I love that The Atlantic has covered Red Associates’s work in ethnography and insights. They have brilliant ethnographers and I would recommend them as an awesome and insightful supplier.
Although the article contained a minor point that I believe is misleading.
These imponderabilia turn out to have huge consequences if you want to sell a personal computer in China. “We find that these objects have meanings, not just facts,” Madsbjerg says, “and that the meaning is often what matters.” So to sell a personal computer in China, for example, what matters is the whole concept of a “personal” computer, which is culturally wrong from the start. “Household objects don’t have the same personal attachment [in China as they do in America]. It has to be a shared thing.” So if the device isn’t designed and marketed as a shared household object, but instead as one customized for a single user, it probably won’t sell, no matter how many gigahertz it has.
I don’t think this is the case for all Chinese people. I think their conclusions are on point for selling computers to families. If anything, I’ve seen people more attached to their computers and mobile phones because that is the ONLY space that they can claim is entirely theirs. Apartments are small, space is crowded, sometimes rooms have to be shared, in-laws come over any time – everyone is nosy – but the digital tool is their object. Even migrants who buys a PC are very attached to it and have strict rules around sharing it because it is considered a personal space.
Take a walk in any electronics mall or on Taobao and you’ll see ads that sell computers as a personal object. It just isn’t true that a computer won’t sell if isn’t advertised as a shared object.