大哥大發燒全台

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1999 / 4月

文‧林奇伯 圖‧邱瑞金



三月八日,聯合報副刊一則名為〈人間處處有電話〉的小品引人發噱:

「今年春節旅遊,在東海岸一處靜謐的海隅紮營。入夜後優閒地聆聽濤音眺望星光。

沒想到,稍後在我帳邊『立足』的人家,從紮營開始,大哥大講個不停,全家五口一人一機,拜年、聊天、查勤,到無聊的定點報時……一家人各講各話,找遍了親戚朋友。

我的耳朵被迫與他們『共享親情之樂』。從他們對話中得知,原來是某某廠牌優惠買主,可以免費打一個小時。所以,『不打是浪費』,全家人卯足勁兒在『賺錢』,講足了一個鐘頭後,繼續昭告諸親友『我賺到了』。

這一家人大老遠從都市躲到此地講電話,不講話的空檔,唯一的話題是機種的功能。原本想聽聽天籟的我,只好『離家出走』。

一路走去,才知每座帳篷都備有電話。不禁苦笑:躲過鞭炮、電視,卻被大哥大『圍剿』。」

行動電話開始民營至今不過一年多,但已成為一種全民流行。這背後所代表的社會意義是什麼?台灣人使用大哥大有何特殊文化現象?

世界上第一批行動電話於一九八三年在美國出現,九年前年正式開放引進台灣。開放初期,正值香港警匪片當道,一幕幕描寫黑社會大哥風光的電影、錄影帶常見以下的鏡頭:大哥戴著墨鏡,身穿黑色披風,在眾嘍囉的簇擁下威風行走,突然他想起了什麼,酷酷地手指一勾,嘍囉趕緊拿出行動電話,雙手恭謹奉上:「大哥,打吧!」。「大哥大」一詞從此成了行動電話的代稱。而由於話機與通話費昂貴,一支手機七、八萬,加上設定費、保證金與每個月的基本費,辦一支行動電話將近要抶U塊,就曾有人笑話一句:「要想知道行動電話的數目,算算街上跑的賓士車數目就知道了。」

然而轉眼間,它所代表的身份地位象徵已成了過去式,雖然一般人還是管行動電話叫「大哥大」,但如果你在台北街頭晃一下,會發現,怎麼幾乎人手一機,連許多抴X歲的青少年也手持「大哥大」當起大哥來了。

久旱甘霖

關於這一波行動電話熱潮的起因,台灣大學電信工程研究所教授陳光禎表示,因為電信科技的突破,行動電話普及率提高是全球性的現象,在這股熱潮中,台灣算是起步稍晚的。他說,雖然台灣行動電話市場自開放初期需求度就很高,但由於電信局提供門號的限制,一直到九七年底,使用者人數還只有一百五抴X萬戶,而排隊等門號的人卻高達一百多萬戶。直到去年年初民營業者正式開始營業後,行動電話的購買風潮才真正展開。

以目前世界各國行動電話的普及率來看,芬蘭高達百分之五怳迭A瑞典在百分之五怚炙k,在亞洲,香港是百分之三怳E,澳洲有百分之三怳迭A新加坡百分之三怴A日本百分之二怳C,比起來,台灣百分之二怳@左右的普及率不算太高,但陳光禎提醒,台灣開放的時間比起其他國家晚,在一年多的時間內普及率從百分之七升到百分之二怳@左右,足足成長將近三倍,這麼高的成長速度,可見台灣市場的需求驚人。

行動電話門市業者崔梅芬就形容這一波的開放為「久旱逢甘霖」。

「你可以想像,原先苦苦排隊等不到門號的這一百萬人,在一時間內同時購買行動電話的盛況,」崔梅芬說,九八年初想趕在春節假期前擁有大哥大的人潮,在門市一波波地流動,記得那年除夕夜,想打烊都沒辦法。

其他國家兩、三年才達到的普及率,台灣一年就達到了,根據電信總局在民國八怳K年一月份所發表的統計資料顯示,截至八怳C年底台灣的行動電話數量是四百七怞h萬戶,已超過呼叫器的四百二抩l萬戶。而陳光禎指出,以歐美國家超過百分之五抴隊帣v的經驗來看,台灣行動電話市場仍有很大的成長空間。

從事英語教學工作的美國華僑汪靜生長期遊走台灣、日本、美國三地,對於這一波的全球行動電話熱有最直接的文化觀察。

「有趣的是,這三個國家使用行動電話的習慣顯得非常不一樣,美國人重視自我的空間,下了班恨不得什麼電話都不接,行動電話大部分是關機的狀態;日本人工作勤奮,大商社的職員每天晚上加班到八點、九點是稀鬆平常的事,即使下了班,公司有事,一通電話,馬上就到公司報到,無怨無悔;至於台灣,」他打趣說,上班聯繫公事,下班聯絡感情,大哥大功能可以說發揮得淋漓盡致。

華人市場

台灣社會的人際關係取向特質,從行動電話的使用上就可看出。陳光禎表示,行動電話初興起時,國際間便普遍預測,華人社會重視人際關係的維繫,將是大哥大最具潛力的市場。根據行動電話製造商NOKIA所做的調查顯示,台灣行動電話使用者基於私人事務需要而購買話機的比例,與工作需要的比例相當,這與在其他國家的調查「大部分使用者是基於工作需要」有明顯的不同。NOKIA台灣分公司行銷經理黃思齊就表示,為了全球華人市場的考量,NOKIA在設計話機時特地把螢幕加大,以適合中文字幕的顯示。

