Thursday, December 11, 2008

Culture and Technology: Wifi Adoption in Brazil

While I was down in Brazil during Thanksgiving one of my friend accused me of having become too Americanized. This accusation was instigated by my expectation to find greater availability of Wifi connectivity in Sao Paulo. In my friend's defense, I am a freak about staying connected to the internet being accustomed to accessing the web via phone and wireless broadband card. In my hometown's defense, there are actually a growing number of restaurants and cafes that offer free Wifi (and this type of technology is still a lot more expensive down there).

One interesting characteristics of Wifi adoption in Brazil is how quickly the service industry has begun to leverage this technology. A large number of restaurants outfit their waiters with wireless PDAs to more efficiently capture orders and communicate those orders to the kitchen. They also use portable debit/credit card machines (similar to those seen at the Apple store) to enable guests to pay via debit card from their dinning table.

In my view these devices enhanced my experience, though I do understand that they are not appropriate for all dinning establishments. In New York I don't know of any restaurants that uses Wifi technology in this manner. Though I am sure there are a few, the adoption of this technology in this industry is extremelly limited in comparison to what I saw in Sao Paulo.

So how can we explain this different adoption trends? I posit that in Brazil technology is more closely associated with status and is viewed more widely as a positive sign of progress. This explains why the technology is used in a customer-facing manner, and why the restaurants where you find it are upscale and modern places. I attribute the lag in personal Wifi adoption to the current costs of the technology (which is still out of reach for most Brazilians).

In the US people have a more skeptical stance towards technology. This is especially in a food-related settings, which is echoed by the growing demand for organic and fresh offerings. Therefore, restaurants in the US are more reticent to adopt technology in such an "in-your-face". I assume that here in the US the use of technology in non-customer facing areas is equally, or more widely, adopted as in Brazil. On a individual-level, Americans had no sensitivity to adopting this technology for personal and professional purposes, quickly realizing the value it provides.

It is interesting to think about how these cultural differences impact the adoption and use of technology in different contexts, and the design of technology for these contexts.

No comments: