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The Year 2000: Advent of a Multimedia-Savvy Society Political and Technological Aspects of the Spread of "Popular Understanding"

Considerable hopes are vested in the future of visual media, both as a societal tool for the transmission of information and formation of consensus, and as a trailblazer of technological innovation capable of reinvigorating industrial society. After forty years of history, the visual media industry needs to make a break with the past. If it succeeds in living up to those expectations, the media industry, hitherto regarded as in a class of its own, may gain a place as one of the cornerstones of industrial society in the 21st century.
Here we use the term "multimedia-savvy society" to designate a society in which the visual image exercises intellectual impact. Analyzing the role of the image leads to the question of the place of the general public as viewer. The multimedia-savvy society is a society in which large numbers of people undertake problem-solving themselves, rather than depending on an exclusive group of experts for solutions to complex issues. The key concepts here are the spread of popular understanding and accessibility of society: through visual images, the recipient of information comes to regard complex social phenomena as personal concerns. Here we examine the significance of the multimedia-savvy society from three perspectives: globalization, technological frontiers, and the formation of consensus in society. We then explore what directions communication mediated by visual images -- in other words, visual literacy -- will take in the new age.

I. The Visual Media, Globalization and the Ordinary Citizen

"Today's complex world must pace itself to the simplistic world of TV."
- David Halberstam

1. Awareness of Globalization at the Grassroots

It was probably on Black Monday in 1987 that the Japanese first realized that what was happening elsewhere on the globe could affect them minute by minute as world-scale events were broadcast live on TV in real time. Each time the sun rose over another financial market as the planet turned, the rush to sell spread. So many major global developments have taken place in the interim that Black Monday seems but a distant memory now. Yet it was only a few years ago.
Financial experts already understood the growing interdependence of the global economy: how stock prices elsewhere on the planet exerted a real-time impact on capital markets in one's own country. But Black Monday was epoch-making in that it drove home the fact to the general public. It was the first financial panic after it became common for ordinary citizens in the advanced economies to own stocks.
A spate of historic events followed that showcased the potency of the real-time TV broadcast: the revolutions in eastern Europe, the conservative counterrevolution against Gorbachev in Russia, the Gulf War, the Los Angeles riots.
The primary perception of globalization and interdependence at the grassroots level is that world events, far from being purely somebody else's business, ultimately have an impact on one's own pocketbook. No doubt this awareness of the pace of globalization will increasingly transform Japanese international sensibilities and norms of behavior and the Japanese system of decision-making.

2. The Consequence of Witnessing World History Live

The end of the 1980s witnessed a rapid succession of financial crises, wars, revolutions and riots such as would have greatly affected the lives of people across the globe and inspired many a classic had they occurred at the beginning of the century. People around the world got to experience these "major stories" through the visual media. Once initiated into this type of experience, one comes to realize how difficult it would be to form an interest in and understanding of such phenomena without the aid of broadcast journalism.
Hitherto diametrically opposite views of reality were regularly espoused by conflicting sides; those views, moreover, were maintained for remarkable lengths of time. Witness the clashing accounts of the course of the conflict during World War II, for example, or the different economic ideas propounded by the eastern and western blocs. Modern history proves how tremendously difficult it is for one long immersed in a particular ideological world to imagine anything different. But freely-circulating visual images show as they actually are the lifestyles, facial expressions, attire and psychological attitudes of people who adhere to a different worldview. They thus demonstrate the artificiality of a world in which ideology trumps natural flesh-and-blood sensibilities.
This global witnessing of events unfolding on television has made the ordinary citizen aware of the reality that people around the world are all coming into contact with information at the same instant: in other words, that they are sharing their experience of history.
This awareness entails imagining that, by coming into contact with the same visually-transmitted information (and the reality presented therein), one can transcend ethnicity and geography to share the same fears, excitement, stimulation, pleasure and guilt as other human beings. Moreover, if one can present in visual format an idea one wishes to communicate, there is a fair chance that it will come to the attention of a like-minded soul somewhere on the planet in whom it will arouse excitement and sympathy. One need not fear being alone in the world: one shares a sense of being a citizen of a larger, global community. At the end of the 1980s, a new form of literacy that involved communicating by means of visually-transmitted information sprang up in different parts of the world with amazing rapidity.
The visual media was unshackled from national boundaries by several factors: satellite relay technology, the miniaturization of the TV camera, mass commercialization of the VCR, and the advent of international media conglomerates. While each of these was a minor advance on its own, together they sparked a truly sweeping media revolution.