目前比較大的華人市場,包括台灣、香港、中國大陸、新加坡,在這一波的全球行動電話熱潮中,普及率都明顯地提升,中國大陸雖然普及率尚在百分之五以下,但由於人口眾多,實力不容小覷。其中香港市場雖然開放得比台灣早,但目前仍持續延燒,根據報載,香港大哥大市場三月間有一場割喉大戰,為爭取客戶,各家網路商紛紛推出優惠轉台、免費試打等活動,預計普及率將再度大幅提高。

行動電話在台灣也越賣越熱,根據中國時報所發布的九八年魅力商品排行顯示,前二怞W的商品,行動電話相關產品就佔了四項,其中免設定費的各家行動電話預付卡(或稱輕鬆打、易付卡)排名第一,摩托羅拉小海豚cd928機型排名第三,NOKIA8810排名第怳@,易利信S868排名第怳E。姑且不論行動電話為台灣通訊相關產業帶來的利潤如何,這一年多因行動電話的銷售與普及所表現出來的新興文化已令人目不暇給。

消費!消費!消費!

長期研究台灣人心理的「張老師月刊」副總編輯莊慧秋分析這股消費熱潮表示,重視人際關係的維繫的確是台灣社會的一個特質:以工作的需要來看,台灣是以工商業為主的社會,工作上聯繫頻繁;以生活習慣來看,台灣人常是隨時「可以被找到」的開放狀態,私領域的界線模糊。這兩者互相糾結、影響,形成行動電話24小時開機,隨時有不同用途的特色。但莊慧秋認為,這都不是造成這一波行動電話搶購熱潮最直接的文化因素,經濟快速起飛後所形成的消費習慣才是關鍵。

她說,台灣經濟起飛也不過是七、八○年代的事,這短短時間內許多中產階級開始冒出。過去台灣有能力購買時髦商品的多為大家族,乃以「有體有禮」為階級的文化特徵,但以經濟優裕概況定義的中產階級興起時日尚短,尚未形成較固定的文化,於是「消費」成為最鮮明的指標,用以證明大家變富有了,也因此以消費為主的階級文化,很容易便造成社會普遍的流行風潮。如前年的紅酒文化、去年的葡式蛋塔旋風都是大家記憶猶新的例子,而行動電話開放民營後所造成的流行,也是這種消費文化使然。

「到香港我會全程開機」

中正大學電訊傳播研究所所長汪琪提出另一個造成行動電話流行的因素,她指出,社會固然對行動電話有相當的需求度,但民營化之後業者相互競爭,競相以促銷方案與廣告吸引消費者,亦是讓整個市場特別活絡的原因。從行動電話廣告與促銷手法的演變,也可以看出一年多來消費族群轉變的情形。

業者崔梅芬就指出,在開放初期,購買行動電話的人以工作需要者居多,所以當時的廣告多以上班族為主角,陳述行動電話為工作所帶來的便利性,如台灣大哥大西裝革履、穩健莊重的業務經理「到香港我會全程開機」廣告、泛亞電信業務員老鳥帶菜鳥廣告,都因強調行動電話為工作所帶來的便利,迴響熱烈。

但上班族消費市場上升到一定程度之後,將行動電話視為休閒商品的消費族群成為市場搶攻的主要對象。比較明顯的是「一元手機」與「輕鬆打」(或預付卡)的出現,其中輕鬆打還請明星拍廣告,如和信輕鬆打的代言人是任賢齊,遠傳易付卡是陳曉東,台灣大哥大預付卡是李玟,清一色的偶像明星,顯然以青少年族群為主要訴求對象。

「話機便宜與免月租費,開始讓人覺得行動電話不再高不可攀,消費族群逐漸往兩端擴張,青少年與老年人口也開始將行動電話當作時髦商品購買,」崔梅芬說。

就讀於華夏工專電子工程科夜間部的郭品良表示,擁有行動電話在工專校園裡怳懂飪M,他的班上就有超過三分之一的同學擁有行動電話,加上夜間部學生白天多有一份固定的工作,外務較多,上課時往往電話鈴響聲此起彼落,一堂五怳斂薊瑤珚怴A平均就會有七、八通電話響起。

「向老師打聲招呼,就可以到教室外面講,而老師也多能體諒這種情形,」他說。

年齡再往下降一點,補習班英文老師王曼怡表示,行動電話在高中生與國中生之間,尚未怳懂飪M,因為話機與通話費通常不是零用錢可以負擔得了的,他們通常會選擇較便宜的呼叫器,但是對打工情形普遍的高職生來說,行動電話就成了同儕之間的認同象徵。

王曼怡說,如果同學都有,獨獨你沒有,那就太遜了。前一陣子她就讀高職的弟弟因為繳不出通話費而被停機,懊惱了好久,直叫怎麼出去見人。「這一點都不誇張,甚至有人因沒有行動電話,被嫌不上道而追不到女朋友,」她說。

拯救蹺課族

淡水工商管理學院觀光系四年級的王恩國說,其實他的手機平均一天大概只響一次,但其所帶來的方便性卻無可比擬。

「除了追女朋友時很方便之外,如果老師臨時決定要隨堂測驗,還可即時通知那些翹課的同學趕快到學校,」他說道,坐在一旁的女友陳曉雯,手裡一邊把玩著麻將形狀手機感應器,一邊點頭附和。

