The government has unveiled the “e-Japan” strategy that it hopes will turn Japan into the most advanced information-technology-based nation in five years. Most mass media and IT experts are critical of the strategy. They say it lacks vision and workable plans, is late and is designed to benefit only those companies represented on the IT-related government advisory council.
To be sure, the strategy is far from praiseworthy. Yet I also have doubts about some of the criticisms of the plan. Critics say the basic plan is laudable but would be difficult to implement, due to the division of government functions between departments and the continuing tolerance of the telecom giant NTT’s virtual monopoly and high communications charges.
There is little criticism, however, of the basic U.S-style strategy of building a broadband telecom network that links personal computers nationwide and distributes contents at a low cost. Some critics say Japan lags far behind South Korea, where low-cost communications networks of asymmetrical digital-subscriber lines have been laid nationwide. They note that most South Koreans have IT skills and are eager to use them.
The situation is markedly different in the United States, where PC sales are slow, consumer interest in the Internet is declining, the number of people accessing Web pages is decreasing, and high-speed Internet-service providers suffer from low earnings. Many companies that provided free Internet access have gone bankrupt, and those distributing movies and music are having trouble making ends meet. Among customers of major Internet-service providers, less than 10 percent use broadband technologies — mostly to view movie previews — and their number is decreasing.
Contents for which there is strong consumer demand and which can be “patternized” need not be distributed on the Net. In some markets, bad contents often drive out good contents, which eventually go out of existence; this happened in the video-game market.
The Net has changed human life in a major way: It is now possible to obtain necessary information on demand and on a real-time basis. Nothing could be more convenient than that. That is why Internet-capable mobile phones have been booming.
The information I need is mostly text, figures and photographs, in that order. I have little need for sounds and moving pictures. Only humans can use writing for communication, a highly abstract medium for describing ideas.
From a broad perspective, the basic IT strategy should aim at speeding up cycles in which ideas produce ideas, thereby enhancing the creativity of the Japanese and securing Japan’s place in the information-based international economy. Individual plans should be matched against this basic strategy.
It is important that all Japanese have full-time access to the Net, but broadband technologies need not be a top priority. High-resolution moving pictures are not necessary for the proposed IT-based government. A more basic problem is whether the system will be able to output all kanji characters for unusual Japanese names and addresses. Priority should be given to solving problems over character codes that could put certain people at a disadvantage in the coming age of IT-based government.
Both proponents and critics of the strategy talk about a U.S. model. The U.S. is strong at experimentation. If Japan must copy the U.S. in working out its IT strategy, it should imitate its principle of not imitating others.
There is a great temptation to laugh at the power crisis in California. The U.S. is always ready to experiment despite great social risk. Without similar determination and consensus, Japan will not succeed in developing IT ventures. It cannot just copy infrastructures and frameworks.
Serotonin is a substance found in the human brain. A shortage of the substance is said to cause anxiety. Some studies have suggested that more than 90 percent of the Japanese carry serotonin-short genes, compared with about 50 percent of Americans.
Assuming that biological differences account for differences in national traits, it would be illogical for the Japanese to copy the adventurous Americans.
Japanese may suffer from anxieties as individuals, but they often give full play to their abilities as a group. That is the secret of the successes the Japanese have enjoyed. It would be more realistic for the Japanese to adapt information technology to the times than to adopt the American way.
“Know thyself” should be the basic principle of the strategy. We must establish a Japanese way, instead of imitating the American way, in developing an IT strategy.
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