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Home > Debates Last Updated: 11:11 06/22/2007
Comment (June 21, 2007)

Commenting on Kanzo Kobayashi's "Global Mindset in the Information Age"

Jun Yi Chen (University of Southern California, USA)

In Kanzo Kobayashi's article "Global Mindset in the Information Age", he defines "globalization" or "globalism" by first focusing on national borders and second focusing on individual mindset. In the information age, national borders are blurring among different countries because countries are dependent on one another economically, and therefore the world is, to a degree, borderless. But nonetheless, "nations are the only legal entities that can establish and enforce laws and regulations for people to comply with. National priorities and policies are still providing a basis for international agreements and arrangements to facilitate the globalization trend." However, the world as one is also a distorted world where resources are not evenly distributed; the differences between developed countries and poorer countries are easily seen with charts and maps.

With this in mind, Kobayashi argues that individual mindset is the key impetus to globalization, because the world acts as one, but individuals classify themselves as belonging to a country or region which is not representative of the world. This case is extremely true for Japan due to some geographical, historical, cultural and other reasons influencing Japan to globalize at a snail's pace, but what is interesting is that development of certain technologies that facilitated the age of information actually caused Japan to grow inwards. Kobayashi illustrates the current situation of Japan in the field of business and management where among the four key management resources: people, goods and services, money and information, "people may be the least globalizing factor". He then concludes that individual representation can greatly help Japan in adopting the globalization trend with individuals participating in global efforts in areas such as global warming, resource depletion etc.

Indeed, Kobayashi illustrates a well painted picture of the world today, in that because of information technologies, national borders are becoming more superficial than of actual importance and that individuals are becoming stronger voices in globalization trends due to developments such as "Web 2.0". Modern commodity culture is driven by consumerism, and until not too long ago most consumer products have been concrete objects. In the Information Age however, the most valuable and traded commodity is information, thus the term, which Kobayashi is correct in describing Thomas Friedman's conclusion that "the main driving force of globalization was business companies up until the end of the 20th century, but in the 21st century we are entering a whole new era, when the main driving force is those individual who have found 'power' to transform their society".

However, Kobayashi is too idealistic in believing that individual actions outside of business and government infrastructures have the power to change Japan's presence in the global economy because individual actions are seen as personal achievements instead of national gestures, and in order for individuals to get involve with global viewpoints an existing organization must start the movement.

First, let's consider why the information revolution seems to be moving in the inward direction in Japan. Before the Information Revolution, Japan was experiencing a period of hyper-consumerism when mass media and advertisements dominated daily lifestyles in Japan. Production in Japan was focused on consumer products and production, and businesses were built with this economy in mind. Therefore, businesses in Japan are reluctant to fully adjust to the Information Technology revolution because traditional Japanese business structures, "Bureau Pluralism", face difficulty in adopting the Information Age due to organizations being compartmentalized into closed core units. In order for private organizations to adjust to the new era, structural reform is required, but workers are trained internally in Japan so readjusting the business framework is difficult because it requires the retraining and reorganizing of the entire firm. Therefore, Japanese companies suffered most in the new information age, and Japan remained very much a consumer-product driven economy with a slow transition rate into IT society.

Second, consider the concept of individual and why global mindset is important in the information age. In the information age, the individual is considered to have influential power over a certain amount of other people because self expression can be shared in ways that was never possible before. However, does the individual represent the nation he or she might be citizen of? This depends on the situation, because individuals may represent the country like during the Olympics, but in terms of global efforts like with NGOs and NPOs the individual may not have enough impact within the movement to be representative of anything. Of course, the concept behind individualism and the information age is that each individual becomes a part of the network, and so national boundaries are unimportant because in the period of hyper-information ideally there are no nations in one world connected with technology. After all, cultural identities are formed historically through natural geographic boundaries, but by then the cultural identity is fulfilled through the commodity of information. Concluding that individual mindset must be global mindset in the information age otherwise global culture does not exist making global communication useless.

With more exposure to global services such as Web 2.0, culture will undoubtedly be impacted in due time and spread across national borders. However, for Japan to completely transform from the production economy to information economy in a short period of time requires too much capital at once. The process will change business structures and government infrastructures since the two are closely tied with one another. Kobayashi suggests that blaming the government for Japan's declining presence in the world is easy but futile because it is up to individuals "to change the world in a fundamental way from the long-run viewpoint", but in a mass-media driven society such as Japan today, it is almost impossible to expect individuals to join global efforts without businesses and government to be involved or at least to encourage it first. If involvement in global movements is automatic in a nation, then the nation is in the state of globalism and this article is not needed.

Wikipedia, "Information Age"
Wikipedia, "Individual"
Masahiko Aoki, "Beyond Bureau Pluralism"
Kenneth J. Gergen, "The Self in the Age of Information"

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