文化大學影劇系四年級的葉正甫則說,有時候無聊,用行動電話附加的短訊功能,傳一些髒話給好朋友,也是一種聯絡感情的方式。他說,他最討厭那些使用易付卡的人,捨不得花錢打電話,總是匆匆忙忙打來,要人回電話給他。

「辦不起手機,付不起通話費,就不要用嘛!這種人往往很快就會變成大家的拒絕往來戶。」他說。

雖然通話費是一筆負擔,但年輕的使用者往往覺得「方便」、「時髦」是更重要的。

就讀於台大語言學研究所的吳宗璘特別感激行動電話,今年寒假她獨自一人到土耳其自助旅行一個月,因為她答應母親以「國際漫遊」的方式每天與家裡通電話,母親才安心「放行」。

「還沒接到帳單,我都不敢去想通話費會有多高,但你可以想像嗎?當我在土耳其迎著晨曦準備去滑雪時,我的朋友正在曼谷昭披耶河上,以行動電話與我共享河水的粼粼波光。再貴的電話費都是值得的!」她說。

傳播學者汪琪也表示,其實她並不是怳擊搨n行動電話,但因訂報可低價訂購行動電話的促銷活動,讓她心動而購買了一支,買了以後她才發現行動電話竟然有助於她對父母「晨昏定省」。

「我的父母親年紀大了,我又時常在寒暑假或出國開會時各處跑,買一支行動電話,如果父母親有急事,無論我在哪裡,他們都可以用同一個號碼找到我,也是一種方便,」她說。

崔梅芬笑說,大哥大還能促進親子溝通。就有一些父母親到店裡買行動電話給自己的小孩,以方便掌握小孩的行蹤,小孩為了得到話機,也樂於被父母親「掌握」。

新科技服務老傳統

有人說這一波的行動電話熱是「全民運動」,不分年齡,並且與傳統的文化現象結合。正在松山機場服役的吳宗昇笑說,他父親在選自己與家人的門號時,都要請算命先生看看號碼吉不吉利,更誇張的是,每一次回家他都會發現父親又換了新型的話機,甚至有一些連他也沒看過。

他說,有一次與父親在餐廳用餐,父親想到該告訴家裡的母親一聲。「厝裡!」爸爸大喊一聲,他嚇了一跳,一時之間不知發生了什麼事,只見父親慢慢地從桌上拿起手機,輕輕鬆鬆就和媽媽聊起來,他才知道,原來父親換了一支新的聲控手機,「厝裡」是家中電話號碼的代號!

針對這種情形,業者翁勝宏表示,目前門市最大的利潤就來自換機市場,每當有新型的手機推出時,就會有許多人詢問,換的人很多,而且不侷限在年輕族群。

「實用往往不是那麼重要,新型手機一支三、四萬塊,功能不一定較多,但體積輕巧、外形酷炫,最重要是『新』,就會刺激買氣,許多人已將手機當作珠寶、名車一樣,要一直不斷換最新的,」他說,去年號稱「天王」的影星黎明在香港為某廠牌的新型手機代言,一時間影劇界名人爭相想擁有與黎明一樣的手機,連帶的也引起市場的搶購熱潮,洛陽紙貴,一機難求;類似的情形也在台灣出現。

成年人追求流行、享受消費的金錢觀,也深深地影響青少年。門市業者賴正富說,較新型的手機一支好幾萬,不是青少年消費得起的,所以他們在選擇手機時總是以便宜、新潮、變化性高、鈴聲特殊的為主,如NOKIA某一款可以換殼的機型,就大受青少年的歡迎,更有甚者,以噴漆的方式讓自己的手機「與眾不同」。

「你應該到西門町去看看,各式各樣的外殼琳瑯滿目,現在以HELLO KITTY圖案的最受歡迎。除此之外,各式配件,如電話響時會閃閃發亮的感應器、耳機、皮套等等,年輕人使用行動電話不只帶動一個新興市場,也形成自己的獨特文化,」他說。

莊慧秋指出,以前的人認為常換東西是浪費,將流行視為負面,但對現代人而言,追逐流行才是消費文化裡更重要的一部份,流行是最高價值,誰擁有最新的東西,知道最新的資訊,就可以成為人際關係的權威。

任職於傳播公司的張曉方說,她不在乎別人怎麼分析這股現象,也不去想自己依賴大哥大的情形理不理智,她覺得既然科技已進步至此,就把它當做一種新的生活方式吧。

「買菜時,還可及時通知死黨哪裡的白蘿蔔較便宜,啊!科技的進步真令人興奮,我再也不能沒有大哥大過日子了,」她說。

女士、先生,請關機!

