IN RESPONSE TO DIFFERENTIATED INFORMATION SOURCES
As we approach the 21st century, the amazing rapidity with which information-processing gadgets are developed leaves us desperately at a loss, especially for those over the age of 40. How should we deal with this glut of information? Should we become proficient in handling these machines?
In the first place we have to keep in mind that as a creature we are the very product of long evolution, which means the individual capacity for imbibing new knowledge has been almost unchanged for the past 1 million years. The capacity of human brain for processing information is certainly large enough, of course, when compared with other animals, but long history of human society has scarcely changes the fundamental faculty for learning new things, however hard they are trained, except for the limited number of geniuses. In short, we have the limited capacity which does not enable us to adapt to drastic changes of the quality and quantity of information.
The most conspicuous means of taking in information is radio and television, developed barely 50 years ago or so. Self-proclaimed "intellectual" people used to deplore at the appearance of radio, insisting that it would deprive them of precious time for reading. They also feared that propaganda with the help of wireless receiver would brainwash their mind. But television, far more formidable media, appeared soon after the prevalence of radio. Some people even warned that television would make a nation a mob of idiots, as Soichi Ohya, a critic, used to say.
But the majority of the people welcomed the receiver with black and white animated image, because they had been bored in the evening. Human being, naturally extremely lazy, are always ready to adopt anything that will give them comfort and stimulus. People have long been at a lost to think of anything interesting enough to do after sunset. It took painful mental efforts to think of anything worth doing. TV has entirely changed the life for the mass of the people during the night. A turn of a switch and just sitting comfortably on the sofa enables them to experience the visual world. Since visual stimulus is the most exciting one to the human brain it is only natural that they should be perfectly absorbed in watching TV, especially for the old, unemployed and bored housewives.
The main fault of TV is that it offers tid-bit fragmentary information to the viewers, and yet it is exciting enough to attract their attention for hours. The fact that, unlike movies, people don't have to go out and buy sometimes expensive tickets illustrates the decline of cinemas, theaters and other entertainment facilities in town. It is no surprising that even children would rather stay home watching TV than go out playing soccer.
The very convenience that you don't have to go out or pay for tickets deteriorates the people's daily life. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that TV provides only stimulus, not knowledge as a whole; TV is almost time-killing machine. Only in giving out fresh news in no time can we appreciate the merit of TV.
But can't it be replaced by radio? Visual information is not so helpful as we have expected, as more than half of TV news is focused on the straight faces of newscasters; they are staring at the TV cameras because there is nothing else to do but announce the news with their vocal cord. On the other hand taxi and truck drivers depend solely on radio for getting the latest news, and see no problem.
Movies and plays should regain the dominant role it used to enjoy. A large clear-tinted screen is far better than 14 inch tube which may cause us to suffer severe near-sightedness. If more and more people get out of their living rooms and make for theaters downtown, the admission fees they are charged may be lowered thanks to increasing number of audiences. Why bother to go out? It will give you a change of air.
VCR seems to have aggravated the situation. People think it absurd to pay for expensive admission tickets for watching movies, just because they can rent VCR cassettes at surprisingly discounted rate. It seems that we have already passed the point of no return; we have tasted the fruits of forbidden tree---home entertainment. In the future the visual entertainment will be more and more categorized, compartmentalized and individualized. There may come disappearance of public performance and its audience.
If TV is simply a machine giving us stimuli, then personal computers with video game tend to swallow up almost all the old-fashioned games, such as chess and card games. The newcomers are not only addictive, but become inexpensive once you begin to buy the gadget. Some addicts are said to have their fingers twisted because of excessive and continuous button-pushing, as those among pachinko enthusiasts.
France is said to have succeeded in giving her people the widespread use of teletext and captain system. These provide the caller with visual information anytime and. if necessary, give out printed slip. The detailed description of the internal of building, the way to the station and weather forecast may be very useful, but is telephone going to be replaced by this high-tech system? Most efficient businessmen have been working hard without the help of such instruments. They are not absolutely necessary when we can ask telephone information service or consult city magazines. Why do we have to push complicated buttons to know the train schedules when we can purchase a pocket size timetable for negligible cost? These systems are not always indispensable for businessmen, let alone for a family.
