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Teppo Turkki: Ubiquitous network society, the next phase in the evolution of the information society


"In its White Paper released in 2004, Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication published the country’s new ICT strategy for 2010. The Ministry’s policies are based on the view that ICT structures should be developed and utilised to an increasing extent to improve people’s quality of life and strengthen the national economic performance. The ICT infrastructure should form the foundation for the new-generation services, the nervous system for the ubiquitous network sociciety."

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It is early April and hanami, the time for celebrating the cherry blossom. I am walking towards my hotel Liisa Valonen. in the Akihabara district in Tokyo, where I have been attending the Aki-DeCo symposium on design and technology. I decide to drop into a small corner shop, Lawson, on my way.

 

The shop sells almost anything you could think of needing: from hot meals to a range of consumer goods. But what is most remarkable is how these small corner shops have become the digital centres of their neighbourhood. You can pay your bills or buy tickets for sports and cultural events. They have photocopiers, faxes and web connections. You can download digital cash, and use digital photo printers and scanners. Most of the transactions are done through mobile applications. 

In this light, it is not really surprising that the next phase in the evolution of the information society in developed countries, the ubiquitous network society, is well under way in Japan. 

In its White Paper released in December 2004, Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication published the country’s new ICT strategy for 2010.  The Ministry’s policies are based on the view that ICT structures should be developed and utilised to an increasing extent to improve people’s quality of life and strengthen the national economic performance. The ICT infrastructure should form the foundation for the new-generation services, the nervous system for the ubiquitous network society. 

Technologically, the core for the development of the Japanese ubiquitous network society is formed by from various trends of convergence development as well as new products and business models.  One of the most important convergence developments is taking place between communications and television networks, which are in the process of merging. Tokyo shops already stock multi-tasking flat-screen television sets, providing an interface both for television and Internet browsers. 

Another central line of convergence development is the merging of fixed broadband and mobile networks into one user interface, enabling inexpensive and efficient connections to the Internet almost regardless of time and place. 

What is interesting in the Japanese vision of the ubiquitous network society is its primarily social motivation: ubiquitous communications and service technologies must serve communities’ social everyday challenges and needs. Through a ubiquitous information and service structure, Japan is searching for new ways to manage the demographic crises at hand and, in general, to improve the quality of life of its citizens. 

The progress of the ubiquitous development rests, however, on the changing internal dynamics of Japan’s economy:  quantitatively an increasingly significant share of the national product is generated through the development and innovation of highly sophisticated services, and more and more services include an element of communications, smart and other applications linked with the information space that is the Internet. 

The Japanese want to give their ubiquitous network society a humane face that reflects real life. Outside the expert circles, ‘u-Japan’ is seen as a society where the threshold to using communication services in daily life is low and where these services support citizen rights and needs near to the users.

According to the ubiquitous network society vision, Japan sees itself as a creative and vibrant society that guarantees the safety of its citizens while supporting each person’s individual dynamism. 

It would seem that there is a clear division of labour in the building of the Japanese ubiquitous network society. The role of ministries and regulators is to make laws and create an environment that favours the development. Attention is paid particularly to questions of standardisation and data security. At the same time, the authorities are committed to securing the availability of a skilled and educated workforce and researchers. 

The private sector and businesses, in turn, are responsible for building and developing the tangible structures of the ubiquitous network society and for providing the applications required in the markets. 

For Finland, the Japanese development is extremely interesting. Japan is a leading marketplace for communication structures, so it follows that it provides a glimpse of the forms that the future information society and digital services might take. 

The adoption of the term ‘ubiquitous networks’ alone is a refreshing and dynamic opening. The term evokes curiosity and raises debate, opens up new views and creates a need for research and motivation for investments.

Teppo TurkkiYou can send comments and feedback to the writer via Sitra’s communications by e-mail, toimitus@sitra.fi.

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