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Little Rice: Smartphones, Xiaomi, and the…
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Little Rice: Smartphones, Xiaomi, and the Chinese Dream

by Clay Shirky

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Shirky's accessible and clear writing will help connect China's technology world to a Western audience. The story of Xiaomi through Western eyes, like that told in Porter Erisman's Alibaba's World earlier this year, is one of almost unbelievable growth and acceleration. It's a natural topic to feed hungry American minds yearning to learn more about China's expanding technology footprint amidst the country's political and social policies (including filtering). Unlike Erisman, however, Shirky is an outsider to the company, and with the exception of his students raving over his Mi3 phone purchase, the voice of Chinese people is completely absent, which is unexpected for a book in a series on global perspectives. It is unclear from the writing style whether Shirky gained firsthand understanding of Xiaomi or if his knowledge comes from reading about it, as we don't have evidence of interviews with Xiaomi leadership or leaders of similar companies. There's no doubt that North American audiences will hunger for another Shirky volume and be influenced by it, but the book would gain authority and reduce the unanticipated-but-awkward "they're different from us" vibe if Shirky connected with the innovators and businesspeople behind Xiaomi instead of merely talking about them. Bottom line: if Shirky wrote about AT&T but his text included no interviews with AT&T leadership or employees, would we see his voice as authoritative? Perhaps this is an inevitable result of the novella-like series format; it's a shame, though. Review copy received from the publisher via NetGalley.com (162) ( )
  activelearning | Jul 18, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0990976327, Paperback)

Almost unknown to the rest of the globe, Xiaomi has become the world's third-largest mobile phone manufacturer. Its high-end phones are tailored to Chinese and emerging markets, where it outsells even Samsung. Since the 1990s China has been climbing up the ladder of quality, from doing knockoffs to designing its own high-end goods.

Xiaomi — its name literally means "little rice" — is landing squarely in this shift in China's economy. But the remarkable rise of Xiaomi from startup to colossus is more than a business story, because mobile phones are special. The common desiderata of the global population, mobile phones offer the kind of freedom and connectedness that autocratic countries are terrified of. China's fortune and future clearly lie with "opening up" to the global market, requiring it to allow local entrepreneurs to experiment.

Clay Shirky, one of the most influential and original thinkers on how technological innovation affects social change around the world, now turns his attention to the most populous country of them all. The case of Xiaomi exemplifies the balancing act that China has to perfect to navigate between cheap copies and innovation, between the demands of local and global markets, and between freedom and control.

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 18 Jul 2015 15:18:17 -0400)

Smartphones have to be made someplace, and that place is China. In just five years, a company named Xiaomi (which means "little rice" in Mandarin) has grown into the most valuable startup ever, becoming the third largest vendor of smartphones, behind only Samsung and Apple. China is now both the world's largest producer and consumer of a little device that brings the entire globe to its user's fingertips. Clay Shirky delivers a compact update on China's evolving economic and political conditions.… (more)

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