We live in the future

I just read a story in The New Yorker that totally made it clear that William Gibson was not writing about the future, that the future is so strange that he could never have predicted it. The article was about a new literary craze in Japan, the keitai shosetsu, the "cell-phone novel", and it is online here. Japanese people (mostly women) compose novels on their phones that are hundreds of pages long, and share them online for free. Many of them are then made into highly successful manga, movies, and print novels (some of which keep the same form as the cell texts, including frequent line breaks and non-traditional text orientation*) and they sell millions of copies.

The descriptions of what the author claimed to be representative work struck me as incredibly vapid and what I'd call "anti-feminist"--apparently they are mostly tragic love stories about rape and disease. This is probably sad (not my culture, I don't know enough to say for sure) but is apparently a very common theme in Japan. This, and the entire culture that it describes, seem very alien to me.

In this age of the "La Royale with Cheese", it's easy for me to imagine that there are no real foreigners--just Americans in foreign countries with odd accents. And it's true that, in many ways, people across the world have more in common culturally than they've ever shared before. I'm a big believer in "strength through diversity", and so no matter how little I like the sound of these novels, the mere fact that they come from a large, vibrant culture that is so drastically different from my own makes me happy.

There was a bit at the end of the article that described an award ceremony for keitai shosetsu authors. The final contestants were all dressed in a wide array of bizarre fashions. The MC was a Buddhist nun. A young woman dressed in orange tights won first prize (twenty thousand dollars and a publishing contract) which was presented to her by "a popular Ping-Pong champion". Gibson simply had no idea.

*Traditional Japanese text, the article reminds me, is read top to bottom, right to left. Cell phones are read horizontally, left to right, and many of these novel are published this way.

The different cultures of this world are much more diverse than even I am truly aware of. And I have traveled a LOT, but mostly to Europe, where the cultural differences are more like "Americans in foreign countries with odd accents". But even there, it's not truly that blasť. Even when you cross a border in Europe, the differences in culture are made blatantly clear; it is definitely not just language differences that divide the European countries. Of course, as far as world cultures are concerned the European, North American, and Oceanic countries are all relatively very similar. I have no experience actually traveling to Japan or other parts of Asia or Africa or the Muslim parts of the world, but I do have friends from those parts of the world and I can tell you that cultural differences, even with people who are "used to" our western (European) culture, can cause interesting conversations and occasionally serious misunderstandings. However, even as we have this conversation, our world continues to shrink psychologically and culturally. Western culture becomes more and more familiar to the rest of the world, and their diverse cultures become more familiar to us (though at a much slower rate, unfortunately).

As a side note, Americans (specifically people from the US) have a very bad reputation worldwide for being arrogant about our culture, expecting everyone to conform to our way of doing things. I do not mean in any way to imply that you, personally, are like this or that you are anything less than openminded, but that is the way much of the rest of the world sees us, and when we travel we often have to act as ambassadors and representatives of the US. I have often had to defend my country and our culture, even just traveling in France or Germany (two of the countries most similar to us, culturally).

(Usual Libby disclaimer: I am not an intellectual. I do not always use the P.C. terminology for things and ideas. Also I never got a better grade than a "B" on any paper in University. Don't expect great writing or great debate skillz from me.)