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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 14:03 04/13/2007
April 9, 2007

Global Mindset in the Information Age

Kanzo KOBAYASHI (Visiting Research Fellow, GLOCOM, IUJ, and Secretariat Division, ITC Coordinators Association)

This is partly based on Mr. Kobayashi's lecture at International Christian University in January 2007.

Nowadays there is no one who does not believe that we are living on the surface of a small planet in the solar system. The concept of globalization or globalism is rapidly spreading, just like the expansion of the universe, in the information age. At the same time, there is a reality that we are living in a "distorted world," where natural resources, economic wealth, military power, knowledge, information, etc. are unevenly distributed among countries or regions (If we draw a world map with the area of each nation adjusted to become proportional to the amount of a certain resource, say, oil reserves, the map would be quite distorted, as can be easily imagined). Therefore, it is important to stop and think where we are and what we should do in the process of globalization, especially in this age of the so-called information revolution.

What is "globalization" or "globalism" in the first place? First, focusing on national borders, we often talk about a borderless world, as a book entitled "The World is Flat" has become a best seller, describing the world as becoming more and more borderless and dependent on each other, at least, in economic terms. At the same time, it remains to be the case that 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.

Second, focusing on our mindset, we are facing an increasing number of cases in which we need to choose between local (closed and traditional) values and global (open and universal) values on a daily basis. This is especially true with Japanese society, where "honne" (true mind) is subject to traditional values, while "tatemae" (superficial presentation) is following more open and global values and behavioral patterns. Apparently, there are some geographical, historical, cultural and other reasons why it takes more time for Japanese to be globalized than their western counterparts in this respect.

However sluggish it might be, the globalization trend is quite obvious everywhere, including Japan, in the field of business and management. There are four key management resources, namely, people, goods and services, money and information. While people may be the least globalizing factor of these resources, more and more goods and services are traded across national borders, and money and information almost completely ignore any kind of barriers in the global economy. In this context, business management has to be oriented toward globalization for competition and survival, whether it is in Japan or elsewhere. But how about our daily life? Thomas Friedman, the author of the book "The World is Flat," also wrote a book entitled "Lexus and the Olive Tree" in 2000, and pointed out 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 individuals who have found "power" to transform their society in the new information age. At the same time it is pointed out that this new trend of individual empowerment seems to be shifting power centers from the traditional Western region (most recently the U.S.) to non-Western regions or groups of individuals, as seen in the recent rise of BRICs.

In fact, due to the impact of the so-called "Web 2.0" development, any individual can actively express himself or herself, and participate in the development of "services" on the web. An important point is that one can do this without anyone's (or any government's) permission. This means a new phase of globalization, where individual mindset will and should change fundamentally in response to rapidly changing values in the information revolution. Nowadays, such established organizations as governments, businesses and mass media companies cannot ignore the demand and activities of NGOs, NPOs, consumer communities, bloggers and other empowered individuals.

This fundamental change is taking place everywhere, but in Japan the information revolution seems to be moving in the inward direction within Japan, rather than in the outward direction across national borders, for geographical, cultural and linguistic reasons. In other words, Japanese mindset is slow to change, relative to drastic changes in every aspect of our society from human relations to international relations. This may be the most important reason why Japan's presence in the globalized world is getting smaller, whereas other Asian countries, especially, China and India, are becoming more and more visible these days.

It is easy to blame the government for Japan's declining presence in the world, but we need to realize that it is up to individuals, not any existing organization, to change the world in a fundamental way from the long-run viewpoint. In fact, there are so many things that Japanese as individuals can do to make themselves as well as Japan as a whole more visible in the globalized world. For example, individuals can contribute to global efforts to deal with such issues as environmental pollution, global warming, resource depletion, poverty and terrorism by starting or joining voluntarily formed groups of individuals with shared values or objectives, regardless of national, political, religious, ethnic or economic backgrounds. At the same time, one has to keep in mind his or her heavy responsibility in self-training, self-discipline and self-evaluation to be associated with the power acquired in the information age.

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