THE THREE MODERN EVILS
Day after day, new gadgets are invented and some of them give great impact on our daily life, and sometimes with harmful effects. We still seem to believe that mankind is in the process of advancing even after traumatic experience of World War One, Two, Korean and Vietnam War and revolt of the young in the late 1960's to early 1970's.
Materialism is still the main force of cultural formation, which is almost exclusively centered on Western countries. In spite of warning given by many early 20th century philosophers and novelists, people are still putting highest value on everything that can be bought with money.
TV set, mini-bike ( a motor bike of 50cc displacement ) and Famicon ( a game displayed by a micro-computer ) are the main instruments that symbolize the modern ( Japanese ) civilization. They are all the products of high technology, mass-produced in plants where many manual jobs are being replaced by robots.
They also represent three factors of modern civilization supported by industrial society; showered information, requiring less physical ( and mental ) energy and conquering boredom.
Since it was invented by a scientist in the early 20th century, TV has brought a great deal of change to individual life of our modern society. and though at an early stage it played an important part in educating the mass, it has now become a major factor in producing idiots, an instrument for killing time. ( A critic named Soichi Ohya once said TV makes all the nation idiots, do you remember? )
The major cause of degrading of TV can be found in commercialization. At the beginning most TV broadcasting stations were in the hands of non-profit group, if not a government, but nowadays, almost all the TV stations are run by profit-seeking companies, which are for the most part dominated by major newspapers.
The concentration and systematization of mass media has made TV most vulnerable to audience rating, so that every TV producers are fearful of being fired because of making unpopular programs.
The results are always meager; film-making is no longer inspiring, but boring process of making a cheap entertainment. Since TV dramas take far less time in producing them than those for theaters, they turn out to be no more than soap operas, variety shows and in some permissive countries, sex and violence movies.
It is no wonder that most people are conditioned to such situations, and they are in the habit of turning the switch on as soon as they get up in the morning. There are no less than 10 channels and they have to choose among them. Unlike books, which boast of infinite variety, TV programs are severely curtailed in its variety and specifics.
Nevertheless, people find no alternatives for watching TV, say, in the evening. According to a survey, most people watch TV just to kill time. If it were not for it, would they try to do something more productive and active? Since man is greatly subject to the conditon under which he is placed, it is with reason that he may embark on a more creative activities.
But, on the contrary, thanks to the development of video tape recorder, people have a way of going out less and less, especially in the country, with the result of decreasing movie theaters and other entertainment facilities downtown. It's a pity that people tend to stay home, spending their time watching his or her favorite TV programs recorded on video tapes or playing TV games. Can the fact be called ' advanced ' that people satisfy all their needs indoors?
TV, with all audio-visual and computer-related equipment, has deprived us of the pleasures of going out, outdoor activities and even exotic feeling when traveling somewhere ; we can see TV at every inn or hotel and spend the night watching dramas produced in the center of our civilization. We are conditioned to do so even if there is something else more interesting to do.
TV is associated with a nursery home. For people who have nothing to do or no willingness to do, TV is the most suitable distractions. TV also deprives us of the sense of reality. Absorbed in watching it, we sometimes forget that we are in fact living in a real world, because the scenes displayed on the screen are too beautiful, too real, too out-of-the-world; modern man is living in a world of visual imagination --- at the expense of real life.
In this light, even if we do away with TV set, we can dispense with it even in the age of showering information. Almost all the information can be instead acquired through radio and newspapers.( and of course through internet! ) Cinemas can be enjoyed at a theater with a far larger screen and vivid sound.
Only if we found something else to do other than TV, could we do fairly well without it. There is nothing to lose by throwing it away, but far more to gain instead by developing a new potential for human activities.
This gadget is one of the very symbols of the present tendency for requiring less physical energy in doing daily chores. Needless to say, from automobiles to washing machines, almost all the products of modern ingenuity have contributed to this trend. Even electric toothbrushes and tooth-picks are being used by the curious.
So far, we can't see the ultimate point of this progress. According to the evolution theory, less used organs tend to get smaller and finally disappear, which is called retrogression, as we see it in merely vestigial legs of a whale, or tails that used to belong to us.
If we go on with this remarkable pace of having everything done by mechanical inventions, are we going to be just like a ping-pong ball with no legs to walk with on the road or no arms to catch with at something? It seems inevitable. Modern man has been rapidly getting weaker and weaker for only the past 40 years!
Relieving physical strains caused by strenuous exercise has been the sole object of lazy modern man. Some device seem to deprive man of even the capacity to control his body temperature, digest what he has eaten and stand up for turning on TV; these are air-conditioner, chicken nugget ( minced chicken meat ) and remote-controlled switch.
Minibike, which has been developed in Japan quite recently, was at first no more than a bicycle with a small gasoline engine. Now it is an indispensable vehicle for moving about a city area. What with noise and what with exhaust gas, it is spreading nuisances all over the area. What is worse, it completely deprives people of opportunities for the practice of walking. Once they get used to riding a bike, as short a distance as 100 m's walk seem to him unbearable forced march.
For the time being cheap gasoline and mass production will enable them to produce more and more bikes and even if gasoline were to be depleted, new alternatives, such as the one driven by battery will surely be developed. The future of mankind is bleak, at least in respect to evolution on physical structure.
The great invention, always attributed to Europeans and Americans, was performed this time by a Japanese firm. Most of the modern Japanese children, who are always deprived of doing something creative and under stressful condition, are bored to death in the sense of the word.
They have to go to Juku and study all the time, have no adequate place to play around, forced to conform to the norm of their classmates, and threatened by the dark shadow of entrance examination. They need stimuli which may give them change of air. It is then that this new gadget for enlivening their dormant and exhausted brains.
Aside from harmful effects such as strained eyes, less time for activities and lack of sleep, this game presents the very stimuli that cannot be acquired in other activities; only stimulating one's brain and forming itself into a closed world.
This is associated with Dr.Skinner's experiments in which mice are conditioned to push a lever, expect a reward of getting injected cocaine or other stimulants. They are pushing and pushing, without eating anything, finally to death. In a zoo, frustrated chimpanzees are provided with a TV set, which soothes them. And all of them are divorced from any social or meaningful activities, only a solitary one.
Unless inner urge to cope with problems is satisfied to some degree, many mammals, including man of course, desperately seek for something stimulating. It is no wonder that Famicon, with its very modern outlook, has caught the needs of adults, to say nothing of children.
As more and more people are getting unqualified for jobs requiring new high technology, they will form a new kind of 'gipsy' class in a highly mechanized society. Given that their livelihood is guaranteed, their only consolation must be Famicon.
In conclusion, the dark prospect of 21st century derives from these three instruments. They, not neutron bombs or environmental contamination, may be the symbols of human destruction. Isn't it high time we thought of re-directing our future evolutionary fate?
First Written in August 1986