Its hard to imagine that, in a world with over 6.6 billion people (as of July 2007), something as finite as technology has the ability to shift and possibly change entire societies. The difference in cultures, social classes, and social norms, makes acceptance of new technology a hit-or-miss ordeal. But as the world gets virtually smaller through advances in communication and travel, the introduction of technology has a way of affecting a country's social standards, in ways not imagined just 15-20 years ago.
The latest results of Apple Computers sales overseas says a lot; sales of iPhones in Asian markets such as Korea and China basically doubled from the same quarter last year. And this is after sales in European and US markets had begun to flatten out, as these markets steadily became saturated. It wasn't an affect of price or feature sets, but an introduction into markets which typically were poised for American technology products. Its the same way that we here in the U.S. drool over electronic wares from Japan, or high end vehicles from Germany. Somehow the grass is always greener.
There's a strange side effect happening around the world, which seems to be occurring more overseas than here at home: countries who adopt our technology are slowly adopting our social styles as well.
Here in the Unites States, we have been importing Chinese goods since the mid 1960's, if not earlier. Everything from electronics, to housewares and tools, and now even home appliances and toys come in from the Chinese market. But looking around, you'd be hard pressed to find American teenagers speaking Mandarin or taking on Chinese culture.
Conversely, when we follow the change in Chinese culture, at least in younger generations, we see a shift in social standards and ideals which almost tracks the influx of American technology. Color television, MP3 players, cell phones; each level of new technology has spurred a new wave of social modification in countries where the technology previously was not a normal part of life. Even though China has had the capability of producing these technologies, it took American [among other] designs and products to create a demand for these technologies in country.
Now there may not be a scientific, one to one relationship between social change and technology introduction, but think back to the recent social uprising in Iran, and the use of Twitter and YouTube to communicate and deliver information about protests and social unrest. The demonstrations themselves were not much different, but one has to wonder whether or not the ability to share the demonstrations [and their repercussions] with people around the world affected how the Iranian people communicated their feelings. Sometimes, a social voice becomes much louder when it realizes just how many people can and will be listening.
All in all, there's little doubt that technology is bridging the social gap between nations and between cultures. The world is slowly becoming smaller, more integrated, and more connected. From this it is probably safe to say that in time, the worlds cultures and social standards will have less gray-area in between, be less distinct, and have more overlap. While we in the U.S. enjoy technology that was born here, built overseas, then shipped back here to be sold, other countries will be leveraging American technology as their social springboard into the future.
Who would have thought that an MP3 player could change an entire society? The "Butterfly Effect" certainly seems to have come of age.