Friday, November 24, 2006

You See What You Want To See

image respectfully lifted from the fine folks at Gizmodo

This morning, while reading an article in Gizmodo on "invisible" Japanese appliances, I was struck by a thought that I have often had while dealing with students in Japan. That thought is that people see what they want to see, or, at the very least, they reach the conclusions they want to reach.

The implication of the Gizmodo article is that these appliances are going to be something a consumer can purchase and place in his or her home. While this is not impossible, I'm 99% certain that these are display models meant to showcase the capacity and technology behind the items, not actual designs that one can buy.

Reaching the wrong conclusion in this manner is something students frequently do as well. For example, if students see a documentary on the Japanese Discovery channel about American shopping habits, they see a huge shopping cart heaped full of groceries. When they compare this to the little baskets that Japanese people use, and rarely fill, on their shopping trips, they conclude that Americans eat immense quantities of food all the time. Similarly, when they go abroad and are served a huge portion at a restaurant, they feel that an average American would eat it all in one sitting. It's not until you explain to them that Americans shop infrequently (compared to Japanese who shop daily in many cases), have huge freezers where they store food for long periods of time, and that we have this concept of a "doggy bag" which allows us to enjoy the remains of a whopping restaurant-size meal the next day that they understand the truth.

I rarely see the other side of this equation; that is, western folks seeing something in Japan and reaching the wrong conclusion about it. The Gizmodo article made me think that westerners may be inclined to think the Japanese are coming up with yet another wacky invention rather than the more logical conclusion that these are design models. If I hadn't lived in Japan all this time and weren't already aware of the tendency to see what you want to see, I probably would have reached a similar conclusion.


tokyolola said...

I ended up on your blog by following your link (on Gizmodo) because I couldn't believe that almost everyone else thought those appliances would actually go on sale!

Interesting - it shows too much faith in the high tech of Japan, and too little understanding of what the average Japanese appliance buyer would actually want in her house! Who wants to see all the kabi that collects outside the drum of your washer or all the happoshu you have in your fridge...??

Shari said...

Hi and thanks for your comment, Tokyolola. I'm having a read through your blog now. :-)

I had exactly the same thought as you about the person who invented the story not knowing Japanese people very well. The irony is that, the source for the Gizmodo story says she grew up in Tokyo! How could she know so little about the Japanese mind-set?