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The culture of technology …

Submitted by on May 23, 2013 – 10:30 am |

digital technologyA look at how digital technology is used and adapted across geographic and cultural boundaries by Alienation Digital’s Head of Innovation –

When Hadrien Jouet mentioned that he wanted to travel the world to expand his horizons, learn about digital across cultures and experience new places, he didn’t expect his boss to take it so well.

But ever keen to keep hold of good staff and take innovative approaches to exploit new opportunities, Neil Barr, managing director of Alienation Digital, came up with a cutting-edge solution for the young senior developer.

Instead of taking a sabbatical or resigning, why not tour the world and continue working for the agency full-time, picking up knowledge and learnings from his adventures which can benefit the way the agency works. Hadrien jumped at the opportunity, keen to stay part of the team while fulfilling his lifelong dream and, as a result, was promoted to Head of Innovation and tasked with translating his experiences into new processes, services and products for the company.

Hadrien discusses his observations from working in different cultures across the world, information which has ultimately helped boost the business’ approach and understanding of the global digital landscape:

First on the itinerary was San Francisco, a global hotspot for techies from across the world. From there I flew almost 10,000km to Baran in South Korea before finishing my intrepid voyage nine months later in Vancouver, Canada.

Getting the chance to experience the cultural differences in various countries was an extremely exciting prospect, giving me the opportunity to view first-hand how approaches to technology alter across the world.

Arriving in San Francisco was an ideal way to start the journey, getting immersed in a city which lives and breathes technology.  There is a thriving hackathon scene, with a real focus on innovation. Developers regularly meet up to toil over projects deep into the night, fuelled on pizza, fizzy drinks and the desire to create a worthwhile digital development which is genuinely useful.

People can get involved in all manner of digital endeavours, with workshops taking place all over the city on a daily basis covering every topic a technological enthusiast could dream of. In only two months, I was able to pick up two new programming languages, discovered different frameworks and APIs, and learnt numerous new ways of working.

Moving away from San Francisco onto pastures new, it quickly became clear that while the American city was technologically sophisticated, South Korea’s infrastructure was far superior when it came to online access. The whole country is WIFI ready, with people able to get an internet connection almost anywhere.

Not only can they easily access the Internet, but connection speeds are extremely impressive, changing the way people approach the internet entirely. The concept of paying for a connection outside of ones home is unheard of and every mode of public transport is generally networked.

Despite this ease of access, the S.Korean Government is not shy when it comes to censorship, rooted in its conservative culture. Some websites are not accessible at all while sites like YouTube have their bandwidth capped and national identity documents are often required for registration purposes.

However, once connected, the South Korean Internet experience is in stark contrast to what we’re used to in the West. The first point of note is the huge abundance of images on any website. Most agencies in the UK have moved away from this practice, considering how much bandwidth it exhausts, but with the average S.Korean sporting a 15.7 Mbps Internet connection this is of little concern. However, despite what you think about its appearance this format will still bamboozle Google Translate and there is no chance of being able to copy & paste into a separate documents.

The majority of Korean websites don’t explicitly specify what language they’re in, which also confuses international machines and often results in question marks being dotted all over the translated page. Users are also regularly instructed to install verification software if making financial transactions online, each one noticeably different from the last, leading to undue amounts of confusion.

The South Korean Internet experience can probably be summed up as parochial, tailored for people of the region. Its nuances work quite well if you’ve grown adjusted to them but for the average globetrotter it can be quite a perplexing experience.

Across the world in Vancouver, the situation is entirely different. The city is full of visitors, with people from all over the planet now calling it home. English and French are the official languages but there also exists large Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese populations.

The city’s online infrastructure has taken this into account, designing itself around the need to accommodate individual languages. But tackling these issues is not entirely simple. It’s about more than just translating text, it’s about addressing cultural patterns of online behaviour and user experiences. People approach the web in different ways, expecting specific layouts and interfaces to ease browsing. It can be extremely difficult to produce a site with multiple interfaces and a compromise may not please individual groups.

Guaranteeing adequate functionality for a melting pot of groups is no easy task but from spending time in Vancouver, it’s clear learning interfaces have sped up the evolutionary curve. While more costly, the end results can be highly effective as webmasters monitor data collected from different user groups experimenting with separate formats and tailored user experiences.

As technology advances, new solutions will be developed, with an example being close to fruition in the Google Glasses projects, which allows people to see only the information they need to.

If this journey has taught me anything about technology across cultures it is that while the web is used extensively, it is used very differently across geographic boundaries.  Language and culture play a huge role in the way a region interacts with the online realm and visionaries of the future will certainly have to take this into account as our planet becomes more and more of a global village.

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