Will Miku give us hope?

Lady Miku

Lady Miku (Photo credit: m61322)

by Zhang Shiwen

Hatsune Miku (初音ミク) has become a boom all over the world. Like the 2-D fetish or imaginary girlfriend of otaku, she is a digital character who sings with a human voice if people set music to it. Users can set the size of her body, so they can each have their own Miku. According to Bendako (2012), because users can make her move and sing, she is seen as satisfying their fantasy love, such as by saying “I love you” to them. Users can also create music and dance to make her do, and then upload it to the Internet. Following this, the most important reason for the boom is that although she cannot be felt as a human idol, she can imitate a normal human being to encourage users if they create good music, and communicate with them to make users feel happy (Bendako 2012). Miku has fulfilled what Allison said, that “human and the robot to understand each other like human beings” (Allison 2013:102). There came up a heart to heart relationship between Miku and users.

Around 20 years ago, the virtual pet, Tamagotchi, was very popular for people who wanted to experience keeping a pet. People take care of digital pets for fun when they are free, to feel warm when they feel tired, but they can stop and restart whenever they want. No matter whether it’s Miku or Tamagotchi, they are all the productions of prosthetic sociality. They are electronic goods, but we can communicate with them and they can affect us. Although they are digital, the relationship between human and them does exist.

Especially with the development of technology, the electronic goods that accompanied people have changed from a pet in a special electronic screen to a lovely, humanlike girl in computers, PSP, even people can see live performances by Miku on real stages. Moreover, people can use the Internet to share their own Miku music and dance to the world. Users can also get communication through Miku. It is said that these humanoid robots can help “promote companionship and communication” (Allison 2013:102). However, how about the real lives of people who feel healed by prosthetic sociality?

The interesting phenomenon in Japan is that compared to the overflowed information on the Internet, Japanese society is lacking in communication and humanity. People are interested in saying things on the Internet, but refuse to communicate with their families and neighbors. I totally agree with Allison’s criticism that prosthetic society will weaken “human ties in the family, workplace, and community” (Allison 2013:101). The bad effect is appearing, and I myself am an example.

My parents were very busy and had no time to take care of me, so they bought me a DVD player. Maybe they thought it was good for me to have a companion, like the mother is happy for her five-year-old son to have a Tamagotchi. However, I just repeated watching DVDs and wanted to be a good child to not be a nuisance (mendokusai). Now when I looked back over my childhood, I prefer being a bad child to having more touch with my parents. Due to that, I am afraid that I will become a user of care robotics, as I grow old. I do not want to taste loneliness again.

Prosthetic sociality will not save people. It is like a drug, which can make people happy temporarily, but the side effect, feeling lonelier, will continue in the future. People will grow older. The day when they get out of the prosthetic sociality will come, but they cannot find any connection with others at that time. People relay on digital life maybe because their parents or friends cannot give them more care or touch, or they shut down their family life themselves. However, as a result, escaping from the reality is not a good choice. I appreciate Tamura Hiroshi and others, who can face to the difficulties of life. The prosthetic society can be a good entertainment, but will not give us hope.

References

Allison, Anne. 2013. Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Bendako. June 10, 2012. Hatsune Miku ha naze konnani ninkinano? [Why is Hatsune Miku so popular?]. Retrieved from http://news.mynavi.jp/news/2012/06/10/005/

Who is Hatsune Miku? http://ggsoku.com/2013/07/miku-hatsune-mac-english-summer/

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Tamagotchi, prosthetic sociality, and starvation in Japan

English: My very own Tamagotchi.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Masanori Takino

Author Anne Allison created the concepts techno-intimacy and prosthetic sociality when she heard “if I don’t feed it, the dog dies. It’s utterly dependent on me.” (2013:101). The definition of prosthetic sociality is “electronic goods that attach to the body and keep users continuously plugged into circuits for information, communication and affect” (2013:101). Allison mentioned that in present Japanese society, family ties have become weaker and weaker. Tamagotchi can describe how the Japanese family ties is in the present situation. As you may know that, to keep the game of the Tamagotchi, the player has to keep feeding until the pet in the screen died. Someone have to continue feeding the Tamagotchi so it will not be starved.

Techno-intimacy or prosthetic sociality is, of course, an issue in the present Japanese society. One of the example is the starvation incidents (2013:103). As the author pointed out, “the incident has triggered warning bells all over again of the ‘heartlessness’ of the times and a society that has lost its humanity. A situation of life and death, of mendo (care of daily living) coming undone.” (p.p. 103). Weakening the ties with own family and community has been outstanding by the incidents.

The ties with the family, community have been loosened by the changing of society. The author criticized the starvation incidents by using the word “heartlessness.” It cannot make sweeping statements, only the word, “heartlessness”. There might be the other reasons of the incident of starvation having happened. For example, about the feeble connection with the neighborhood, even if the people live in the same apartment, they are not figured out who lives in the next to their room. Can people borrow or give money to people who do not well? Of course no, people cannot do such things to who do not know. It is far difficult to depend on easily. Moreover, those incidents should not be blamed the around the people or the community, but also the victims themselves. “Of hesitance in seeking out help even by those in dire need” (2013:103), if the issues which the people faced were too serious, they should rely on their relatives no matter how slight their connections were. Therefore, the problems cannot deal with only the word, “heartlessness.”

