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kumon - June 1, 1996

"Hyper": New Meanings for Information Society

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"Hyper": New Meanings for Information Society

Shumpei Kumon

Ladies and Gentlemen:

As the head of Japan's Institute for Hypernetwork Society, I have a strong interest in the word hyper. In fact, the term hypernetwork was coined in 1991 by one of my colleagues at the institute. Japanese society has traditionally been what may be called a "network society"; our aim is to help it become a society of greater universality by reorganizing itself with use of the fruits of the contemporary information revolution, thus making it a "hypernetwork society." In fact, all twenty-first-century societies, not just Japan's, will probably feature various "hypernetwork" elements.

What I call a network society refers to one in which acts of mutual control (or political acts, in the broadest sense of the term) are carried out on the basis of persuasion. As Kenneth Boulding and Kenneth Galbraith have pointed out, political acts, broadly defined, include threats, which are frequently employed by the sovereign state, and exchange, frequently employed by the corporation. But in the information society of tomorrow, persuasion is likely to become increasingly important as a form of social interaction.

In this sense, it is essential for persuasion to function effectively in order for a network society to survive and develop. For this purpose, the members of the society need to share a great mass of information and knowledge, along with a common framework for understanding and evaluating it, and to have relationships of mutual understanding and trust built on this basis. In other words, a network society must have what the anthropologist Edward Hall has identified as a "high-context culture." And in order to create and maintain such a high-context culture, the members of the society must communicate closely and effectively among themselves. In addition, this communication must serve as the basis for effective collaboration of various sorts.

Today's information revolution is in fact producing powerful tools for this sort of effective communication and collaboration among people. This should produce a tendency toward what we may call the "high-contextualization" of society. Or, it should at least make it possible to use the flow of close, effective communication and collaboration to substitute for and supplement elements of the existing stock of low-context culture.

By comparison with existing network societies (such as that of Japan so far), the hypernetwork society created by the information revolution should be more open to the outside and more transparent, developing close ties of communication and collaboration not just internally but also with other societies. It is our hope that the Japanese society of the future and, for that matter, all the societies of the futureム will feature these traits.

But the information society now being born is not going to be just a hypernetwork society. While being a continuation in basic terms of the modern society that has developed over the past centuries, this new form of society will have a number of other "hyper" features. Allow me to touch on six such elements, which I believe give new meaning to the term hyper.

1. Hyper-industrial society
The fast-moving wave of innovation in information technology that we are now experiencing clearly exhibits certain aspects of discontinuity from the technological innovation of the past. And the paradigm shift in technology is being accompanied by the emergence of new paradigms in management, industry, and employment. In the place of the major corporation of the twentieth century, people have started envisaging new forms of corporate organization, as referred to with such terms as "open management" and the "virtual corporation." The rise of the broad category of endeavor encompassed under the label "multimedia" as the leading mega-industry of the twenty-first century is expected to bring a shift of industrial organizaiton to the one based on multi-layered "platforms." And along with the spread of flextime and telecommuting arrangements, we will see greater variety in employment patterns, as evinced already by the increased use by companies of temporary workers from agencies and the choice by many young people to rely on a succession of temporary or part-time jobs rather than seeking permanent positions. People have started to enjoy much greater freedom in deciding when, where, and for whom they will work. This set of changes merits the label メindustrial revolution.モ The first industrial revolution was the light-industry revolution that started toward the end of the eighteenth century; the second was the heavy-chemical-industry revolution that started toward the end of the nineteenth century. And now the third industrial revolution, the information-industry revolution, is underway.
The roughly hundred-year era between industrial revolutions can be further divided into two parts: a breakthrough phase in the first five decades and a maturation phase in the remaining five. We are now in the breakthrough phase of the third industrial revolution, which began in the mid-1970s. We have reached the point where the progress of change is accelerating, and it is gradually becoming clear to everybody that the new revolution has in fact arrived. But we still have a few more decades to go before we reach its maturation phase ム or, in other words, before construction of a full-fledged "hyper-industrial society" is complete. Additionally, we have ahead of us the prospect of a period of sustained and rapid growth that in both quality and degree will be unlike anything experienced by the industrial society of the past.

2. Hyper-modern society and hyper-progressivism
The information revolution that we are now going through, for which I also use the term informatization, has an aspect of a major social revolution comparable to industrialization itself. From a longer-term perspective, the process of modernization that has been going on for the past several centuries, which is characterized by widespread acceptance of the possibility of achieving progress and development, gave birth first of all to the modern sovereign state as a result of militarization, that is, revolutionary advances in military technology. We may call this militarization the first social revolution in the modern society. The sovereign states, their existence predicated on the concept of sovereignty, competed with each other for prestige in international society.
Modernization also gave birth, through industrial revolutions, to the modern industrial enterprise, or the corporation. Corporations, predicated on the concept of private property rights, competed for wealth in the global marketplace. And now modernization, through the information revolution, is giving birth to a third type of major social actor, one we might call the modern information intelprise ("intelprise" being a blend of "intellectual" and "enterprise"). Such intelprises, based on the concept of information rights, are beginning to compete with each other for wisdom, or intellectual influence, in what we may term the global intelplace. The intelplace is the forum for the dissemination of information and knowledge.
In today's world, the realization of this global intelplace is the Internet. The new intelprises, such as non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, and other non-profit organizations, or NPOs, are starting to compete and conflict with older types of intelprises, such as universities, academic associations, artistic bodies, and sporting organizations.