3. Will the Japanese Remain Interested in the World at Large? Globalization and the Future of the Visual Media

How will the visual media phenomenon and globalization interact in the future? The earth-shattering events of the late 1980s were a one-time occurrence, and we will not soon again witness a parade of spectacular historical images being generated in such abundance.
Nonetheless, the growth of economic ties and political interdependency on a world scale will inevitably fuel demand for further sharing of information at the global level.
There appear to be three elements pertaining to news-type footage that really attract people: gossip, politics, and spectacle. At least as far as the two elements other than spectacle are concerned, namely gossip and politics, generation of visual images at the global level is likely to continue. Thus it is fair to assume that people will retain their interest in developments overseas.
In the advanced democracies, where mass society is firmly entrenched, involvement on the world scene -- the United Nations, peacekeeping, GATT, environmental issues and so forth -- presupposes that not just elites but the public at large as well develop a sense of noblesse oblige. Overseas aid in the future will unavoidably entail a certain degree of pain to taxpayers; hence politics will need to involve ever greater public participation and powers of persuasion. The question of how to contribute to the international community as a nation will inevitably become an ever more prominent domestic issue in every country concerned. It will remain a hot topic of debate.
In that regard, the visual media has a double role to play in the globalization of people's attitudes. First, in both the developed and developing nations, it will supply information that serves as a common basis for problem-solving. Second, among the developed nations, it will broker formation of a broad consensus on global involvement among the public by fostering popular understanding of the issues involved.

II. The Era of Consensus-Building through the Visual Media: A Society Where Text and Images Have Equal Value

1. The Rise of the Visual Media and Changes in Social Structure

The structural changes that took place in Japan with the dawn of the television age in the mid 1950s constituted a social transition on a scale that rivaled that of the Meiji Restoration. Drastic postwar reforms like the breakup of the zaibatsu (industrial conglomerates) and liberation of farmland picked up momentum as changes occurred in the way society disseminated information thanks to the rapid development of the mass media. It was in this era that the Yomiuri, Asahi and Mainichi penetrated the outlying regions of the country to become truly national newspapers. The launch of weeklies by the big publishing houses came around the same time.
Previously lifestyles and culture had been fixed due not only to gaps in income and assets but also disjunction of information between different social strata. The details of the life of even the most ordinary family and the set of values it adhered to were largely a mystery to others. Then the hierarchical structure that had acted as a cultural barrier between city and farm and between bourgeoisie and proletariat rapidly faded. The chief reasons for this of course were land reform and rapid economic growth, but the spread of lifestyles and cultural pursuits beyond class boundaries played a role as well.
The years between the late 1950s and the early 1970s saw the propagation of a series of theories of popular culture that emphasized variously the nature of the information society, the dumbing-down of the Japanese populace, or the dominance of the middle class. It is worth noting that the majority of such critiques discussed the influence of the visual media.

