So I'd like to open a discussion comparing the following concept in the US and Brazil: the amount of access to information and the way people access information. I know that's general, so I'll try to explain myself a bit. Basically, when I say “access information,” I'm going to focus on the business aspect-- basically, how to get information that you need from a business. When people want to know something, what means do they use to get the information???
I've made a LONG list showing how my American ways of acquiring information (namely by phone and internet, or, if necessary, from company employees) just does NOT warrant the information I need here in Brazil. Look at my list so that this entry doesn't feel so ambiguous:
*When I moved here, I tried to learn about the buses in town. Local bus lines are mainly controlled by one government-subsidized company. However, this company has no website, no listing in the front of the phone book, no maps with the lines or times, and few clearly demarcated stops (the stops that ARE obvious do not have any kind of signs, just a post, and sometimes a bench).
Alexandre found the bus company's office number listed in the white pages. When he called the office, the girl said, “well, where are you going?” and then told him that one bus route. (Are people supposed to do that every time they need a bus?)
*When I went to sign up for a plan for a cell phone (worst idea ever), the salesgirl didn't have a written contract for me (like with the rules of the plan). She didn't know where I could find one. It took me a month of asking friends and TIM employees at other stores to figure out that employees can download the contracts from the TIM site (but by then I'd already canceled the plan).
*Dogs don't have collars with the owner's name and number, so you often see lost dogs just running around, with no way to return them. "Lost dog" signs often don't have phone numbers (just the dog's name and a pic). (I know this is not a business example, but I think it's related to this access to information topic.)
*A friend of mine is currently in a mess between her building manager, the owner of her apartment, and the leasing office. Long story short, the building manager stopped providing services in the building, but is still getting paid. The leasing office says that only apartment owners can vote him out, but residents aren't “allowed” to know who owns their apartments in order to request that a new building manager be voted in.
*Company websites rarely have the info you think they'd have. They usually have great pictures, but no phone number or hours.
*Because answering machines aren't used, when you call a number and no one answers, it just rings and rings, so you don't even know if it's the right number.
*One of the few decent hotels in town doesn't answer their phones-- either that, or the number on the site is wrong, or they just ignore the calls. Alexandre had to physically go there to make the reservation for his family for the graduation. What are people from out of town supposed to do?
*When we had the corn festival in a nearby town, one marketing technique was to just put a giant corn statue downtown, and get people talking about it. Then the day before it started, the news had a 2-minute segment about it with the location and the days. But the newspaper and news channel sites didn't have any information. The church planning the festival didn't have a site or any info about the festival. So then I thought that maybe it was so popular and such a tradition that people didn't NEED that kind of information. But when I asked my students what the corn was, almost no one knew. So if I hadn't caught that 2-minute news segment, we wouldn't have gone. (How did everyone else learn about it?)
I guess I just feel so lost because Brazil is totally an internet country. Even in our relatively small town, most everyone has access to internet-- and usually at home. Internet cafés are also cheap and are always crowded. Almost every English school that I've been to has extra computers for students to use. However, it seems like the internet (or business websites) are just not people's first instinct when they want information.
Something interesting about information on the internet is the way that information is informally available. Orkut forums and communities are hugely popular, and you can use them to find anything from college entrance exam details to hotel recommendations for a city. (However, shouldn't the college entrance exam details be available from the college's website? Or at the high schools?)
Another common use of the internet are a lot of unofficial white pages websites, which will often list business phone numbers, even when the business does not have a website.
What I've learned so far about Brazilian access to information is that the most popular way to get information here is asking friends and family, and someone usually knows a guy who knows a guy. Not even going to the company directly always proves helpful. But what if you don't want to call up friends every time you need a plumber or something? And are you supposed to just walk around your neighborhood asking people where the bus stop is? Is that just not considered annoying, the way it would be in the US?
Another question: Is this lack of information just limited to our region of small towns? In general, I've noticed that it's much easier to find information online about São Paulo (for example, even restaurants have websites, with menus and their address and how to get there, which is almost unheard of in our city). However, during my friend Jamie's visit, she and I were trying to find out about 2 different museums in São Paulo. Their websites had pretty pictures of the displays and the buildings, but NO information about hours of operation, where the museums are located, which metros to take, or even a phone number. We had to call dear buddy Bruna, who found the museum's phone numbers in her local Sao Paulo phone book. But even then, only one of the museums that she called even answered the phone.
Is it just me and my generation? Are we just too dependent on the internet for information? Is it illogical for me to imagine that Brazilians also rely on internet for business information, if so many people have access to the internet?
So WHAT IS IT?! Am I doing something wrong? Is it that everyone else just learns stuff some other way, or is it just that people are just content with this lack of information? Does everyone else just drive to the museum and hope for the best? Do people go on vacations without reserving hotels first?
I'm trying not to be judgmental, but is it something negative? Is it a lack of internet awareness, a lack of internet culture (doubtful), or a lack of business sense?
If you think about it, Americans are big on sharing information online and making websites and reviews and things, just because they like it. I've been researching Toronto for my students, and I found lots of information very very fast. But interestingly, most Google searches that I perform in English or related to the US and Canada reveal very helpful information that isn't even put up by government websites, but instead by people who are just really interested in the topic and want to share what they know.
Is it just not a common Brazilian hobby to make websites about something that interests you?
Another possibility: Is there just a Brazilian cultural idea that it's good to share information with friends and family if they ask for it, but that it's not necessary to make that information more public? Alexandre teases that Americans are too opinionated (he insists that Yelp will never take off in Brazil, because Brazilians just aren't interested in spending their free time writing their opinions about a given business when it has no benefit for them personally). But I think it's more than that; I think there's a certain cultural instinct in the US to share info with the masses, to spread what you know, and, business-wise, to imagine what other people would need to know about your business, to make doing business more streamlined and convenient.
So that's it; this entry is long enough. Those are all of my questions and observations. It's kind of general, so take it how you want, provide examples that you want. What do YOU do to get information? Do you think it's a cultural difference, a technological difference, or what? Do Brazilians feel the same way when they're living abroad?