From this perspective it appears that informatization, while it may supersede industrialization as a source of social change, will not supersede modernization. Rather, it may be seen as setting off what we may call the third wave of modernization, thereby creating not a "post-modern" but a "hyper-modern" society. And the faith in progress that is characteristic of modern society will probably not be completely rejected for some time to come. What will be rejected is the earlier belief that progress would lead to a single ideal order over a fixed course. "Hyper-progressivism" will see people as entities striving endlessly to improve the present in various ways in the face of an uncertain future, accepting the impossibility of setting a single ideal order as a goal or a single defined path for progress to follow.

3. Hyper-citizens (netizens) and hyper-communication
Just as industrial society was supported by citizens, people dwelling in cities and engaged in commerce and industry, information society will be supported by network citizens, or netizens, people "dwelling" on networks and engaged in intelprise: the dissemination of information and knowledge. Even before the advent of industrial society, of course, citizens existed as one of the three major classes of people in the overall social scheme, the other two being clerics and warriors. Similarly, netizens of a sort have existed even before the advent of information society; they are the intellectuals who have been engaged in the traditional types of intelprise. The difference between them and the new netizens is that the latter conduct their intellectual endeavors making active use of computers and of the networks linking them, particularly the Internet. This makes it possible for them to engage in communication and collaboration in ways that their predecessors could not.
The shape of communication itself is changing. In the twentieth century the prevailing paradigm has been one of mass communication, directed from one to many, and personal communication, conducted primarily between individuals. This is likely to be replaced by a new, community-oriented paradigm for communication, which we may call "hyper-communication." Hyper-communication may be divided into two broad categories: public communication and group communication.
Public communication refers to the process by which people upload the information they want to make public to their network servers and make it available for downloading by anybody who wants it. Home pages on the World-Wide Web are a typical example. This process differs from traditional mass communication in the sheer number of those transmitting information and in the relatively restrained manner in which they transmit it, making it available rather than delivering it directly to masses of intended receivers. And receivers play a more active role than in the case of mass communication, since they actively search and retrieve the information they want, rather than waiting for whatever may be delivered to their doorstep or TV set.
Group communication is conducted among members of a group as an aid to close collaboration. The simplest example of this is e-mail. Somewhat more elaborate arrangements include electronic conferencing and the use of various groupware.
Before long, we will probably see almost all of this hyper-communication being conducted using integrated applications on the Internet. And as this happens, the existing advertising and publishing industries are likely to turn into hyper-communication support industries.
During the twentieth century, in the maturation phase of the second industrial revolution, ownership of automobiles and electric appliances, especially TV sets, became widespread. The most popular lifestyle became one in which people assumed an active role in physical movement as drivers of their own cars, but were passive "couch potatoes" when it came to information. In the twenty-first century it seems likely that this pattern will be reversed. Netizens will be restrained in their physical movement from place to place, and when they do move they will be more likely to use public transportation than cars of their own. But they will be active operators of their information and communication devices. If this is an accurate assessment of the netizen lifestyle, then the "information appliances" of the future will have to be designed accordingly.

4. The hyper-market with the intelplace as its platform
In the industrial society of the recent past, the marketplace tended to serve as the platform for social activities even of a non-industrial, noncommercial nature. As a result, education and medical care becameム for better or worse ム profit-seeking undertakings, and even politics tended to tbe embedded in monetary exchanges. Particularly in the early stages of industrialization, the state and the corporation formed a collaborative relationship under which the state guaranteed the security of the corporation, allowing it to concentrate on profit-making activities. In return, the corporation paid taxes, and it also provided the state with the goods and services it required, including superior weaponry.
In the information society of the near future, the intelplace will probably tend to become the platform for the activities of the state and the corporation ム in other words, for social activities other than the intellectual persuasion for which it was originally created. It will become increasingly difficult for the state to govern unless it maintains close, two-way communication with the people, grounded in mutual trust. Corporations will similarly find themselves needing to rely more heavily on persuasion and two-way communication in their dealings with customers and vendors. In other words, both government and business will need to develop their activities through collaboration with intelprises.
Business-intelprise collaboration will be particularly essential in the early stages of informatization, since existing governments will find themselves increasingly strapped for money. In other words, corporations should ム based on their own judgment and responsibilityム provide economic support for various intelprises, thereby allowing the intelprises to concentrate on the creation and spread of information. The intelprises, for their part, must provide corporations with the information that they require. However, this collaboration must not be allowed to deteriorate into collusion between particular corporations and particular intelprises. A clear set of rules is needed to insure fairness. We can also approach this idea of the intelplace as a platform for business-intelprise collaboration from another angle. Already in the world of computer software we can see many applications being offered initially as freeware or shareware, some of which are later turned into commercial products. During the freeware or shareware stage, developers receive feedback from users, including information about bugs and requests for additional features. This allows them to shorten their development cycles and reduce their development and merchandising costs. Furthermore, the trust that they build up during this stage is a valuable asset when they come out with a commercial version.
A lot of freeware and shareware never reaches the commercial stage, to be sure. But the existence of this large noncommercial base may be seen as providing the foundation on which the relatively small body of commercial software is built. The same can be said for the wealth of information and knowledge available on the Internet. The existence of this base, including the distributed databases that have been created through collaborative efforts and made generally available and the store of other copyright-free digital contents, is what makes it possible to construct a body of commercial information products and services. The activities of corporations seeking to slap copyright or intellectual-property-right restrictions on every piece of information are probably counterproductive in terms of developing a healthy market for information and knowledge.

