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As virtual horizons expand, face-to-face interactions shrink

  • March 28, 2019
  • , Asahi, Mainichi
  • Trending@Japan

Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone in 2007, setting the stage for the mobile revolution. Today, for billions of people around the world, it is almost impossible to imagine not having a smartphone. Back then he probably didn’t imagine the extent to which his innovation would influence human behavior and society.


Eleven years after the iPhone’s introduction, the Japanese confectionery maker Morinaga & Co. announced that it would stop producing “Morinaga Choco Flake.” These two events might seem unrelated, but they are actually closely linked. The product, which debuted in 1967, was developed as a snack for munching while watching TV with the family. However, sales dropped by half over the past five years. A public relations official at Morinaga told Asahi (10/4/2108): “Nowadays people want to eat snacks whenever and wherever they like while using their smartphones. That’s especially true of young people. They may be reluctant to eat Choco Flake because the chocolate gets on their fingers.” Meiji, another confectionary maker, stopped marketing its decades-old “Karl” corn puffs last year due also to a recent drop in sales. Consumers’ reluctance to smudge smartphone screens with sticky or powdery fingers is perhaps one reason for the demise of these once-popular snacks.


Shifts in snack preferences is just one aspect of the social impact of smartphones. A market analyst told Mainichi (3/11): “People used to wear wristwatches for fashion as well as telling the time. A good watch looks great on your wrist. But watches have declined in popularity with the advent of the smartphone. Is there any need to wear a watch when your smartphone tells the time and also has calendar and alarm functions? In addition, Japanese millennials, who came of age during a period of economic stagnation, are reluctant to buy and own things.” The analyst pointed out that since Japanese millennials grew up in the age of smartphones, they are apparently less interested in going abroad probably because they can virtually travel anywhere in the world at any time via Google Earth.


Another lifestyle analyst argued in Mainichi that the mobile revolution is making people lonely by depriving them of opportunities to communicate with one another face-to-face because they are satisfied with pseudo-experiences. He cites as an example amateur shogi players who have stopped visiting shogi training centers to play the board game with other players in person after realizing they can play the game using smartphone apps. The analyst pointed to a paradox: The mobile revolution provides instant access to an ever-expanding online world while it makes the real world an increasingly lonely place.

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