Yamakuse Yoji’s World View リスト

Looking back, looking forward

When Steve Jobs died last year, many people mourned him. When he introduced the revolutionary PC in the 70s, the Apple Ⅱ, the majority of the world was still running on analog. Hardly anybody knew who Steve Jobs was, or could imagine what he had in store for us.

Let’s revisit this decade, the 70s. At that time people still had fresh memories of World War II. The US had not recovered from the trauma of Vietnam. Of course, people thought the Cold War would go on forever.

Looking back, we can see that many fuses were lit in the 70s for crises that would explode in the 21st century: the chaos of Afghanistan, the rise of Saddam Hussein and the Iranian revolution, for example. On the other hand, it was in 1976 that China declared the end of the Cultural Revolution and started the construction of contemporary China. And again, it was during the 1970s that PCs were introduced and rapidly developed. That is to say that the world we know today was set in place 40 years ago.

Now, if we look forward to the next 40 years, what we can see?

For this we need to examine what has been happening since the 70s. After World War II, peace has been maintained in Western Europe, North America and Japan. And it is in these pockets of the world that the development of creative technology has flourished. With these new technologies people can communicate much easier than in the past. However people can also be influenced and even manipulated much easier than they could be in the past, due to the powerful effects of social media.

It is ironic that the very technology that should be bringing us together is, at the same time, pulling us apart. To illustrate this, I’ll take the example of our own nation. In this computer-based, convenient society, Japan is rapidly losing its knowledge of the past. When I was a kid, I remember people writing letters with beautiful cursive calligraphy. Now nobody does this. Simply put, we are losing that knowledge and what it has meant to us and our culture. In this fashion people have lost countless traditional methods and ways of life – and with that they lose traditional values and thought as well.

Simultaneously and strangely, people in Japan have become more and more domestically oriented. Recent statistics report that more than 60% of today’s youth hate the idea of living abroad and they say they will quit their jobs if it is required of them. People these days, it seems to me, are quick to say that they love Japan – quicker than they were in the past when such a statement would be attributed to nationalism.

Loss of traditional knowledge and a rise of sentiments that could be described as nationalistic creates a fear for the future – because radicalism is spread by those who have lost the real value and knowledge of tradition. In the dark era before the Pacific War, right wing army leaders stimulated nationalism by ignoring the core values of Bushido, Zen, and other Japanese philosophies and instead manipulated them to promote the ‘beauty of our nation’. Now, instead of using radio and newspapers, people spread such ideas by using Facebook, Twitter, and other digital methods. As the result, society is divided between those who are globally oriented and those who are domestically oriented.

Such a divide can even exist within an individual. It is likely that most of us will have to learn to cope with the contradictions that technology has given us along with its blessings. To start, I think, we need to rediscover what our own cultural values truly are, and then figure out how we can adopt them again in contemporary times. Surely, there is wisdom to be mined there, and a real potential for increased vitality if we can work out how to integrate these traditional values with global ideology. We also need to learn how to convey such ideas to the world in such a way that we avoid that pitfall of complacency called nationalism.

When charisma is gone, any company will struggle to find its footing. It will be interesting to see what will happen to Apple in the future, now that everyone is watching. But charisma is something to be wary of in this age of social media and self-promotion, when even the most insular can have a profound impact.