短短一年多的時間,象徵意義已經翻了幾翻──從過去的尊榮珍貴,到今天的全民流行,而它會不會再進一步影響到我們的生活呢?汪琪表示,行動電話的普及應該被視為通訊科技發展過程的一部分,不會根本地影響到我們的生活習慣,但必須注意的是,行動電話以飛快的速度進駐我們的生活,建立在公共場所基本的使用禮儀才是該特別關注的,例如:在電影院、音樂廳不時出現的電話鈴聲,就頗影響人的情緒;前陣子醫院急診室也全面要求大哥大關機,以免電波影響儀器,鈴聲擾亂病人與醫療人員。

台灣目前強制要求大哥大關機的地方,多是基於安全及公務的考量,如司法院為維護法庭的尊嚴與秩序,特別行文台灣高等法院轉令所屬一、二審法院,嚴禁在法庭內使用行動電話,進入法庭前必須先關機。部份學校,如世新大學就在校規裡規定,學生必須在上課時關機,否則老師可要求學生離開教室。

至於安全問題則影響更大,交通部民航局就嚴格規定,飛機飛行中,旅客必須全程關機,以免影響飛航安全。中油所屬各地的加油站最近也貼出「為了您的安全,行動電話請關機」的標語,因為行動電話所產生的靜電火花可能會在油氣濃烈的加油站引發氣爆。

不管是安全或擾人的問題,在大哥大使用禮儀與安全認知未普遍建立,強制關機有困難的情況下,交通部提出將在近日內開放民間申請設置「小區域行動電話訊號遮斷器」,讓不該使用行動電話的地方收不到訊號,根本解決在公共場所使用大哥大的秩序問題。

除了公共場所大哥大使用秩序有待改進之外,行動電話輻射是否會影響人體健康亦引起討論,根據英國「星期泰晤士報」報導,牛津大學生理學教授布萊克摩爾表示,已有強烈的證據顯示,行動電話會對認知功能、記憶和精神集中造成不良影響,引起短暫失憶症。而亦有澳洲學者提出警告,行動電話可能會引起腦病變、腦瘤,建議不要長時間通話。

針對這樣的顧慮,陳光禎表示,在現代人的生活中,輻射處處存在,如微波爐、電腦等的輻射量都比行動電話或系統業者架設在各處的電波發射器要高出非常多,在無可避免的情況下,他提醒業者在架設線路時,應加強固定發設器,避免強風吹落傷人,而使用者也不要抱著大哥大情話綿綿,畢竟它只是出外、路上聯絡、通訊的方便工具。

冰箱退出客廳

行動電話風潮就像一陣狂風般,席捲全台,一年多來並未平息,甚至有越刮越猛的趨勢,去年底甚至發生大學生因缺錢買行動電話,而冒險行搶的社會案件,雖說這只是個案,但這是否顯示台灣人一窩蜂的消費習慣?

莊慧秋說:「以前冰箱剛引進台灣時,擁有冰箱的家庭喜歡將冰箱放在客廳,向來客展示,雖然行動電話熱與此不盡相同,但外顯式的、想讓別人知道、或以此獲得同儕認同的文化內涵卻是一樣的,這是因為過去台灣人窮怕了,在富裕之後所表現的反應。」因而莊慧秋樂觀地表示,只要「富過三代」,台灣人應該會找出一套更有內涵與實際的消費觀念。

真會如此嗎?大哥大究竟是人類科技文明發展下的民生必需用品,還是人類競逐時髦展現身分的奢侈物,目前很難定論。只聽警廣路況報導中插播的尋找失物一節:「……昨天晚上有四位乘客在計程車上丟掉東西,其中有三個都是行動電話,還有一位掉了整個包包,不過,裡面也有一隻大哥大……」,看來,大哥大現象在台灣正方興未艾……。

p34

腰間掛著行動電話,頭戴耳機,玉兔一面搗藥,一面與遠在月宮中的嫦娥通電話。大哥大風潮所及,連今年台北燈會主題花燈都以此呈現。

p36

在分秒必爭的工商社會中,行動電話確實為上班族帶來許多便利。

p37

你曾經有大排長龍打公共電話的經驗嗎?「讓生活更容易」是行動電話系統業者第一波的主訴求。

p39

八怳C年初行動電話正式開放民營之後,系統業者與話機廠商紛紛卯足全勁,爭食市場大餅。圖為八怳C年台北電信展一景。

p40

陳曉東、李玟、孫翠鳳等不同年齡層的影視偶像成為廣告代言人,行動電話系統業者這一波的主訴求是偶像認同,企圖「一網打盡」。

p41

消費者購買行動電話的要求不只要收訊好,新、炫、酷,也是許多人的要求。

p42

行動電話使用人口大幅提昇,負面影響也一一浮現,加油站就特別提醒民眾加油時關機,以免引起氣爆。

p45

「阿智,看電影去!我們一狗票人就缺你一個了,」曉雯說,行動電話呼朋引伴已是台北街頭的常景。

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EN

Taiwan Catches Cell Phone Fever

Eric Lin /photos courtesy of Diago Chiu /tr. by Scott Williams


A short piece run in the March 8 United Daily News Supplement, entitled "Phones Are Everywhere," states:

"Over this Lunar New Year's holiday, I traveled to a quiet seaside campsite on Taiwan's east coast. When night fell, I prepared myself for a leisurely evening of listening to the surf and watching the stars.

"Little did I know that within a short time, the folks next to my tent would pull out their cell phones the moment they began erecting their tent. This family of five, each of whom had their own phone, would not shut up. They called to wish people a happy new year, to chat, to check up on this person or that, and even just to report on their own activities. . . . Each was having his own conversations with whichever friends or relatives he could track down.

"My ears were forced to celebrate their joys with them. From their conversation, I also learned that one particular company was offering one hour of connection time free to purchasers of cellular phones. Since not calling would have meant letting that free time go to waste, the entire family was doing its best to use it up. Even after they had exhausted that hour, they continued making pronouncements to friends and family about how they were getting something for nothing.

