Social Media: Where Is The Country That Gave Us Sony?
By Dolores M. Bernal
NEWS JUNKIE POSTJan 30, 2011 at 10:22 pm
TOKYO — The power of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to agitate the masses has been proven to work several times in the last couple of years. It seems that now anytime there is civil unrest occurring somewhere in the Middle East, users rush to share and spread messages, photos, and video of what is happening in their country; we saw this in the 2009 Iran elections, and recently in the Tunisia and Egypt revolutions. But is everyone in the world joining in the re-tweets and Facebook “Likes”?
Last week in Tokyo about 100 young Japanese gathered to see 10 presenters talk about new iPhone and iPad applications that they have developed. The event was sponsored by TechWave Japan, a group of techies who has taken an interest in learning English in order to be able to communicate with the world outside their island.
Challenge 1.0: The English Language
Japan is one of the few industrialized countries in Asia that is playing
“catch up” in developing and using social media technology. The nation that gave us brands like Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba has been struggling in the past 16 years to foster an environment where young people can venture into exploring and creating newer technology, specially for the Internet.
The Japanese have also fallen behind countries like China and South Korea in learning English. Even though the Japanese begin to learn English in junior high school, the education system in the country has failed to adopt techniques that could make learning English practical for students. The system forces students into learning grammar over speaking, which tends to limit their communication and verbal skills in the long run.
At TechWave meetings, English-speaking Japanese help younger techies with their command of the English language so that they can reach Western audiences. “Speak English, don’t be shy,” said one of TechWave’s members at the “1000 English Speakers” conference last week. She was encouraging the people in the room to use English only. “[Westerners] don’t care how you speak English, only other Japanese people do,” she quipped.
Challenge 2.0: The Culture
The language barrier is not the only thing keeping Japanese people from joining social media sites like Facebook, the challenges are also cultural. Less than 2 million Japanese people have joined Facebook of the site’s 585 million total users around the globe. According to a recent New York Times article, less than 2 percent of Japan’s online population has taken an interest in Facebook.
Japanese young people have instead opted to using a social media site called Mixi, which allows them to be more anonymous. Mixi doesn’t ask for users’ real names, a feature that seems most attractive to a culture of people not used to freely expressing their opinions in most settings — at schools, home, or at their workplaces.
But according to TechWave members, many Japanese young people want to liberate themselves from the suppression of thought in the country. This is why learning English is important for them, because it would allow them to see how the outside world is doing it — how the rest of us are creating open channels of communication and using that to promote change and start movements.
“Nobody knows what Japanese do,” said Kenichi Ueno, a young Japanese computer programmer. “I believe what we Japanese should do is to spread our idea to the world, by writing or speaking in English!”Making Strides
Already a few Japanese techies are beginning to take their innovative products to mainstream audiences. Takahito Iguchi is a rising star in the iPhone app world. In 2008 Iguchi created Sekai Camera, an app that allows users to use “air tags” — messages users leave “floating” on the air and that can be seen by using the iPhone’s camera viewfinder.
Iguchi’s new company, Tonchidot Corp, is getting ready to launch another breakthrough new app next month. The slogan for the secret app is “Open Yourself!,” and it will directly challenge the anonymity that many Japanese have often sought in social media sites. The app will permit users to display their interests and other personal information to other iPhone users near or next to them — in the train, the restaurant, anywhere.
There are many eager computer entrepreneurs like Iguchi in Japan, but often it’s the lack of venture capitalists in the country willing to sponsor new innovative ideas that poses as the greatest challenge. Many of these dreamers hope that the situation will change in Japan in the future…and hopefully a future not too far off.
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