2. Two Models of Capitalism and the Visual Media

Michel Albert points out that there are two types of capitalism: the Rhine model (Germany and France), and the Anglo-Saxon model. The Rhine model is a society under firm intellectual guidance in which collective identity and controls are strong. Historically rooted in what is broadly speaking a rural, agricultural background, this type of society is development-oriented, and industrial development is mainly carried out by the elite.
Anglo-Saxon society, by contrast, is a civil society characterized by greater individualism and spontaneity. The prototype is Britain after the mid nineteenth century, when farm villages were already on the decline and urbanization and the growth of a mass society were well advanced. British society in those days was characterized by the popularity of religion, a culture of gossip, a respect for straightforwardness within the bounds of common sense, and a loss of sense of purpose in life. These features were partially taken over by the United States, and came to form the common basis of modern mass society in the developed countries.
Japan in the Meiji period was a classic agricultural nation. After senior councilors Fukuzawa Yukichi and Okuma Shigenobu, who favored the Anglo-Saxon model of development, were ousted from the government in a coup in 1881, the duumvirate of Ito Hirobumi and Yamagata Aritomo chose a development-oriented social system on the Rhine model for adoption. The formation of an elite was then carried out mainly through state-run institutions of higher learning, which produced Japan's bureaucrats, military officers, industrialists and jurists.
The Rhine model of social system proved immensely successful. It remained in place not only throughout the prewar era, when the country was still home to a large farm population, but also during the years of rapid growth after the war. But starting in the 1970s, when mass society had percolated throughout the nation, the once extensive peasant population and farm villages that underpinned the elite had almost disappeared, and patterns of consumption began to enter maturity, Japan drew rapidly closer to the Anglo-Saxon model of mass society.
To give a straightforward example, it was from this period that serious young people ceased reading the likes of Hermann Hesse and Dostoyevsky: British and American pop culture started exerting intellectual influence instead. The gap between city and farm no longer served as a theme for Japanese literature.
Britain and the United States are known for developing distinctive forms of visual media after the war. Britain has the BBC, while the United States has the three big networks. While the print media holds sway primarily in an elite-dominated social structure, the visual media exercises influence and cultural impact as an information system in a mass civil society, where the majority of the population has free time, possesses a strong consumer consciousness, and maintains a keen interest in politics.
Thanks to the hard work of those who have gone before us, plus a touch of good luck, Japan has developed a form of visual media that blends the two systems (the BBC and the three big networks). It is an indisputable fact that, seldom though it may come in for the praise it deserves, the way the Japanese industry is structured, with NHK and the private networks sharing entertainment and education between them, is a source of keen envy to broadcasters in many countries. Even in Germany and France, influential forms of TV culture have failed to emerge in postwar consumer society, with the exception of the minor boom sparked by the rapid liberalization of recent years.
However, even in these countries the Anglo-Saxon model of mass society is rapidly gaining ground. Indeed, Albert's book was written in recognition of as much. Japan was quicker than Germany and France to begin the transition to an urban social structure, and the shift to an Anglo-Saxon-type society got underway that much sooner.

3. The Decline of the Elite and Spread of Popular Understanding

Today in Japan the development of mass culture is entering its final phase. Since the 1980s, the authority of the universities has rapidly imploded and deference for the bureaucracy has begun to ebb away. The development-oriented social system under which Japan pulled off its economic miracle is finally buckling under the pressure. The intellectual prestige of the elite has declined as mass society evolves. Having lasted a hundred years, the Rhine model of a development-oriented social system is at the end of the line. The decline of intellectual prestige has only been aggravated by the fact that lately the ability of universities and government agencies to collect and collate social data has ceased to impress thanks to the growth of databases and the development of the media's own ability to analyze information.
There is another reason that this antipathy to the elite, especially experts in highly specialized fields of intellectual endeavor, has begun to gain such force. As is true in all the developed countries, the closer today's highly sophisticated form of capitalism comes to being perfected, the more complex the socio-industrial system becomes. That makes it all the more difficult for the ordinary person to understand. And it is a fact that many academic experts have indulged in incessant pedantic debate couched in abstruse jargon, while neglecting the effort to explain matters in simple, straightforward terms. Indeed, it might be more accurate to say that the understanding of the general public was detrimental to the elite.
Meanwhile, the dissemination of information via the media has inspired in people the desire to form a more accurate perception of society and take part in the decision-making process as active participants. In the political arena, parliamentarians have transformed themselves into intellectual experts in their own right in the form of zokugiin, a kind of combination lobbyist-policy wonk,. Nor is this phenomenon confined to Japan: it is true of all the advanced democracies. In Japan, however, continuous one-party rule has reinforced the impression that politicians are so in thrall to the experts that they fail to act as a mouthpiece for people's real concerns.
Thus people find themselves caught in a paradox: they feel under pressure to participate in a highly sophisticated, specialized social system that is difficult to comprehend, yet they are unable to grasp the issues. Sophistication and specialization have alienated understanding. The fact that anti-industrial movements opposing nuclear power plants or advocating environmental conservation garner such a degree of support has much to do with this sense of alienation.
Today the desire is growing for transparency in our social system. For example, there is an emerging trend toward earmarking taxes for specific purposes so as to make it easier to compare how much they are costing with what they are being used for, instead of leaving their allocation to a complicated political and bureaucratic system that will only obscure matters. In a nutshell, what people want is a tax system they can understand.
Over the course of their busy day-to-day lives, people find it important to obtain a straightforward explanation of complex issues. The visual media is beginning to gain recognition as an effective tool for fostering social understanding. By providing ordinary people with vicarious experiences and furnishing them with a window on reality, it has become a means of spreading popular understanding.
The pontifications of the intellectuals hardly ever play a key role in the formation of social consensus today. As more and more people want to comprehend the issues and come to their own conclusions, information obtained via the visual media will play an increasingly prominent role in achieving consensus.

