TOKYO JOURNAL : Ubiquity is everywhere

The Japanese government has been talking up the idea of high-tech society for some time. Seeing its electronics industry under threat like never before from Asian neighbours such as South Korea and Taiwan, the government’s goal through its e-Japan initiative is to make the country the most advanced IT nation by 2005.

This is no small feat for a country where, despite its high-tech image, many bank automated teller machines close at 8 p.m., small wooden stamps are used in lieu of hand-written signatures, and PC penetration is below 50 per cent.

These days the word people are most likely to mention when talking about this broad push into the future is “ubiquity.” Among Japan’s electronics companies it has been most enthusiastically adopted by Sony Corp., which since 2001 has been promoting the idea of a “ubiquitous value network” – a network where “devices and products can seamlessly access the network and connect with each other at any time from any place.”

Politicians are also getting in on the act and, convinced ubiquity is where we are all heading, worked hard to get it mentioned at a recent regional IT conference. So pleased was the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications (MPHPT) that it was compelled to point this out to reporters.

“Especially, I would like to draw your attention to the use of the word ubiquitous,” said Yoshio Tsukio, vice minister for public co-ordination, MPHPT, at a news conference at the conclusion of the Asian Regional Conference for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). “Although the term ubiquitous has become quite common, I understand this is the first time it has been used in such an international conference,” he trumpeted.

This may be the direction Japan is heading, but does the country really want to go there?

So far, about the most networked devices in people’s lives are their cell phones. Constantly connected to the network, they not only provide a voice telephony platform but also serve to send and receive e-mail and access mobile Web information services. However, cell phones are also increasingly becoming the root of some crime.

The problem of teens offering themselves for sex in return for money via mobile phone dating sites is becoming so much of an issue that the National Police Agency is pushing a bill that will outlaw anyone under 18 from using such sites. The same sites are also being used by teens to extort money from adults who respond to their messages.

A 39 year-old man was beaten and robbed in Tokyo in late November by four teens after one allegedly posted an offer of sex on a site and waited to meet the man, according to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper. When he arrived, they started an argument with him and soon demanded money before beating him to obtain