Why Japan Didn’t Invent the iPod
Or perhaps I should properly call it a theory – but it’s a powerful one. It also explains why video game consoles came from Japan but the PC games industry is dominated by American firms, and why the Japanese mobile market is so much more advanced than the American one.
What I find real interesting about it is that it’s basically a modern application of Jared Diamond’s thesis in Guns, Germs, and Steel – the technological development of a society is limited and shaped by physical constraints. In this case, the physical constraint is the alphabet.
So the reason Steve Jobs (or Bill Gates, or the entirety of silicon valley for that matter) are Americans has nothing to do with some nationalistic statement about the superiority of one culture over another. While they deserve credit as individuals, their ascent was made possible in part because the English alphabet was easily encodable on 8-bit computers. Their Japanese equivalents, whoever they might have been, faced an insurmountable constraint during these formative years of the PC revolution.
The author of the link deserves a lot of credit, because despite being familiar with this thesis, it still never would have occurred to me to look at the alphabet as the reason Japan and America took such divergent technological tracks. It really makes me wonder what other fundamental aspects of our world and culture are hindering us (or propelling us along) that we just never give any thought to.