4. Japan's Distinctive Multimedia Society Combining Text and Images

To go back a few years, the NHK special "Emergency Land Reform: Real Estate Prices Can Be Lowered" (October 1990) conveyed people's actual sentiments and doubts with unparalleled accuracy; indeed, it remains etched in mind as the catalyst for the end of the real estate bubble. A second special, "Electronic Nation: Autobiography of Japan" (January 1991), presaged a day when society's collective memory would be committed to visual form.
Among the factors that may be identified behind this evolution in the place and role of the visual media is a generational changing of the guard. The age-group that has known the visual media since birth (post-baby boomers born after 1955) is coming into the forefront of society as both consumers and producers. Having grown up with visual media, it neither overly fears it nor expects too much of it.
The values of the generation that has known the visual media since birth are characterized by a belief that text and visuals, or logic and image, are of equal value. As this generation gains ascendancy, society's overall center of cultural gravity is shifting away from an emphasis purely on the printed word more toward literacy in both written and visual forms of expression. That means a transition in the nature of the intellectual influences that bring about the formation of consensus in society: text-centered techniques of aggregation and analysis are yielding way to modes of structuring and expression that also make use of visual images.
However, it is hardly likely that the visual media will be able to exert such influence on its own. As a glance at Japanese society today reveals, a form of media has emerged in which image and text supplement and verify one another; text has not been banished altogether. The number of books being published, for instance, is increasing by the year. Similarly, Japan is rare among the countries of the world in that the comic book exercises intellectual influence as a crude information medium combining the written word and pictures. Moreover, the upcoming proliferation in the number of TV channels will enhance television's potential as a source of intellectual stimulation, and some of those channels will no doubt establish strong ties with the print media.
This interactive relationship between different types of media holds the seeds of the distinctive Japanese multimedia society of tomorrow.