Reference

Allison, Anne. 2013. Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Prosthetic sociality building new senses of home

by Minami Ichiji

“Prosthetic sociality” means the transformation of human relationships in 21th century Japan: warm sensibility is getting to be less fleshy. Anne Allison (2013) explains “In an era of material accumulation and sterile decorporealization (datsushintai), young people who “float” the waves of “net society” have “informationalized bodies.” That’s to say, they communicate with one another mainly by “social network services” (SNS) for example, Facebook, Twitter, and Line. Allison also uses “techno-intimacy,” that is “an intimacy premised on care and built into technology” (Allison, 2013) to literally focus on technology. She sees robots, Tamogotchi and Pokemon as techno-intimacies. I find some examples of it. “Bishoujo” (beautiful girl) and “renai” (romantic love) games, players meet bishoujo or ideal partner and go out with her/him on an electronic screen. They establish imaginary relationship through this play.

Allison refers to techno-intimacies, “this is a play that, while mulitifaceted and complex, turns on fostering sinews of attachment that burrow into the nervous system ‘as if humanly interactive, even social”. I agree with her analysis, prosthetic sociality is meaningful concept. “The paradox of the vanishing social today: the kinds of human connections that bring warmth have also come to seem annoying” (Allison, 2013). She points out this paradox is stirred up structurally, accompanies with the advance of technology and “shifting in constant, competitive, and intense labor”, she says is spreading all over Japan. I consider this phenomenon as the issue, prosthetic sociality and techno-intimacy play an important part in it.

Reading chapter 4 of Precarious Japan, I notice that there was a sign which would lead to the paradox. Before the destruction of the family-corporate system, according to Allison (2013), under the trend that “aspirational adults treat their kids as investments for the socioeconomic marketplace, the young people he (psychiatrist Serizawa) treats as hikikomori are emotionally stunted, hungry for a kind of love they rarely get from parents overly focused on achievement.” If the abandoned youths should meet a chance to get a robot or a game, they would rush to these prosthetic tools.

In a struggling recession, more and more people are hired as unstable labor. It is hard for them to have the opportunity to spare time for “the soul”, “the time to touch a mother with Alzheimer’s or to shelter a child getting bullied at school or to simply enjoy the rhythm of slow eating with friends” (Allison, 2013). As the author remarks (2013) “a nuisance coming from ‘existence utterly depending on me’ also drives people to prosthetic sociality, dog and tamagotchi will die without perpetual caregiving”.

Although, what I see as the most serious issue is the paradox I state above. To be specific, anyone feels lonely can seek human connection. And then, affording to pay for a maid café, a hostess and a game, they can buy some kinds of easier “home” and go their house. There are desperately lonely people who have nowhere to go and lack money, like net café refugees. No exception, this can happen to anyone.

Prosthetic sociality is created as new and ultimate way of organizing home.

References

Allison, Anne. (2013). Precarious Japan. (pp.52,100-101,106,118). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Social relations with Robi and Tamagotchi

A Tamagotchi Connexion V1

A Tamagotchi Connexion V1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Marie Fudaba

In the book Precarious Japan, Anne Allison mentioned “prosthetic sociality”. Prosthetic sociality means electronic goods that attach to the body and keep users continually plugged into circuits for information, communication and affect. It is percolating in the social gap left by the weakening of human ties in the family, workplace, and community in Japan today. In Japanese society, the attenuation of human relations becomes a serious problem and the number of people who enter prosthetic sociality seems to be increasing.

The author mentioned ‘Tamagotchi’ as typical example of it. Tamagotchi is the virtual pet that came “alive” by hatching, an egg on the electronic screen that grew to adulthood by feeding, playing and tending to do it like a “real pet”. It is popular for people who feel lonely without human connection because it evokes an intimate attachment in humans and it has healing power. The author called such an electric good that offers an intimacy premised on care and built into technology “techno-intimacy”. She is optimistic about it because there is a constant sense of connection and an expectation of instant communication, it effects good impact people who have the weakening of humanities.

I agree with the author’s opinion that the number of people who rely on prosthetic society is increasing because they feel attenuation of human relations, and her optimism for it. Actually, an annual lifestyle white paper written by the Japanese Cabinet office shows a dilution of human relationships in the family, community, and at work. Particularly in the family, people don’t have time to spend with each other. Under modern capitalism, the father and mother are working for long hours every day, they spend no time with their family and it makes their children lonely. Moreover, many children often tend to go to cram school or individual enrichment courses so they can work in a good company in the future. They also spend a lot of time on the internet and playing electronic games at home. Ties between children and parents all get weak, and they must think they don’t have ibasho and feel lonely. In work, Allison mentioned there are many people who don’t get on with the people at work, and they seems to feel a lack of communication.

In this situation, techno-intimacy can help them from a lack of human connection. For example, there are ‘Robi,’ which is a robot that can communicate like a human because it is a therapeutic robot. Moreover, Japanese engineers are putting a lot of work into development to establish a ‘heart-to-heart relationship’ to become closer, like with friends, between people and robots. If that development can be implemented, it might decrease the number of solitary persons or the number of solitary deaths from now on. Therefore, I agree with Anne Allison’s opinion and am anticipating its future development.

References

Allison, Anne. 2013. Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Japanese Cabinet office HP, annual lifestyle white paper. http://www5.cao.go.jp/seikatsu/whitepaper/index.html