Tokyo, Japan: A land of contradictions and endless potential. I arrived today with my wife and three boys after the 24-hour, door-to-door from Boston to our apartment in the Waseda section of Shinjuku. We suffered the long leg of the trip, Newark to Narita, on a 777 fully equipped with individual on-demand video and music capability (even in economy), but the food was still terrible. Like the Eva robot going through the waves in Brian Chan’s remake of Hokusai’s wave (see image to right), we are moving into uncharted waters, hallfway around the world, seeking adventure, and for me, some insights for my research on the emerging media worlds of social networking, mobile phones, and video games.
It’s sunny, 90 degrees, towards the end of the hottest summer since 1898, according to the news updates on the train. I write as we pass the rice fields around Narita, with huge power lines overhead, and the old farmhouses with (what I think of as) tiled samurai rooftops with family crests. Next to me on the train is a guy with a Google T-shirt, going through his business cards and checking recent tweets on his Droid phone. As we loaded our bags, I saw a young guy with a T-shirt that read “Meet me in Oz,” with a character from Hosoda Mamoru’s film Summer Wars (an image from which anchors this blog). The Narita Express train now features TV screens with updated information in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean (in that order) along with constant advertisements.
I’m reading Clay Shirky’s new book “Cognitive Surplus,” and thinking about his rosy (and not inaccurate) view of the enormous potential of ubiquitous, mobile, social media. But I also wonder about the effects of me always having to tear my eyes away from the flashing TV screen in front of me (in the air and on the train) to remind myself to look outside or even to read a book.
In today’s envirtonment of ubiquitous media, I was struck by Shirky’s quotation from Edgar Allen Poe writing in 1845, commenting on the profusion of media in his day (cheap books): “The enormous multiplication of books in every branch of knowledge is one of the greatest evils of this age; since it presents one of the most serious obstacles to the acquisition of correct information by throwing in the reader’s way piles of lumber in which he must painfully grope for scraps of useful lumber (Cognitive Surplus, p. 47). Shirky rightly notes that the explosion of publishing, however, adds value in other ways, but it does raise some questions.
What will we find? How should we look? And where?