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Thinking about the Future of Children and Media Part2. Presentation by Michitaka Hirose and Naoaki Yano

Part2. Presentation by Michitaka Hirose and Naoaki Yano

Sawai: Thank you very much. The next speaker is Dr. Michitaka Hirose. Dr. Hirose is developing the technology of virtual reality at the University of Tokyo.

Hirose: I have been working on technology called virtual reality for more than ten years. Recently the word is used with slightly negative connotations. In addition to simple calculation or word processing, computers using virtual reality technology can draw pictures and make sounds; we can even touch them. Virtual reality appeals to our five senses. This technology was born around 1989, only fifteen years ago, which is very new even in the world of computers. However, research is now under way to enable us to touch information generated by a computer. This technology is called tactile display. Recently there is also technology called olfactory display that tells you the smell of the material. Virtual reality is not only visible but it also can be experienced and tried. With the aid of computers, we can do what we have never experienced before. There is a world that can be seen only with the help of computers.

This technology has many applications and is being used recently in what is regarded as totally unrelated fields.
This image, generated in collaboration with the National Science Museum, shows Mayan ruins that were reconstructed using a computer. We can try many things. For example, a great scholar in the past said that the sunrise in the east caused shadows in certain places, but the verification process indicates that this is not possible.
As you may know, it is very important that computer technologies, unlike TVs, are interactive and generate various experiences. When you think that what your teacher says is strange, you can stop and check for as long as you want. Probably this is a good aspect. However, we do not know exactly how we should utilize such interactive features effectively.

Another topic is getting more attention these days. Computers now are portable and very small. People can access information in their daily life with mobile phones, for example. In the past we had to go to the theater to have experiences like this. This is very significant. While there are many more issues we need to address, there is a growing potential as well.
This small terminal was presented in a computer exhibition. As a matter of fact, it can do a better job than an audio guide. A digital monster (Digi-mon) talks to you and sees around exhibits with you. While talking with him, you can experience both virtual and real world at the same time.
One likely topic of debate is what will happen if we become too caught up in the virtual world. However, in the world of technology the virtual world and the real world are already interfacing. For example, Mr. Iwatani has shown us the image of a drumming game. The player physically beats the drum, which is real, but there is the virtual game behind this. We will see more of this kind of computer game in the future.

Computer technologies progress very quickly. The capacity of computers in the 1950s was only about 7Kbs. Computers in the 1990s, even though they are pretty small desk-tops, have several Mb's and those in 2000 have gigabytes, followed by terabits. The technology will advance even faster. As a result the price of computers has sharply decreased; nowadays even a computer little better than toys can draw a very realistic picture. In this way, computers themselves are changing very rapidly. So when we discuss computers in the media, we have to think about time frames.
When one says that a computer of this kind is no good, that computer is already out of date. Even though one says that he or she likes to have a computer that can do such and such, there is already such a computer available. We simply cannot sit back, which is an interesting part of computer technology.

Sawai: Thank you very much, Dr. Hirose. The next speaker is Professor Naoaki Yano, who published the first edition of "Asahi PC" at the Asahi Shimbun. Now Professor Yano represents the CyberLiteracyLab. He will discuss the meaning of cyber literacy and analyze media issues.

Yano: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Today I would like to talk about the idea of cyber literacy.
Up until recently, around 1995, we had been living only in the real world. Now that the Internet is well developed, we go back and forth between the new information space called Cyberspace and the real world, or the Realspace. Therefore unless we can properly understand the features of Cyberspace and how it affects our real world, it will be difficult for us to make a comfortable and affluent society. This competence is called Cyber-literacy.

In computer-literacy we learn what we can do using computers and what kind of knowledge is necessary to handle them. We often hear about "information literacy" in newspapers these days. In the current society with lots of information, we must be equipped with the competence not only to simply receive the information but also to judge for ourselves what information is good or bad. Cyber-literacy, on the other hand, refers to thinking about a new concept of cyberspace and the way we live in modern society. The first theme of cyber-literacy is to understand the structure and characteristics of cyberspace, the new information space, and think about the change going forward. Second, it is to think about the changing aspects through the interaction between the real world and cyberspace.

