----Toward a World where People are But Minor Details
Before you know it, the 21st century is right around the corner, and I am a bit surprised that we are living in an totally different world depicted at the Expo '70 that I visited as a child (it was a really spectacular event for a 5 year old kid). Back then, if you showed me Heiner's pictures and told me this was Tokyo in 1999, I probably wouldn't have believed it. The future was supposed to be much more futuristic. Today, I have no problem in pretending that Heiner's pictures are from 2020 or 2030.
30 years from the Expo, and we have gotten quite used to the fact that the physical structure of the city changes very little, at least in Tokyo. Oh yes, there are large scale redevelopments going on here and there, but in the most part, changes are minimal. And pending a drastic change in the concept of property rights or the system of decision making, physical changes will remain small. After so many pointless projects such as the Tokyo Bay Crossing Road, there will not be much fiscal and political slack to do anything drastic. No politician or bureaucracy will have the guts to restrict current property rights enough to produce any significant change to the current urban space.
Which means that, any change that we are likely to face in the next 30 or maybe 50 years would be social. That was what I wanted to depict. Here, of course, the sign of the times are showing. We can no longer dream of a bright shiny future. In spite of the development of vast "cyber" network (or maybe because of that), the basic problems will remain unresolved. Aging society, low fertility rate would be the most significant. At a certain point, Japan will seriously have to consider accepting more immigrants as a viable option. And I imagine that there wouldn't be any strong policy initiative for this. Some nearby countries (you know which) will give rise to a vast number of refugees, which Japan will probably have to accept. They will probably become de facto immigrants, and the policy will grudgingly follow.
Computer networks will continue to expand. There seems to be something inexplicable behind this expansion. This can be coupled very comfortably with the current development of Intelligent Transport Systems, which should provide a nice interface between the real world and the virtual world. New highways will have incident detection cameras every 500m. There's no way they can't be extended to existing roads. And they will be networked.
If this happens, of course this will become a vast surveillance system. Couple that with a sophisticated control system of human desire, sex or otherwise. Animation, comic and MTV is in part a huge test bed for arousing human desire using subtle visual and sonic cues. By the way, Heiner's picture of some concrete entrance has a striking resemblance with a brothel in Bangkok. Drugs will be another form of control.
And on a macro level, the current belief in the market and the private sector may prove to be a bit overhyped. With several big projects failing, and many countries failing to adapt to a market system, there will be disillusionment. If at that point, someone can produce a sophisticated model using, say, quantum computers or something, the trend may be reversed in favor of a more planned system, where humans will play very little role. This will also serve as another human control system. I mentioned that there's something irrational about the expansion of computer networks. Mobile phones are used in a way to let people voluntarily give up privacy (you realize that the major use of mobile phones is to ask people of their location). This control system will probably become more obvious in the next 50 years, although at that point, we'd be conditioned to completely disregard it.
But during its completion, people will probably feel some vague fear about being controlled. Trying to get away from it, people will become vulnerable to rumors and word of mouth demagogues. And using some inefficiencies during the fine tuning process, there will be some new areas of vast economic development.
The pictures of Heiner already show signs of these social developments. In his pictures, everything has equal significance, free from any human drama. Everyday detail is presented with a different balance, where human beings are simply reduced to a minor detail, along with a crack in the sidewalk or a traffic light.
And I guess my environment for writing these pieces influenced the tone. Some were written in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The ITS homeless story was written in a dingy tea house in Myanmar. One was written in Budapest, right after the solar eclipse. September piece was in Mexico City, and the final piece was in Hanoi. After a few days stay, any city will start to feel familiar, and Tokyo far away becomes unreal and somewhat fiction. That sense of distance, I think, shows. And as I review all of my text and Heiner's pictures here in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia now, I once again feel that sense of distance and unrealness. What are these, do these places really exist? And these stories? Sometimes, I might actually believe them, if only for a moment.
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