III. The Visual Media Industry as Technological Frontier

1. Bombs into TV Cameras

During the Gulf War, live footage of actual bombings was provided by TV cameras mounted on the noses of smart bombs. These scenes drove home the fact that the frontiers of technology had shifted from weapons to media. The effect of the bomb was recorded by the bomb itself. The global impact of such images was tremendous. People around the world came to see smart bombs as "smart" not so much for their guidance systems as for their camera control.
This development was symbolic of the fact that both the epicenter and beneficiary of modern technology had shifted completely from the military to the civilian sphere, specifically the media.
Since the end of the Cold War, debate has raged over where the next technological frontier of modern industrial society is to be sought. As David Halberstam has pointed out, the winners of the Cold War were Japan and Germany, the losers the United States and the Soviet Union.
This outcome was the consequence of a competition between two technological paradigms: one, followed by the superpowers, which staked out the nation's technological frontiers in the military, the other, characteristic of smaller states, which staked them out in the civilian, consumer goods sector. A paradigm shift has occurred from centralized "dinosaur" technologies revolving around the military to autonomous, decentralized "mammalian" technologies driven by large numbers of civilian-goods manufacturers.
The military-based technological paradigm is characterized by limited assortment, massive scale, centralization, and high pricing. The civilian technological paradigm is characterized by wide assortment, small scale, decentralization, and low pricing. There has been a pronounced trend since the end of the Cold War toward seeking the frontier of the civilian sector's technological paradigm in the communications and media markets, which are regarded as the bridge to the next generation of technological paradigm.
In today's industry, value added is shifting from goods to information software. Especially among the advanced economies, it is becoming the predominant view that the relative sophistication of a country's information and telecommunications technology holds the key to the next generation of that country's infrastructure and will thus determine its ability to compete. It is well known that US Vice President Gore is an enthusiastic advocate of fiber optics. As environmental concerns gain prominence, the case is increasingly being made that policy should favor resource-saving industries in the media and software sectors rather than condone excessive energy consumption.
Many commentators argue that, as communications, media, software, computers, home appliances etc. merge, so-called multimedia will become the staple industry of the next generation. While computer and communications capacity is ballooning, costs are falling drastically. The only major market in sight for such vast computing power is image processing. The visual media sector thus shows promise of becoming the next market frontier.

2. Can Media Become the Next Technological Frontier?

But seeking technological frontiers in civilian industry is an innovative approach to developing technology fraught with risk for society.
It is no accident that the new media boom fizzled out, for excessive hopes were placed in the forms of media themselves. The new media boom was fueled more by technological-oriented considerations than consumer demand. The present multimedia boom is beginning to fall into the same trap.
Although the media sector is often burdened with expectations that it will spearhead a breakthrough for industry as a whole, new technologies frequently prove both unreliable and expensive.
Consumers are utterly indifferent to technology. What they delight in most is low price and good quality. As already noted, any number of failed nuclear experiments can be endured in the face of the threat of nuclear war, but a company with a broadcast satellite to get off the ground cannot put up with too many abortive launches. You can only afford to lose so much up front. Cutting-edge buyers can hardly be expected to bear the costs of developing cutting-edge technology alone.
It will be no easy task to impose on consumers the cost of technological innovations intended to promote the advance of society as a whole -- in the spirit of the rapid growth era, when the key to success lay in constant gains in quantity, speed, and performance. A greater effort will need to made than ever to square technological development with the needs of consumers.

3. The Paradigm Shift in the Media Industry: From 20th to 21st Century

As the media industry evolves, we inevitably find ourselves relying on old technologies and social systems or withstanding pressure and friction from them, at least until the new technological paradigm achieves a certain degree of maturity. A classic example is provided by broadcast and communications satellites. Like nuclear power, the satellite is a "dinosaur"-type mega-technology developed during the Cold War. Broadcast and communications by satellite certainly constitute an effective media system for 20th-century-type superstates like the United States, the Soviet Union, and China, which occupy vast areas of land and possess a single linguistic sphere and culture. In that sense the broadcast satellite is not truly an innovative form of media at all. It belongs rather to a 20th-century system -- the old technological paradigm.
Over the long term, the digital communications network may evolve into a 21st-century-type, "mammalian" information infrastructure for society. Many people imagine that the developed world will one day be crisscrossed by a reticulated network resembling the synapses of the brain. However, due to such problems as the maturity of the technology, cost, and financing, perfecting this new technological system built around visual media will take considerable time. Therefore, for the while at least, we will need to be satisfied with incremental advances incorporating existing technologies. The path ahead is a tortuous one, and it will be hard to map out a definite course.

