International Symposium 1998 TOP
Country Reports

Children in Japan and Multimedia
Yukio Shimauchi
Benesse Corporation
Educational Research Center

Chaotic Aspect of the Information Era

As the correlation between science technology and the development of society, has progressed, we have entered a chaotic era in which advanced information technology has created highly intricate effects on our life.

In the realm of science technology, industrial products such as automobiles and electrical appliances seem to have fully developed although the improvement of design and function still continues, while media, (i.e. computers) continue to develop. This technological advancement of media is so rapid and creates drastic changes in the nature of life and environment that we are almost caught up in the deluge of this information and multimedia society.
The complexity of the multimedia situation is that lots of different media are available simultaneously, ranging from printed products, the Internet, handy phones to mobile phones.
This indicates that we live in an affluent multimedia society, however, from a different point of view, this overwhelming presence of media leads to a society in disorder, where people are being tossed about on the waves of this information explosion.
For example, we often come across the following scene in the train: a person is using a handy phone as a communication tool, while a person sitting next to that personal looks disturbed as she is reading a book. There are also other passengers who think this behavior is a public nuisance. This scene in the train symbolizes Japanese society today.
The diversity of these media and the penetration of these various media undermine each persons lifestyle and the difference in values among the various generations. A generation ago, the experience and the involvement in historical events or social changes (e.g. wars) formed the identity of each generation and these events helped to distinguish the various generations. Today, the experience of different media, TV programs or music, forms each life style and the identity of each generation. Currently in Japan, evaluation of the development of media and its response are diversified and not consistent, which makes the evaluation of media more complicated.
Regarding the reaction and interaction with new media, a huge gap exists between adults and children. This new gap is currently manifested in the various disciplining problems which are surfacing in the home and at school.

Children's Adaptation to New Media versus the Anxiety-ridden Adults

Benesse Corporation conducted a survey on the "Children's Multimedia Experience" with the cooperation of Professor Takeshi Tamura, assistant professor at Tokyo Gakugei University in March 1997. The sample consisted of fifth and sixth graders in the Kanto area (Tokyo, Kanagawa Pref., Saitama Pref., and Chiba Pref.). We received responses from 2,514 children. I would like to share the following data with you.
Chart 1 shows what kind of media equipment children possess. From this chart, we find about half the children have their own video games. Among the ratio of children who answered they have video games at home, more than 90% of children have video games at hand. 36% of children answered that they have personal computers at home.
Chart 2 shows what parents tell children when they play video games. 72% of children are told, "You will get poorer eyesight." 60% are told, "Study instead of playing video games, and 50% are told, "Play outside instead of video games."
This result tells us that most Japanese children use new media such as video games. Parents feel uneasy and end up complaining children devoting too much time to those games. Strangely enough, it is parents who bought video games for children as they do not necessarily have strong beliefs about prohibiting children from playing video games. In many Japanese families, similar trivial disputes over electronic media like video games are going on every day.
Chart 3 shows the correlation between the frequency of children using personal computers and their perception of computers. We can see that the more frequently children use computers at school, the more they feel it is enjoyable.
While many children enjoy learning with computers at school, a great majority of schools in Japan have not fully prepared for classes with computers. Although equipped with computers, they are mostly unused and covered with dust. The reasons for this may vary but mainly focus on the following.
Firstly there is a dissonance between the actual school evaluation system and the pleasure children xperience learning with computers. In Japan both children and parents are exceedingly concerned with examination results and school performance, which tend to be determined based on printed materials. This may mean that working with computers, although children find it enjoyable, may not necessarily contribute to enhancing school performance.
In addition, there are still many teachers who doubt the educational effects of incorporating computers into the curriculum and are even "allergic" to computer use.
As described above, there is a large difference between children and adults in the interactions with new media at home or school, and for studying or playing.

Importance of Balancing Media and Self-control

Pagers and handy phones which are quite popular among youth recently, are other examples indicating the difference in adaptability to media between adults and children. It should also be pointed out that the game software industry for children has grown to one of the most favorable businesses in Japan.
There is no doubt that children adapt to new media with impressive malleability and also do not hesitate to tackle these new media. However we need to assess whether these new media are positive effects when considering the growth of children. Because adults design these media for children's pleasure, manufacturers mostly aim for high profits regardless of the effects on children. The kind of influence those new media has exerted on children has not yet been found.
Even if we can make use of visual images, computers and simulation for educational purpose, human thought mainly depends on power of abstract thinking and articulating symbols(languages). Thus there are some people who doubt if visual images or simulations could improve those faculties of thinking.
Consequently, I presume that convenient media could take away the power to think in some respects, similar to a frequent automobile user weakening her legs muscles. Another example is that if you only rely on computers or an electronic organizer for scheduling, you will get panicked if it is broken.
In order for humans to live in modern society, it is absolutely necessary to walk or run, apart from riding frequently in e.g. a comfortable car (in advanced nations, people jog the sake of one's health). Similar for media, much consideration and concern should be placed into considering what kinds of media and how often one should use them.
One of the educational goals of the 21st century is to teach how are should balance his/her desire and self-control using various media.

Copyright (c) 1998, Yukio Shimauchi, all rights reserved.
Permission to reprint on Child Research Net