"When this family, which had come all this way to escape the city, weren't on their phones, they were talking about the various features of different phones. And I, who wanted to listen to the voice of nature, could only 'run away from home.'

"Then, walking around, I discovered that there was a phone in every tent. I laughed bitterly: Here I'd escaped the firecrackers and the television only to be surrounded by cellular telephones."

It has only been a year since the cellular phone business was opened up to private firms, yet cell phone ownership is already a nationwide fashion. What does this say about our society? Is there anything unique about Taiwanese people's use of cell phones?

The first cellular phones appeared in the US in 1983, and nine years ago they came to Taiwan. Those early years also happened to coincide with a period of popularity for Hong Kong cops-and-gangsters films. These movies and videos depicted triad bosses in scene after scene, often as follows: A triad boss in sunglasses and a black cape strides past groups of underlings. He is suddenly struck by a thought and coolly crooks a finger. An underling rushes over with a cellular phone, and offers it up to the boss with both hands, saying, "Boss, make your call." It was in this way that cellular telephones picked up the nickname dageda, "boss of bosses," in Taiwan. And because having one was so expensive-NT$70-80,000 for a phone, and as much as NT$100,000 in total once you added in set-up fees, a deposit and connection costs-people used to say, "You want to know how many cellular phones there are in Taiwan? Count the number of Mercedes Benz."

But in the blink of an eye, the social status the phones once conveyed has become a thing of the past. Though the phones are still generally referred to as dageda, if you take a look around Taipei's streets, you'll note that almost everyone seems to have one. Even teenagers are carrying their own "boss-of-bosses," letting everyone know who's boss.

Sweet rain after a drought

Chen Kwang-cheng, a professor in the Institute of Communication Engineering at National Taiwan University, says that the reason for the massive surge in the popularity of mobile phones in Taiwan is related to breakthroughs in telecommunications technology. The rising market penetration of cellular phones is a global phenomena, and Taiwan got a rather late start. Chen points out that when the Taiwan cell phone market was first opened, demand was already high. But because the Directorate General of Telecommunications only made a limited number of phone numbers available, as of the end of 1997 there were only about 1.5 million cell phones in use, while more than one million people were on the waiting list. But since the official opening of the market to private firms at the beginning of 1998, cell phone sales have really taken off.

The 21% market penetration of cell phones in Taiwan doesn't seem very high when viewed from a global perspective-it is 55% in Finland, about 50% in Sweden, 39% in Hong Kong, 35% in Australia, 30% in Singapore and 27% in Japan. However, Chen points out that market liberalization came to Taiwan much later than these other countries. In just over a year, market penetration in Taiwan has tripled, growing from 7% to 21%. Such explosive growth points to extremely high demand.

Tsui Mei-fen, who owns a cellular-phone shop, describes last year's liberalization of the market as "sweet rain after a drought."

Tsui says, "You can imagine those one million people who had been waiting for their own cell phone number suddenly rushing out to buy a phone." She says that people in a hurry to get their phones before the 1998 Lunar New Year's holiday rolled into the stores in wave after wave. Business was so good, she remembers, that shops ended up staying open late into the night on Lunar New Year's Eve.

In just one year, market penetration in Taiwan rose to the kind of level seen in other nations only after two or three years. Statistics released by Directorate General of Telecommunications in January show that as of the end of 1998, there were more than 4.7 million cell phones in Taiwan, compared to 4.2 million pagers. And Chen states that looking at the 50%-plus level of market penetration in Europe and North America, there should still be a lot of room for growth in Taiwan's market.

The Chinese market

Dominic Wang, an American-born Chinese who has taught English in Taiwan, Japan and the US for a number of years, has seen cultural differences related to the cellular telephone fad first hand.

"It's interesting. People in these three countries all use cell phones very differently. In the US, people value their personal space and hate to get calls once they have left the office for the day, so they often turn their phones off. The Japanese are diligent workers, and employees of large corporations often work until 8 or 9 in the evening. Even after they've left the office, if they get a call telling them that something has come up, they rush right back to work without any complaint." He says that in Taiwan, however, people use their phones for business during working hours, and to keep in touch with friends after hours, fully exploiting the cell phone's potential.

Taiwanese tend to highly value interpersonal relations, and this can be seen in the way cellular phones are used locally. Chen Kwang-cheng says that when cellular telephones first came into use, it was widely predicted that given the Chinese emphasis on maintaining interpersonal contacts, the Chinese market would have more potential than any other. A survey conducted by Nokia supports this view, showing that in Taiwan, as many people have bought cellular phones for personal use as for business use. This contrasts sharply with survey results from other nations, which show most purchasers buying cell phones for business use. Manufacturers are therefore acting to meet the special needs of the Chinese market. For example, Scott Huang, mobile phones marketing manager for Nokia Taiwan, states that his company designs its cell phones with an extra-large screen which more easily displays Chinese characters out of consideration for Chinese consumers the world over.

In this most recent wave of enthusiasm for cellular phones, the larger Chinese markets, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and mainland China, have all seen a significant rise in the number of people owning cell phones. In mainland China, although market penetration remains below 5%, its vast population means it cannot be ignored. And in spite of the fact that the cell phone craze got off to an earlier start in Hong Kong than in Taiwan, the buying frenzy there has persisted. According to one report, a series of March promotions by cellular phone network operators trying to increase their customer base in the Hong Kong market is expected to bring about another large increase in the number of mobile phone owners there.