19th century system


20th century system

21st century system

(1) First descent phase (75-00)

   Network construction

   Breakthrough technology


steam engine, textiles

electricity, telegraph,


digital network

packet switching,

optical communications
(2) First ascent phase (00-25)

   Breakthrough industry

cotton industry

heavy chemicals industry


(3) Second descent phase   (25-50)

   Mature technology

railway network

highways, airways

(4) Second ascent phase (50-75)

   Mature industry

steel industry, railways

the automobile, home


Compiled based on Kumon Shumpei, Joho Bunmei Ron (Theory of Information Civilization).

4. From "Macho" Technology to Housekeeping Technology

What form will the next generation of technological paradigm take? Twentieth-century technology is basically visible technology that is a direct extension of the hand tool. The airplane, the rocket, the mammoth factory, the nuclear power plant, and the mainframe computer are all in a sense "macho" technologies. But in a society where consumers bear the cost of development, excessive technological "macho" can hardly avoid being criticized as self-indulgent. From now on invisible, friendly, convenient technological systems endowed with a degree of femininity will become the norm (Fig. 28).
The order of the day is mature technology that integrates the technological systems of society as a whole into a single invisible network. The thrust of technological innovation is shifting away from progress and development toward providing well-integrated, accessible services tailored to people's exact needs. "Housekeeping technology" -- technology that anyone can make good use of, not just geeks and nerds -- is set to become the watchword.
In the society of tomorrow, technology that shoots too far out ahead will be left out in the cold. People and industrial systems that use technology must be able to stay abreast of it; cost-performance and literacy (culture) have to keep up as well. Achieving broad understanding and consensus for technological development will be indispensable in a society where the public must shoulder both the costs and the risks involved. Obtaining people's understanding may become the design engineer's most important task.
Currently various technological innovations are in the works in the fields of multimedia, smart TV, and the convergence of computers and television. But there is a danger that, without a demonstration of their advantages, not least of all for the user, and without a clear roadmap of the industry's future, all could end up becoming so many castles in the air. Surely the company that succeeds in supplying people with the most straightforward, down-to-earth technology will come out on top in the end.

IV. Literacy in the Multimedia-Savvy Society

The visual media generation will create a new context in which to view social systems and processes such as globalization, technology, politics, and industry. How will literacy -- the ability to "read" visual information -- evolve in the multimedia-savvy society? Here we examine at random certain aspects of change from two viewpoints: society and culture, and industry and technology.

1. Society and Culture

Cultural zones: From latitudinal to longitudinal alignment
In the 20th century, the globe was divided primarily in terms of north and south. The advanced countries were concentrated mainly in the north, countries at the middle latitudes were of intermediate status, while the southern hemisphere, where the developing countries were clustered, comprised a world of its own. The planet was thus cut up into latitudinal sections according to degree of industrialization. In other words, the former Soviet Union and the United States belonged to the same part of the world insofar as they were both superpowers, in spite of the east-west confrontation between them.
However, as opportunities proliferate worldwide to access visual information in real time, it seems highly likely that people at the same longitude and thus in the same time zone will develop an increasing sense of identity and "living on the same block." In the field of business, meanwhile, advances in TV phone systems and other communications media will fuel demand for more real-time interaction. The spread of real-time media will strengthen solidarity between people whose daily routine is the same, i.e., for whom morning and nighttime coincide.
The globalization of visual media may reinforce vertical geographical ties and thus give impetus to the solution of the north-south problem by countries at the same longitude. A set of cultural zones would then begin to take shape configured like the teeth of a comb, with Asia aligning with Japan, South America with the United States, and Africa with Europe.