There are three major reasons why cyber-literacy is an effective way to address these issues.
First of all, cyberspace does not have any of the constraints of the real world. There is no constraint of time, space or behavior, which is a very important feature. There is no ambiguity, incompleteness, physical obstacles, or natural order that we see in the real world. Such features of digital information can realize strict information control and regulations, and at the same time it can be a problem that brings up many issues.
Secondly, we do not forget things in cyberspace. My presentation in this hall, for instance, will be probably forgotten unless you take notes. Once information is stored in cyberspace, however, it will not disappear. In terms of memory, the default of the real world is forgetfulness while the default of cyberspace is non-forgetfulness. In the real world one has to make an effort to memorize, but in cyberspace it is the opposite; efforts must be made to delete memories.
Thirdly, cyberspace depicts "individuals." We usually live in a community or an organization, but we are separated from the existing context when we go through cyberspace. This means both freedom and loneliness.
So we must think about cyber-literacy from these three aspects.

This is a very big challenge for Japanese people. Each and every individual must address this issue to think how he or she can autonomously establish a network while entrapped by the network of cyberspace free from the order of modern society. This is going to be an issue all the more important for Japanese, because we have not yet established the Western-style "individualism." Under such circumstances, children nowadays run the risk of drowning in cyberspace, which is the theme of today's symposium. Let me elaborate.

First of all, children from now on will live in both cyberspace and the real world. Grown-ups have learned how to to live and distinguish between good and bad in the real world from their families and people around them. Children now, however, immediately start to live in the community of cyberspace without going through such training. This is totally new in our history. Of course, just because of that, children can hit upon a wonderful way to lead their lives by making good use of cyberspace. While adults do not have such a sensibility, children do; I will not deny it.
Second, as I said before, cyberspace is the world of "individuals." In the past when children came back from school, they threw away their school bags and went out to play with their friends; sometimes they had to give it up because their friend's mother said no, saying that her son or daughter was doing homework. There were days when each family had only one telephone, so it was parents who first answered the phone and they could know what their children were doing. Now children communicate each other with their cell phones without letting their parents know. In other words, cyberspace is made up of individuals.
The third point is very important. A world known only to children is expanding and adults have no idea what it is going on. The murder case committed by a primary schoolgirl in Sasebo City, Nagasaki Prefecture, was very shocking. It was clear that cyberspace is a matter not only for adults but also for children.

Whenever we hear such news, people often question the influence of various media such as television, magazines and video games. They emphasize the need for media literacy that view these media critically. My point is that it is essential to grapple with the problem of cyberspace in order to understand the true nature of such incidents in the modern society. In other words, the murder case I have just mentioned, more than anything else, has given us an opportunity to think about the need for cyber-literacy. It seems that children are about to drown in cyberspace. Animation or books for children have a label like "for infants" or "for x-year-olds" on the basis of which parents could make a choice. However, many parents do not pay any attention at all when their children have a mobile phone. They even do not know what kind of information is accessible using a cell phone. Parents say that they gave their children a cell phone because their children asked for one or because cell phones make them feel more secure when their children attend cram schools. The parents are letting their children have a mobile phone for their own convenience. However, since there are bad guys in the world of the mobile phone or the Internet, we should be aware that the cell phone can be dangerous and discuss the rules of use or access control. But parents don't care about these matters and this is very dangerous.

This is an issue of cyber-literacy for children, but also an issue for their parents because they have to get involved. I once wrote that a mobile phone is a current version of the pipe in The Pied Piper of Hamelin, and I like to quote the paragraph before I conclude my presentation.

"Children are connected with the outside world but their parents cannot keep an eye on them. Children set up their own world where evil adults, who are strangers, intervene. If such a situation continues, children may drift around in the distance of cyberspace. Sometimes I think that a cell phone is a current version of the pipe in The Pied Piper of Hamelin. "
Thank you very much for your attention.
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