the Hidden Realities of Computer Industry in Japan Japanese

5.2 Internet and Morals

Nowadays, the word "Internet" is in fashion. With "Internet" in its title, any book can achieve enormous sales. Businessmen who don't want to get behind the fashion read them. Though a little bit older fashion, "multimedia" is still used today. Both of the words, only being accepted as fashion, the true meanings of which does not seem to be correctly appreciated.

"Multimedia" means "multiple media" literally. If there are multiple storage media, you can call it multimedia. CD-ROM is referred to as multimedia often, but you can interpret anything capable of being used as data storage multimedia, including the ones not invented yet. The more storage volume increases, the smaller and the less expensive it will be. So it can be used for the area which we hesitated to use before.

To tell the truth, computers were multimedia from the beginning, because we have been using any media useable as storage. There were the media used as short-lived fashion, the ones still being used today, and the ones abandoned as soon as they appeared on the market. All of them were selected by the market in the history of several dozen years. In the future, mutations may appear, and will get selected by the market.

"Internet" is a network of computer networks, which used to be independently constructed, not only in Japan but all over the world, interconnected to a huge computer organism. It seems to be really great, but it can be explained as an analogy to today's telephone system. The computers used to be connected within a organization, which is like an extension call. In Internet, you can make a call to another organization, which is like calling outside from extension telephone line. If you know a telephone number, you can make a call to anywhere in the world, as long as you know another party's phone number. A long time ago, long distance calls took long time to get hooked by a operator, but now you can make a call overseas directly. It is Internet that realized the state of telephone system today in the world of computer.

But Internet is still in its infant age. Especially in Japan, the computer communication is far behind. Until the age of personal computer communications, we had to submit special applications to Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corporation, and paid very expensive usage fee.

In fact, even at that time, we could connect computers via ordinary phone line. One of my friends, who once had a job in the government, performed tests of computer communications to there. It was fifteen years ago, but they could communicate with high speed communication like available now. That was no wonder, because in fifteen years, Japanese telephone network had changed, but the change was not really dramatic.

By the way, it was illegal to connect computers using telephone line at that time. Because the hissing sound come out of the computers was some kind of code that could not be understood by human. Codes could not be sent over telephone line. Therefore connecting computers via telephone line was illegal.

Then not only I but also you might think why fax was allowed. They has also the hissing sound no different than computer communications. It is not true that when I put a picture in a fax machine the picture goes through the telephone line and get out of the other fax machine. The picture was transformed into the hissing sound, which made the other party's fax machine print the picture in black dots. So, why fax was okay and computer communications no-no should have been because of harassment from the government or ignorance of the politicians. Or any concessions involved ?

The ban of computer communication was seen as a stupid act from all of the world. It impeded the development of computer technology in Japan, especially software, and the aftermath still remains today.

At last, Internet can be used for commercial purposes in Japan now. In other words, you can run any business using the interconnection of computers, as long as it is legal. In short, you can use it as a telephone. After all, because the communication network part of Internet uses telephone lines, it seems natural that they are treated in the same manner.

There will be more usage to Internet in the future. You can exchange any kind of data. One of the most basic usage is that you write letters with word processors and send them to your friends. One of the applications is direct mail. Or you can use it for like TV shops, bookings, advertisements. For medicine you can get remotely diagnosed by doctors. You can submit reports for your university classes, and the evaluations of which you can see at home. You can attend seminars at home, not necessarily have to go to universities. You can read books or make researches via Internet, not having to go to libraries. Newspapers can be delivered to the readers, without killing trees, precious resources on the earth. You can send documents between companies. I did not enumerate all of them, but I wouldn't say any more.

As I said, Internet is still in its infant age. In reality almost any of what we enumerated is not realized today. Though they are technically feasible, the social environment does not allow them. The provision of social environment has just started. Therefore, every major company tries to participate in the market and make some revenues out of it. So, the books with "Internet" in their titles are accepted by businessmen.

If you believe it is of immediate use as mentioned in some books, and try to make money out of it, you will fail completely. It may be really useful in the 21st century, but not today. Now programmers, who are supposed to be in the nearest position to computers, don't use much of Internet. To tell the truth, many of the authors of Internet books don't use it daily.

In Internet, like personal computers communications, you can send mail (e-mails) or participate in classified bulletin boards (electronic news), to which you can read or write messages. These are, unlike those in real mails or newspapers, delivered soon, even as far as the other side of the earth. It is a very immediate communication means, which attracts a great deal of attentions.

By the way, being in this industry, I see domestic and overseas news related to my interests, communicate with my friends, or whatever, for work or for fun. Even some of my friends get married knowing each others via e-mail. If one of my friends could not be reached via telephone, I can search him by sending e-mail to my friends, some of who will inform me where he is.

If properly used, Internet is very useful, however, morals do not seem to be established. What makes things worse is, there are many those who don't understand what morals are.

It was about a couple of years ago, that there was a manager with a computer manufacturer, who kept sending e-mails to me in spite of everything. It was clear that he sent them to a lot of people, apparently with the destination field of the e-mail messages.

The e-mails almost all contained the material already announced or distributed at press interviews. So, they were some kind of commercial messages. In general this type of information was allowed to be redistributed unlimitedly. And they being sent in spite of everything, it seemed reasonable that I can redistribute the messages. So, I redistributed them to an electronic bulletin board, with their contents unchanged.

Then, he gave a complaint to me about it by phone. Usually, the user of Internet should send a complaint via Internet. This is a minimum etiquette. In my opinion, those who cannot do this is not qualified to use Internet.

"It is okay to redistribute my messages, " he said to the person who took the phone call, as I was not at the office when he called, "but don't you ever disclose that I was the sender of the messages. You brought me a big trouble." I was surprised to hear that.

As he was a manager with a computer manufacturer, he attended a lot of meetings, where he said bad things about me. A friend of mine informed me of that via e-mail.

It seemed that the manager wished the messages redistributed to the electronic news, but he did not want to be those who sent them. Maybe he didn't want to be regarded as the person who disclosed confidential information. Maybe because at that time commercial uses of Internet were not allowed, he didn't want to be regarded as the person who broke the rule. Maybe because he thought there were some problems with the way he sent e-mails, he did not want that to be public. Well, I don't know the real reason why.

After the incident, I sent an e-mail to him, but he didn't replied. The e-mails he sent to me, such that even used to disturb me, had stopped suddenly. Maybe stopping the e-mails was his reply.

When you use Internet, more or less you can get involved in troubles. Eventually you will receive complaints or sermons by e-mails, and there will be some argues or discussions, resulting in some conclusions. But stopping the communications from one side will not yield a solution. Rather, with frustrations on the both side, it is the worst solution.

Since the argument became known to public, there were persons with different views, such as, those who ended in cover it up, those who try to get to a solution using Internet, and those who were forced to maintain a neutral standpoint because of their position.

As a result, the incident was covered up, which is very disgraceful. It is not that the either side was wrong. It was a good opportunity to discuss the problem by everyone in the net. Moreover there was a possibility that the information became freely available to everyone. Rather than letting some strange speculations spread, formal information from the manufacturer would have benefit both the manufacturer and the user.

Copyright 1996, 1999 Hirofumi Fujiwara. Translated by S.A.
No reproduction or republication without written permission.

the Hidden Realities of Computer Industry in Japan Japanese