In Taiwan too, mobile-phone sales just keep heating up. Mobile-phone-related products accounted for four of the products on the China Times' list of the 20 coolest products of 1998. Cellular phone pre-paid calling cards (regardless of network) were first on the list. Meanwhile, the Motorola cd928 phone ranked third, the Nokia 8810 phone was 11th and Ericsson's S868 was 19th. With sales of cellular phones ripping along here in Taiwan, let's skip over the issue of cellular-phone profits to local firms for the moment, and look at the many social changes these phones are bringing about.

Consume! Consume! Consume!

In analyzing this buying trend, Chuang Hui-chiu, who has been researching Taiwanese psychology for a number of years and is deputy editor-in-chief at Teacher Chang Monthly, says that maintaining interpersonal contacts is one of the particular characteristics of Taiwanese society. Looking at the cell phone phenomenon from the perspective of work, Taiwan is principally an industrial and commercial society, and people constantly stay in touch with their business contacts. Looking at it from the perspective of lifestyle, Taiwanese do not usually clearly demarcate their personal space, and are usually pretty comfortable with the idea of being contactable at any time of the day or night. The combination of these two factors means that mobile phones in Taiwan are usually on 24 hours a day, though for different purposes at different times. But Chuang feels that these are not the key factors underlying the current craze. Instead, she believes that the cause lies in consumer habits created by the island's rapid pace of economic development.

Chuang says that Taiwan's economy didn't really take off until the 70s and 80s, and that it has only been in the last 20 years or so that most of the island's middle class has come into being.

It used to be that only the wealthy could buy fashionable items, and these reflected their social position. Now, however, Taiwan has a middle class, defined as that class which has ample economic means without being rich. But this class arose in such a short time period here that it doesn't have a well-formed culture of its own, and therefore consumption, which demonstrates that wealth has been acquired, has become its most glaring trademark. It is very easy for such consumption-oriented class culture to generate widespread fads such as the red-wine craze of two years ago and last year's Portuguese egg tarts mania. The popularity of cellular phones following liberalization is a product of the same sort of consumer culture.

"I never turn mine off"

Wang Chi, a professor in the Institute of Telecommunications at Chung Cheng University, mentions another factor underlying the mobile phone's popularity. She says that although society has a definite need for mobile phones, the marketing measures and ads employed by competing cell phone companies after the market was liberalized also had a lot to do with creating the hot market for phones. Wang further states that by observing the changes in cell phone ads and marketing tactics over the last year or so, you can see changes in the target market.

Tsui Mei-fen says that just after liberalization, most people who bought mobile phones did so for job-related reasons. Therefore, most of the ads at that time depicted a business person, and the convenience provided by a cell phone. For example, there was Pacific Cellular's ad showing a resolute-looking sales manager in a business suit saying, "When I travel to Hong Kong, I never turn mine off." There was also TransAsia Telecommunications' ad with an experienced sales person showing a new guy the ropes. Such ads all stressed the convenience mobile phones provided, and the response to them was enthusiastic.

But once sales to business people reached a given level, marketing efforts refocused on consumers who viewed the phones as leisure items. Campaigns clearly directed at this market segment included the "Phone for a Buck" and the "Easy Talk" promotions, both of which featured prepaid calling cards. The "Easy Talk" ads even featured a pop star plugging the product. Now, singer Jen Hsien-chi acts as spokesperson for Hohsin's "Easy Talk," pop star Chen Hsiao-tung plugs FarEasTone's "Easy Payment Card," and singer Coco Lee pushes Pacific Cellular's prepaid card. All these campaigns feature pop stars, and all are clearly appealing to younger consumers.

Tsui says, "Cheap phones and no monthly fees mean that many people now feel that a mobile phone is within their grasp. Mobile phones now have two target markets. Both young and old are beginning to buy them as fashion accessories."

Kuo Pin-liang, a fourth-year student in the evening program of the Hwa Hsia College of Technology and Commerce's electrical engineering department, says that mobile phones are very common on campus, and that about a third of his classmates own one. He says that most night school students have full-time jobs during the day-thus a busy non-academic life-so phones are always ringing in class. He estimates that in one 50-minute class, there are an average of seven or eight calls.

Kuo says, "You just yell out to your teacher to let him know what's going on, and you can go outside to talk. The teachers are very understanding."

But the cell phone hasn't yet caught on among still younger consumers. Mandy Wang, who teaches English at a cram school, says that the phones aren't yet very common among middle- and high-school students because the phones themselves and the monthly bills cost more than most kids' pocket money. So, she says, most kids of this age choose to get pagers, which are cheaper. However, among vocational-high-school students, who often have part-time jobs, she finds that having one's own phone lets others know you're one of the "in crowd."

Mandy Wang says that if all your classmates except you have a phone, you look like you're "just off the boat." She mentions that not long ago her younger brother, a student at a vocational high school, had his phone cut off because he couldn't pay the bill. He was upset for quite a long time, always complaining that he couldn't go out and face people without his phone. "I'm not exaggerating. There are even some kids who, because they don't have a phone, get labeled as being 'behind the times,' and can't find girlfriends."

Saving those who skip class

Wang En-kuo, a fourth-year student in the department of tourism at Tamsui Oxford University College, says that his cell phone probably only rings once a day, but there's no doubt about the convenience it provides.

