I learning a new language is probably a heavy contributer to this new found perspective as well.
Unless I was listening to George Carlin comedy bit, I never really questioned the logic of language– even in college. I mostly just sat in awe of people who could manipulate words and conman sentences well, hoping that someday I could do that for a living as well.
Then I came to Japan. The other night a student asked me to check an email they had written in English. In it they made a small typo, typing “the hole presentation” when them mean the “whole” presentation. We had a small laugh about how silly this was. Afterwards, it occurred to me that homophones  are the most damning evidence that language is human, and flawed(besides all the other reasons). We have a one word that mean “entirety, everything” and it sounds exactly the same as a word that means “a void”. This is just lazy, and careless.  Let’s not  even debate the logic behind the phonics of “whole”–it takes a sever ump in logic to arrive at the conclusion that a “wh” combination can make both an “h” and a “w” sound ( e.g. what).
I also spend a great deal of my time studying (okay, 30 minutes a day) Japanese grammar and trying to perfect my understanding of grammatical structure only to often find out that people don’t speak (or write) in perfect grammar; English speakers are guilty of this as well.
I’m not saying we tear the whole thing and rebuild, but we need to realize the foundation we have in place–with all languages across the board–is dangerous. I realized the other week, that on occasions when I’m not paying attention to my anunciation or intonation (which is all the time) I have the habit of asking the check-out lady at the super market for “two, flat owls”. “Fukuro” means means bag. “fukurou” means owl.
Now, I’m lucky; the check-out ladies are pretty understanding (or hard of hearing) because I have yet to receive any owls, but let’s imagine that I did. Owls are vicious devil-birds capable of anything within a 180 degree frame of reference. I on the other hand have no experience raising carnivorous birds and a fear of things attack my head from above.
Simply because some  lazy linguist made an inadvertent error–the is no other logical explanation, you cannot connect owls and bag etymologically–during the naming of things millenniums  ago we now have either two dead owls or one mangled white boy. Must this senseless violence continue or commence simply because we are too lazy to fix something that is broken? There is a seemingly infinite amount of sounds we have yet to use and other that are greatly underused.  Why does “X” get off so easily? Why stop at 26 letters? why not more?
I think at this time it’s only appropriate to announce my candidacy from President of the United States (and the World) on the platform of creating a 27th letter. It could looks like a dragon face! or a dragonfly or a dragon fruit! who knows?  I’m thinking the letter will have a “jh” or “bykl” but I am willing to negotiate this–my running mates, however, two vicious  supermarket Owls, are not.
(Ed note: I would like to apologize for this blog in Advance. i really have nothing to write about this week and I feel like the guy who writes the back page for the American Airlines in-flight magazine; American Way.  Next week I promise more interesting content as I probably will have achieved a new level of consciousness and have the ability to write blogs with my mind powers. )