5. Hyper-habitat
One extremely useful function of computers for human beings is to conduct simulations of the real world in which we live. But even more important than this "simulator" function is the "virtualizer" function, that is, the use of computers to give a virtual reality, or even a virtual life, to people's ideas. In this way computers are adding a new dimension to the human habitat, a dimension that has been labeled "cyberspace," thereby making people's lives richer and more varied.
If we review the process of modernization over the centuries, we find that it has repeatedly extended the human habitat. The revolution in military technology that produced the modern sovereign state was intimately related to the European discovery of the New World and other geographical discoveries. Eventually, as a result of this exploration, modern humans turned the entire surface of the natural world, both organic and inorganic, into their own living space.
Industrialization added another dimension to the human habitat, that of what we might call "artificial space" or "engineered space." The modern city is a typical example of such space. The basically two-dimensional habitat of humans dwelling on the surface of the globe was extended to three dimensions as it became possible for people to live and work high in the air above the surface and deep below it, whether underground or underwater. Using artificial lighting and air conditioning and surrounded by buildings, machines, manufactured products, and synthetic materials, people became able to set artificial rhythms for their lives regardless of day, night, or seasons. What they could not do was disregard the laws of physics. But now the information revolution is removing even that constraint, extending the human habitat to a new dimension beyond the physical. I refer, of course, to the creation of "cyberspace."
Cyberspace is a new form of space that people are creating for themselves, and it is also a new frontier for the human race. At this early stage it is still an almost lawless zone, and its nature is poorly known. Exploring this new territory, populating it, and bringing order to it are tasks that will probably keep humankind busy for decades and even centuries to come. In that respect, its discovery has a significance equaling or surpassing that of the geographical discoveries and engineering advances of the past.
The interface between humans and cyberspace is still the human body, or more precisely, the human sensory organs. But eventually it will probably become possible to hook up directly to our brains, as William Gibson predicts. That won't mean, however, that we can free ourselves completely of the limits of our own bodies or of physical space, any more than the builders of engineered space could totally free themselves of the constraints of the natural environment. Just as nature has taken revenge on our excesses in physical space by hitting us with environmental problems, our natural bodies may take revenge on us if we go too far in cyberspace. As we explore and develop this new hyper-habitat, we must seek to maintain a reasonable balance between it and our existing natural and engineered habitats.

6. Hyper-global order
What principles will go into forming the global order of the human habitat of the future, of which cyberspace will be an integral part? So far, the modern world order has been directed almost entirely at two ideals: the pursuit of peace by the state and the pursuit of prosperity by the corporation. According to the ideology of the twentieth-century world under the Pax Americana, peace was to be achieved through a democratic political order, and prosperity was to be achieved through a free-market economic order. The information society of the future will continue to pursue the ideals of peace and prosperity, but there seems to be room for argument, particularly in Asia, whether democracy and economic liberalism are indeed the only means of achieving these ideals. Rather than get into that set of issues, however, what I wish to stress here is that in addition to the principles of seeking peace and prosperity, information society will have a third guiding principle: the pursuit of pleasure, or "conviviality," as Ivan Illich puts it.
Both peace and prosperity are goals that we seek to a large extent as means of achieving other ideals. Pleasure, by comparison, is much more of a goal in its own right. The people working for the NGOs and NPOs that are rapidly growing in number and influence these days ム intelprises, to use my terminologyム are doing so largely because they want to accomplish what they themselves think is right and good or beautiful. And not only are they doing what they want to be doing, but they are deriving pleasure from the activity itself. As I see it, an open "information order" or "communication order" must be a means of achieving pleasure. In other words, I think the "hyper-global order" of the future must incorporate pleasure as its third principle, alongside the principles of peace and prosperity.
Just as the real world has strife and poverty, it has and will continue to have boredom and monotony. But if the achievement of pleasure is indeed the positive meaning of life, then surely pleasure should take its place beside peace and prosperity as one of the ideals of information society. In fact, it should be the primary ideal. As we raise and educate our children, we must of course strive to let them enjoy the fruits of peace and prosperity and realize their value. At the same time, I believe, we must try to let them experience pleasure and realize its value.

These are my thoughts on the meaning of "hyper" for today and tomorrow.
Thank you.