"It's really useful when your trying to 'get together' with a girl, and when your teacher suddenly decides to give a quiz, you can let everyone who was skipping class know that they need to get to school right away," he says. His girlfriend, Chen Hsiao-wen, sitting beside him, nods her agreement while playing with the receiver on a cellular phone that looks like a mahjong tile.

Yeh Cheng-fu, a fourth-year student in the drama department at Chinese Culture University, says that when he's bored he sometimes uses his phone's message function to send dirty words to his friends. It's a way of making contact and expressing their friendship. But Yeh hates those people who use the prepaid calling cards. He says that such people can't bear to part with their money, so when they call you, they are always rushing to get off the line and have you call them back.

"If they don't have the money to buy a phone, or can't pay the bill, they just shouldn't get one! These people are all going to be social outcasts soon."

Though the bills are high, young users feel that convenience and style are worth the money.

Wu Tsung-lin, a graduate student in linguistics at National Taiwan University, has a particular fondness for mobile phones. Over the winter vacation this year, she traveled to Turkey by herself. The only reason her mother was able to put aside her worries and let her go was because Wu agreed to call her every day.

"I haven't gotten the bill yet. I'm afraid to think how much it's going to be. But can you believe it? While I was in Turkey, bathed in the dawn's light while getting ready to go skiing, a friend of mine was on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, sharing the light sparkling off the waters with me via a cell phone. Who cares how much it cost, it was worth it!" says Wu.

Wang Chi says that she really didn't think she needed a mobile phone all that badly, but because she could get one cheaply with a newspaper subscription, she decided to go ahead and do it. After she got it, however, she discovered it was very useful in helping her check in with her parents.

"My parents are getting old, and I often have to make trips during winter and summer vacations, or for conferences. . . . Having a cell phone, if something comes up and my parents need to get in touch with me, they can, no matter where I am, with just one number. It's a kind of convenience," she says.

Tsui Mei-fen laughingly says that mobile phones can improve communication between parents and children, explaining that some parents come into her shop to buy phones for their kids to make it easier to keep track of them. And the kids are happy to let their parents rein them in if they can get a phone out of it.

New technology, old customs

People say this wave of mobile phone fashion is a "national movement" that involves people of all ages and has gotten tied up with traditional culture. Wu Tsung-sheng, who is currently performing his military service at Sungshan Airport, says that his father even went to see a fortune teller for help in choosing lucky mobile phone numbers for himself and the family. Even more over the top is that every time Wu goes home, he finds his father has a new phone, sometimes of a type Wu has never seen before.

He says that one time he was having dinner with his father in a restaurant when his father remembered something he wanted to tell his mother. "My father suddenly shouted 'home,' scaring me out of my wits. For a second, I didn't know what was happening. I just saw my father slowly lifting a mobile phone from the table, and, totally at ease, begin talking to my mother. Then I realized what was going on-my father had bought a voice-activated phone, and 'home' was the code word to make it dial our home."

Of this kind of situation, Weng Sheng-hung, who is in the mobile phone business, says that most of the profits in cell phones come from people who already have phones buying new ones. Every time a new model hits the market, people ask about it, and many buy it to replace their old phone. And this phenomenon isn't limited to kids.

Weng says, "Practicality is never that important. A new model may cost NT$30-40,000 and doesn't necessarily have more functions than the older models. But it's lighter and it's cool, and, most importantly, it's 'new.' It stirs up interest in buying. For many people, a mobile phone has become like a piece of jewelry or an upmarket car-they always want the newest one on the market." He says that when the well-known Hong Kong movie star Leon Lai became spokesperson for one particular model of phone last year, it became a status symbol. Suddenly everyone in the Hong Kong movie industry had to have one. The resultant buying spree sent prices through the roof as everyone tried to get their hands on one. Something similar happened in Taiwan, too.

Adults who follow fashion and enjoy spending have a strong influence on teenagers. Lai Cheng-fu, who also sells phones, says that kids don't have the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to replace their old phones with the newest models. So instead, when they buy a phone, they look for one that is cheap, fashionable and easily customized, and which has something different about its ring. For example, one Nokia model which has a shell that is easily replaced is hot with teenagers, some of whom even go so far as to spraypaint their phones to make them "different."

"You should go look around the Hsimenting area. They've got every kind of shell you can imagine there. Right now, ones with Hello Kitty pictures on them are popular. And besides shells, there are all kinds of accessories you can buy. For example, there are lights that attach to the receiver and flash when the phone rings, as well as headphones and cases. Teenagers haven't just created a new market, they've also created their own unique culture," says Cheng.

Chuang Hui-chiu says that in the past, people felt that replacing things often was wasteful, and thus had a negative view of fashion. But for modern people, keeping up with fashion is an important part of consumer culture. Fashion holds pride of place in this system of values, and he who possesses the newest things and the most up-to-date information is king of the hill.

Please turn it off!

Chang Hsiao-fang, who works for a media company, says that she doesn't much care how people analyze the mobile phone phenomenon, nor does she think too much about whether her reliance on her cell phone is reasonable. She simply feels that since technology has advanced to this level, people should just adapt to a new way of life.

"When you're out grocery shopping, you can get on the phone and tell your girlfriends who's selling white radishes cheaply today! The advance of technology is really exciting. I don't know how I could get by without my mobile phone," exclaims Chang.

