An increasing number of Japanese are plugging into the digital information craze and spurring the information and communications industry to dizzying heights. But they are also working more and getting less sleep, says a government report released Tuesday.

In its 1998 White Paper on Communications, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications says the effects of digital information media proliferation are beginning to have a visible impact on the economy — and in people’s lifestyles.

“The industrial structure in Japan is undergoing major change, and the information and communications industry is becoming a leading industry,” said Genichiro Watanabe, director general of the Planning and Research Office of the Minister’s Secretariat, who is in charge of the report.

The role of the information and communications industry has a major impact, affecting almost 70 percent of the nation’s industries, the report says. And it is growing.

For the first time, real domestic production in the information and communications industry exceeded 100 trillion yen, totaling 103.3 trillion yen in fiscal 1996, which ended in March 1997, the report says. “This accounts for 11.4 percent of the nation’s industrial production,” said Watanabe, adding that this surpasses the share of the notoriously large construction industry by more than two percent.

The information and communications industry, composed of broadcasting and communication services and information-related equipment, has shown impressive growth, averaging almost 6.5 percent annually from 1993 to 1996. This is nearly four times the average industrial growth rate of 1.68 percent for the same period.

Japanese businesses are embracing such technologies. More than 68 percent of Japanese firms were using the Internet in 1997, compared with about 11 percent in 1995, the report says. However, digital media is doing more than simply permeating society and business — it is also having a noticeable impact on people’s lives, says the report.

Information and communications media covered in the survey include facsimile machines, personal computers, the Internet, cable TV, cellular and PHS telephones and satellite broadcasts. The paper concludes that these technologies — especially the Internet and PCs — are changing the way people live.

Surveys indicate that people are using computers, fax machines and the Internet to help them save time, obtain information and expand their social circles. However, while digital devices facilitate communication, hobbies and shopping, some users say the devices are causing them to spend more time at work and spend less time on leisure and rest.

Around half of the users of PHS, Internet and personal computers responded that they are going to bed later. More than 30 percent of cellular phone, Internet and computer users said they are spending more time at work.

Although information technology is putting down roots nationally, it is not reaching all segments of society equally, resulting in a large disparity in “information literacy.” City-dwelling males in their twenties are the most likely to possess the ability to operate information equipment, while women, the elderly and teenagers, particularly those living in rural areas, lag behind, according to the report.

The paper points out that measures need to be taken to improve information literacy through increased exposure to digital media such as computers and the Internet.

The ministry plans to complete construction of a national fiber-optic network by 2005, five years ahead of the original schedule, facilitating expansion of digital information technologies. But one of the greatest impacts on people’s lives may be the expansion of “cyberbusiness,” or the buying and selling of goods and services on the Internet.

Such business targeting Japanese consumers grew by 2.87-fold in the past year to about 81.8 billion yen. And the market is expected to expand to 1.1 trillion yen in 2005, the report says.

The ministry has posted the full text of the annual report on its web site. It can be accessed at http://www.mpt.go.jp/index-e.html

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