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Michael Conover

University of Indiana Ph.D. candidate Michael Conover

Walking down the streets of the brightly-lit Harajuku fashion district in Tokyo I overheard an attractive young woman with a Brittish accent saying to a friend, "I can't believe it, but Tokyo is so much more cosmopolitan than Milan."  While the rich irony of this proclamation may be lost without the lucious accent, more and more I find myself agreeing with her, reflecting on the countless ways in which Tokyo actually is the pinacle of modern technology, fashion and cuisine. 

The cultural shift that has happened in Tokyo with respect to attitudes and adoption of high technology can be likened to the shift in the American consciousness with respect to the Internet.  Through the early part of this decade the notion that there was a distinction between your digital and your real life was pervasive, but high adoption rates and always-on availability have blurred the line between one's digital and 'real' personas.  Likewise, in Tokyo, more than any other major city I've visited, one finds that high technology does not exist as a separate and distinct part of life, but instead is woven seamlessly into the fabric of day to day activities. 

Where upon first arriving in Japan was amazed at the thirty-foot tall displays and booming sound systems of Shibuya and Shinjuku, now the endless stream of  informative and artistic content seems to fade into the ambient noise of the city.  While the wireless hand-helds used to manage orders in so many restaurants once seemed like the brilliant solution to an age-old problem, I now find myself having difficulty imagining it any other way. Increasingly it seems that the innumerable devices and displays simply swirl into a heady melange of high technology that is as effortless as it is efficient. 

Strangely, with this digital ubiquity comes a paradox I suspect I may never fully understand.  I'm unable to reconcile the dichotomy between Japanese cultural norms, which derive from Buddhist and Shinto traditions and tend towards quiet observation and reserved personal interactions, with the rambunctuous, hyperactive sensory overload that characterizes even casual trips to the grocery. (Dozens of displays feature motion-triggered recordings which loudly proclaim the benefits of this product or that.)  Despite this, I'm comfortable knowing that there is a synthesis to be found somewhere here, and the people seem at peace with their ultra-modern surroundings.  Perhaps in the years ahead, as my own culture begins to reflect this one more and more it will become clearer; for now I am satisfied with having a glimpse, however brief, of the things to come. 


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