Is technology culturally neutral?

Jul 19 2013 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Earlier this week I came across a press release for Vivo Meeting, a web conferencing solution that is touting itself as being "India-centric". (This is not an endorsement, BTW - I have no idea what the product is like).

But it intrigued me, because we're used to thinking about technology as being culturally neutral, a great equalizer. Bits, bytes, electrons and the Web are loyal to no nation. So why would it matter what country a particular solution or technology comes from as long as it works?

Well the physics might be universal, the user experience is not. People need to be comfortable using a tool. The more barriers to its use, the less likely you'll use it effectively. A really simple example is the language used on screen. Is it American English or British (or as we in the Commonwealth like to call it, "Real" English)? Is it English at all? And if it's available in other languages, is the language written by a native speaker?

In the case of Vivo Meeting, what makes it India Centric? There are a number of things, very few having to do with the actual functioning of the tool. For example, the way the audio is integrated takes into account the spotty telephone reception in many parts of that country. Local access numbers on specific networks might help make for a better audio experience than the one-size-fits-all access numbers the large, global companies use. This might not seem a big deal if you're a global company with a couple of people in a well-appointed suite in Mumbai. But if that country is your major focus, the ability to communicate without frustration is a huge asset to customers.

Smaller local companies may also just be easier to do business with. In this case, Vivo will allow companies to pay in Indian Rupees, avoiding the hassle and costs of international exchange rates.

Customer service expectations also vary from country to country and across companies. An American hearing a Bengali accent from tech support is likely to have a different experience than someone from, you know, Bengal.

The goal is not just to have technology that works (and to be honest the actual differences between communication tools tend to be matters of degree) but that people will accept, adopt and use with as few barrier to use as possible.

I'm sometimes bewildered by the number and variety of tools out there, and wish we could just settle on one tool so we can get on with our lives. Every once in a while, though, I'm reminded of why diversity and choice matter.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.