In the short space of a year, what a mobile phone represents has changed several times-it has gone from being something for the rich to a national fashion. Will these phones influence our lives still further? Wang Chi says that the ubiquity of mobile phones should be viewed as one step in the process of technological development. Although she doesn't expect that the phones will change our basic way of life, the speed at which they have entered our lives necessitates that we establish an etiquette for their use in public venues. For example, cell phones can often be heard ringing in movie theaters and concert halls, disturbing others in the audience. Hospital emergency rooms recently took a first step, albeit for more serious purposes, by requesting that people turn their cell phones off to avoid disturbing patients and staff, and interfering with medical devices.

In Taiwan, most places that currently ban the use of mobile phones do so for reasons related to safety and the carrying out of official business. An example is the Judicial Yuan, which strictly forbade the use of cellular phones within the courts in order to maintain order and dignity. Those with phones must now turn them off before entering a courtroom. Changes are taking place at some schools, too. Shih Hsin University, for example, has made it school policy that students must turn off their phones during classes. If they do not, their teacher may ask them to leave the classroom.

Safety concerns have inspired even more stringent rules. The Civil Aeronautics Administration of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) has strictly decreed that cell phones may not be used on planes in flight. And China Petroleum has recently posted signs at its gas stations reading, "For your safety, please turn off your cellular phone." The company fears that a static spark from a phone might ignite gas fumes in the air around a station, causing an explosion.

Whether for reasons of courtesy or safety, the idea that there are times when a mobile phone should be turned off is not very widespread in Taiwan. Given the difficulty of forcing people to turn off their phones, the MOTC will soon begin accepting applications from the private sector to install mobile-phone signal disrupters. This will stop the phones from functioning in areas where their use is restricted, thus resolving the problem of their use in public venues.

Other controversies still exist. Not only is there the courtesy issue, but now debate is also raging about the effect of mobile phone radiation on the health of users. In a report in the British Sunday Times, a professor of physiology at Oxford University stated that there was strong evidence that use of cellular telephones negatively affected people's ability to recognize objects, as well as memory and concentration, resulting in short-term memory loss. An Australian scholar has also warned that cellular telephone use may give rise to pathological changes in the brain and brain cancer, and recommends against using them for extended conversations.

With regard to such concerns, Chen Kwang-cheng says radiation is all about us in our modern lives. According to Chen, radiation from a microwave oven or computer far exceeds that emitted by a cellular telephone or the transmitters set up by cellular telephone service providers. Since radiation cannot be avoided, Chen simply reminds companies to fix their transmitters firmly in place so that they cannot be blown down by the wind and hurt somebody. He also reminds users not to cradle their cell phones while whispering sweet nothings to a loved one. He says a cellular phone is a tool meant to make communication more convenient when out of doors or on the road.

A fridge in the living room

The cellular phone fashion has whipped through Taiwan like a whirlwind. And now, after more than a year, this whirlwind has not only not blown itself out, but seems to be getting stronger. Last year there was a case of a university student who, lacking the money to buy a mobile phone, resorted to mugging. Though it was only an isolated incident, doesn't it clearly illustrate Taiwan's herd mentality when it comes to consumption?

Chuang Hui-chiu says, "When refrigerators first came to Taiwan, those families that had them liked to put them in the living room so they could display them to guests. The situation with cell phones isn't identical, but the cultural content revealed by the desire to display one, to let other people know you have one, or the use of a phone as a means of identifying yourself with a group, is the same. This is a response of Taiwanese people to acquiring wealth after years of poverty." Chuang therefore optimistically predicts that once Taiwanese have experienced wealth for three generations, they will develop more practical and substantial ideas about consumption.

Will things really turn out this way? Are cell phones a genuine necessity in technological society, or are they just a fashionable status symbol? Right now, it's still too early to say. All we know is that on the Public Radio traffic report we often hear messages something like: "Last night, three cell phones and a purse containing a cell phone were found by taxi drivers. . . ." In Taiwan, at least, "cell phone fever" still burns.

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A mobile phone slung at his waist, headphones on his head, the Jade Rabbit grinds his medicines and chats with Chang-e in her distant lunar palace. The cellular phone craze has reached the point where even the centerpiece of this year's Taipei Lantern Festival was wearing one.

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In the business world, where seconds count, the mobile phone has made many tasks more convenient.

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Have you ever been at the end of a long snaking queue of people waiting for a public phone? One of the mobile phone's greatest appeals is its ability to "make life easier."

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When cellular telephone operations were formally opened up to the private sector in early 1998, network operators and phone manufacturers threw themselves into the fray, each looking to carve out a large share of the market for themselves. The photo shows a 1998 telecommunications show in Taipei.

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Chen Hsiao-tung, Coco Lee, Sun Tsui-feng-TV and movie stars of different generations are all doing cell phone ads. Mobile phone networks are looking to identify their systems with the stars to grab market share.

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When people buy a cellular telephone, they aren't just looking for good reception, they also want one that is new and cool.

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The negative consequences of the huge increase in the number of people using cell phones are becoming apparent. Gas stations are now reminding patrons to turn off their phones to avoid causing an explosion while filling up.

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"A-chih, come on out and see a movie! Everyone's here but you." Hsiao-wen says that on the streets of Taipei you now often see people using their cell phones to persuade their friends to "come out and play."

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