[lit-ideas] Re: Implications of Multiplying Gadgets, was Poetry and Madness

  • From: "John McCreery" <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 23 Oct 2006 12:05:19 +0900

On 10/23/06, JimKandJulieB@xxxxxxx <JimKandJulieB@xxxxxxx> wrote:

Yeah -- my kids, 13 & 15, keep lobbying for a tv, vcr, dvd, and computer of
their own, not to mention a cell phone.  Considering that we are outside of
cable country that would mean 3 satellites unless everyone wanted to watch
the same thing at once (yeah, right).  I am totally in support of positive
use of TV (History, Discovery Channels) and computers (research for school
work), but enough is enough....when they start IM'ing the same person
they're talking with on the phone.....

I recall what I wrote in the final chapter of my book on Japanese consumer behavior,

It is virtually impossible to read an account of Japanese social structure that does not enshrine the ie, the 'traditional' patriarchal household defined in Meiji law and assumed to be the root metaphor for social organization in Japan—from families to firms to the Japanese state as a whole. As we have seen, however, the ie model has not gone unchallenged. The American-style nuclear family in which relationships are supposed to be free, open, and egalitarian has been an attractive alternative for nearly a half century. The 'Husband-Wife Holon' envisioned by HILL researchers can be seen as an attempt to balance the claims of these two models in a 'Couple' as they define it, in which patriarchal authority is only a powerless shadow. The impact of modern technology makes even this compromise seem very fragile indeed. In 'Tractors, Television, and Telephones: Reach Out and Touch Someone in Rural Japan', William Kelly describes the impact of TV on traditional household organization. In traditional households in rural Japan, he writes, the center of family life was the chanoma or family room. Family and household hierarchy were clearly delineated by the seating arrangements around the open rectangular where the family shared its evening meals and entertained its guests. The place of honor was the seat with its back to the tokonoma, the ceremonial alcove where seasonal flowers and paintings might be displayed. Traditionally, that was the seat of the senior male, the household head. When TV was introduced, however, the tokonoma provided a convenient place for the set. To be able to watch TV, the household head shifted his seat to one side, disrupting the traditional hierarchy of places. The voice of the TV newscaster began to compete with the household head as a source of authoritative pronouncements (Kelly 1992:84). The June 1997 issue of Brain, one of Japan's leading marketing trade periodicals, carries a report that seems to carry Kelly's argument to a new extreme. It begins,

One family, one TV has now become one person, one TV. One family, one
telephone has become one person, one telephone. The living room where
the telephone and the TV were the center of the household is buried in
dust. The household's members are in their own rooms each watching
their own TVs. They communicate with the outside world using their
portable phones. To begin the day, each gets up when he or she has to,
heats up some ready-to-eat food or stops by a fast-food restaurant to
eat a 'breakfast set'. The family core of the household is now
fragmented in time and space to a shocking degree
(Tomiie and Ôzawa 1997:5)

There is, to be sure, an element of dramatic overstatement here. The
analysis following this introduction reports that most Japanese still
have warm and fuzzy feelings about what they see as traditional
families. In their summary, however, the researchers write,

As the family dissolves into individuals, we are groping for a new
form of family. This group will be constituted in ways that turn a
fragmented family into a family after all. There will be no feeling of
constriction. Relationships will be like powder [not 'wet' and sticky
like traditional relationships]. Its members won't be pushy, they will
treat each other gently. New forms of consumption will be the tools by
which these families are formed
(Brain 1997:7)

Those used to reading and thinking about traditional Japanese family
ideals may be shocked by the final sentences.

No longer will families be the 'fated' families we have had until now.
Family relationships will involve different kinds of friendship and
love. In the movie Leon, the assassin who is the main character always
takes his plants with him wherever he moves. When asked if he likes
potted plants, he replies, 'They are my friends. They are healthy, and
they keep their mouths shut'. He and his plants form a household based
on gentle, non-binding, relationships.
(Brain 1997:7)

Re IM'ing on the phone: My wife frequently uses IM for cross-talk while participating in conference calls. She and a friend use IM to make snide remarks or plot strategy while other call participants are droning or ranting on. I wonder how widespread this sort of behavior has become.


-- John McCreery The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN

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