Fifty percent reality
In the near future, once digital film production becomes a routine affair, a new problem will emerge. Not only will tampering with images be easy, no evidence will even remain of their having been tampered with.
For example, it will be possible to produce a dream basketball game consisting exclusively of brilliant plays, stage an interview with a historical figure, or create a fictional gossip session. Experiments of this type are already actually being tried in commercials and movies, but in digital format no trace of alteration will remain. The value of film as evidence, which lies in the fact that, unlike in the case of textual information, tampering can be easily detected, tends to leave behind tell-tale signs, and is prohibitively expensive besides, could well be cut in half not too far down the road. That in turn will fundamentally change our conception of reality.
Rather than trying to establish the truth of something in black-and-white terms, no doubt the idea will emerge of, say, 30% reality or 70% reality. The problem of purportedly spontaneous scenes being staged for documentaries, too, will very likely came to be judged by a different yardstick. Meanwhile, the question of who shot and edited a particular piece of footage will assume greater importance in determining its significance. It is possible that subtitles constantly passing across the screen with information on the reporter and producer will become a regular sight.

If it's not in real time, it's not real.
Given the tremendous difficulty of tampering with live footage, visual information transmitted in real time will come to be relied on more and more for the truth. A new form of literacy will emerge whereby viewers will judge the reality of an image by how close it is to real time. Furthermore, once consumed, an image is doomed to rapidly lose its news value. Media corporations will thus inevitably compete to deliver their fare in real time.
Lately video footage shot by amateurs is coming to be used more and more in news reports on earthquakes and the like. Scenes of the Los Angeles riots filmed with a miniature TV camera aboard a helicopter were broadcast throughout the United States. Already demand is on the rise for quicker, more real information regardless of picture quality, a trend that will no doubt pick up further steam in the future.

Once you knew a person by their writing. Now you know them by how they speak.
In the multimedia society, criteria for evaluating personality, especially judging intelligence, will be based on overall ability to communicate, including how concisely and logically one speaks, sense of humor and ability to make oneself understood, ability to express emotions appropriately, and facial expression and attire. That development is the natural outcome of increasing cross-cultural communication due to globalization.

2. Industry and Technology

Industry with a face
The list of America's wealthiest entertainers, athletes, creative artists, and popular intellectuals is teeming with individuals with a declared income of ten billion yen or more. While one must also factor in differences in the tax system, these high incomes may be taken as characteristic of the sexy, dynamic, Anglo-Saxon-style mass visual media society.
In Japan, the market for "software" in the broadest sense of the term will become increasingly a seller's market as mass society and the visual media become ever more firmly entrenched. As a result, both initiative and added value can be expected to shift to the creators of all forms of software, whether they be musicians, architects, newscasters, authors, or scriptwriters. Systematization of software production centering around the image of a particular individual, a trend that is already underway, will increasingly gain momentum. Unlike in the case of manufacturing hardware, producing software requires both teamwork and a strong individual who is capable of imposing a single consistent image by fostering collaboration among idiosyncratic creative personalities. Production of software centering on a particular individual -- the "human industry," as it were -- is poised to grow to size that can no longer be ignored.

Housekeeping technology
The personal market for household appliances is just about saturated. The next big thing will be sales of not goods but services to individuals. For example, people will want an intelligent TV capable of tracking down any program they want to see, automatically taping it, and storing necessary information in memory. This and similar services will be made possible by housekeeping technology that carries out a wide range of functions while tucked away from view in the background. Creating such an environment will require integrating software and hardware technologies into a single system instead of commercializing them separately. Digitization will play a crucial role in that process.

Scalability of success
Nintendo's family computer and the Internet both succeeded because it was possible to adjust the amount of investment in software and hardware as the technology spread. The reason HDTV and satellite broadcasting are struggling is that the hurdle for success is extremely high: you do not even know whether there is a market until you actually launch the business. The risks are similar to those of pole vaulting blindfolded. In economic terms, what that implies is an industry with large fixed and sunk costs. In future, importance will come to be attached to the concept of the "scalability of success," which means success commensurate with the amount of investment and investment proportionate to the scale of success.

The age of media brands
As media sources proliferate, viewers will tend conversely to be more selective about what they watch. Choice of channels will depend not only on quality of individual programs but also on enjoyability, reliability, promptness in reporting news, affinity with one's age-group etc. Competition between media corporations will further fuel this segmentation into brands.
A strong corporate identity on the part of a media corporation or group will ensure greater support among viewers. The upshot will be a proliferation of media brands.



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