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(No.8) Recording and Archiving ---Application Discovery---

Text documentation is a physical means of visualizing information that requires writing skill. After acquiring a new skill a person tends to find new applications for it. And if an application happens to be attractive, usage is accelerated. Here is some interesting information.

In the Suwa district of Nagano prefecture, Japan, there is the small village of Otsukoto. The village is unique in that it has kept detailed official records since the late 16th century. According to "Japanese History-16," Oishi et al., published by Yoshikawa Kobunkan Publ. Co., 2003, the number of annual text production from 1596 to 1703 was 0.19. Fifty years later, from 1751 to 1763, the annual number increased to 12.67. In the early 1800s the number reached 50. In 200 years, the amount of text production increased 250 times (see figure). After acquiring new writing skills, people surely discovered the usefulness of those skills. They must have been fascinated with writing as well. The book referred to above indicates that documented texts included village rules, negotiation minutes, litigation cases and memoranda. The amount of text continued to grow with time and descriptions became more detailed. People passed the documentation on to following generations. At first, the documentation resulted from necessity, but later, some of the contents became important guidelines for village life. The original text merely recorded events. It was passive but became active after the people extracted important rules from the descriptions. This active role of documents is well understood if we look at the functions of law or patent text.

Trend of texts production at Otsukoto Village

In the Nara era (700s), only a small percentage of the population could read and write. In the 1800s, in the Omi area east of Kyoto, about 90% of the villagers could read and write (Fujita et al., "Japanese History-17", Yoshikawa Kobunkan Publ. Co., 2003). Even in the Bunmei era (about 1469), a fairly large portion of the villagers could read ("Literacy rate of village people" (in Japanese)), but few people could write fluently, judging from litigation records of that time. Once text communications is shared among the population, it grows on its own. If appropriate usage is found, new applications emerge and grow in importance.

I was once asked, "Why did text production peak in the early 19th century and drop significantly without growing later?" The following historical events may answer the question.

In the late 18th century, many local governments of the feudal system suffered severe financial difficulties because of Tenmei cold weather damage, the eruption of Mt. Asama, newly emerging commerce, or a combination of those difficulties. The government economy had traditionally depended on rice. Many local governments, facing with an economical difficulty, shifted from rice farming to more profitable products, like cotton farming in the western part of Japan or paper production in many areas. The economy began to diversify from rice agriculture to other fields. It is also noteworthy that most people could read and write at this time. As a result, the role of the purely agricultural village of Otsukoto diminished. Growth in literacy among the population might also distribute document management to many. Following the similar stories, Japanese literacy seems to have been established nationwide at this time.

Following are some of information description means that have had a large impact on our society.
  • Picture drawing ---Altamira Cave drawings and other subsequent fine arts
  • Establishment of standard Japanese --- Popularity of diaries by noblemen in the Heian era (late 8th century to 12th century)
  • Standardization of music scores --- massive music composition since the 19th century
  • Personal use cameras --- Photo lovers all over the world
  • Story Cartoons (manga) --- A Japanese publishing mainstay even today
  • Numeric descriptions --- Logical description --- mathematical and algorithmic development
  • Internet --- Accessible documents on the Web --- new business and new life styles

The most influential means of description from the list may be photographs and the Internet, which have influenced more than half the population. Music, too, has become more familiar with the help of new technologies like MIDI, electronic music scoring and synthesizers. It is almost impossible to imagine a society without music.

A computer language that anybody could use would result in an explosion of software products. What sort of society would then emerge do you suppose?

(Ej, 2004.2)