The quality of each piece of information, nowadays, is steadily in decline in disproportion to the extremely rapid increase of the total amount. Early television program makers were enthusiastic, having deep insight into the society in which they lived---chaotic, post-war society. That is because almost all the producers and stuff came from film making industry, aside from the fact that they were greatly influenced by the huge waves of cultural revolution of the 60's. At least, some of them had art-oriented mind and were not so strongly influenced by the intent of advertisers. Nowadays viewers rate determines what is to be broadcast and final decision is in the hand of sponsors. Some people grumble not one in ten programs is worth watching, if they say the least. TV making industry has been distinctly different from that of cinema making. Serious insight has almost been lost and only shallow entertainment appealing to the whimsical mass is produced in haste and thrives. How can we spend precious time on such trivial time-killing?
It is evident that we can do away with visual mechanisms if alternative entertainment can be found, but it seems hardly so. Sufficient amount of information is to be available with audible measures, such as radios and telephones. The complicated and overstimulating system, the visual inventions, demands continuous and nerve-racking concentration with eyes and precious time from man. The spectacular development of communication network has not necessarily yielded revolutionary change in our life; rather, giving us negative impact.
Cable TV system, a rapidly growing industry in the US, but not so prominent in Japan owing to strict governmental regulations, will give some new fun to the viewers particular about program making and artistic attainment. At any rate, national television network only provides ordinary conversation scarcely worth watching, which, contrary to the expectation of the people with special likings, is no more than a talk show on general subjects. Some people complain that TV is giving no cultural stimulation.
On the other hand, will books become obsolete in the near future due to the spectacular advancement of audio-visual apparatuses? Absolutely not. Since the invention of printing by the help of Johannes Gutenberg, the volumes have established themselves in incomparable and indisputable position. However sophisticated the complicated computers may become, there is no denying sheets of printed paper are the best means possible to inform us of useful knowledge.
First of all, written language has a long history of concise expression. Countless number of columnists, essayists and prose writers have tried to create the most efficient way of making subtle combination of words. The results are marvelous. Even if TV and radio are rapid enough to make known the latest news, they have to be content with the second place in concreteness and logical composition.
Second, we are free to choose the duration and degree of mental concentration, the variety of subjects and the priority of one subject after another when we read something, while we are severely restricted in this respect on the radio and TV. They are prearranged at the stage of program-making and all we can do is just accept what has already produced; once we have fallen asleep while watching or listening, we can no longer keep track of the story unless it is videotaped or recorded.
Individual difference of inclination and ability are not taken into consideration in program making; therefore TV directors and producers are compelled to make numberless meager variety shows.
Third, TV and radio are at the mercy of advertisers or government regulations. Only a few stations can barely keep their independence, but even those stations are very vulnerable to financial crises. Books and papers are, of course under heavy influences of those forces, but to a a lesser degree and sometimes underground publication plays greater role, say, in countries characteristic of oppressive government. Thanks to covert efforts, many masterpieces survived. 'Fahrenheit 451' by Ray Bradbury vividly features a future society in which almost all the people are forbidden to read or own printed materials.
Forth, limitless accessibility and portability of printed matters are second to none. There is no need of display screens, batteries, or clever chips. All you have to carry is just a volume or sheets of paper and nothing else. You start and stop reading anywhere. If you can't understand a certain passage, just read it over and over again. If some excerpts haunts you, just turn the page over and study it to your heart's content. Nothing is more simple. When it comes to imbibing logical sequence of human thought, books are the best way imaginable for anyone.
If anyone decides that thought is important, he cannot help referring to vast volumes of spiritual inheritance. TV is merely the instrument for passing on fragmentary information. For this reason, TV viewers are very difficult to organize, let alone to make aware of the importance of political movement, for example. TV and radio do not encourage people to think for themselves, not to mention to work out their own convictions.
The increasing number of young people who have no habit of reading books except for comics ( even comics are being replaced by TV, it is said! ) may in the end lead the whole society back to the political, cultural and social immaturity. This tendency, accelerated by the dominance of TV, casts dark shadow on the future. Sensual, eye-catching media prevents people from making proper judgement in all walk of life. The tradition of democratic thinking and individualism may fade away in the face of visual mass media, because incessant discipline is indispensable to develop a well-balanced national character. In a country where just as a Prime Minister appears at a press conference, a solid wall of enormous brutes carrying Japanese cameras rises, and he disappears from view, it is second to impossible to pick up the most competent political leaders.
All in all, the superiority of written language is unshakable for the time being, but the instantaneous nature of electronic age threatens to upset the structure of thoughts based on them in formidable manners. As a reporter used to say, it is TV that dictators have a liking for and it is newspapers they hate.FIRST WRITTEN IN JUNE 1987
REVISED IN JULY 2000