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Media theorists, such as Howard Rheingold, have looked in recent years toward Japan as a bellwether for human-computer interaction. Some combination of their cultural homogeneity with their recent history, including rapid and artificial moves from imperial society to industrial society to consumer society, makes the Japanese a kind of media fruit fly in the minds of Western sociologists of technology.

It's no surprise, then, that a front-page article in today's New York Times is devoted to the latest J-Pop phenomenon, cellphone novels. The novels—composed and read predominantly by young women on their mobile phones—have circulated among Japanese youth since about 2000. They are composed of short sentences and bursts of text, sometimes use emoticons, often have little plot or character development, usually feature a fatal disease in the narrative, and were considered a noncommercial fad. Until year-end publishing figures for 2007 revealed that half of the Japanese top ten books were republished book editions of cellphone novels.

While reading this fairly long article, I wondered, as any armchair media ecologist would, if popular artists must not only compose for a medium but also on that medium in order to match the consumption habits of her audience. The quote that concludes the piece, from an editor discussing one star cellphone novelist who recently gave up her mobile as a compositional tool, suggests the answer is yes: "Since she's switched to a computer, her vocabulary's gotten richer and her sentences have also grown longer."

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