Thursday, 14 March 2013

Definitely Not Paperless

My city has it's own brand of toilet paper, made from recycled paper (most of it from City Hall and other bureaucratic institutions). It's great that paper and milk cartons are being recycled, but why do we have so muchu waste paper in the first place?!
A few months ago an article called “Five Things No-OneTells You About Living in Japan” was doing the facebook rounds. Some of the points were inaccurate generalisations (clinics close, but hospitals with ER units generally do not, you just have to access them by an after-hours door) but some were spot on. Technologically, Japanese daily life is closer to 1980 than 2018. Part of this is an emotional attachment to hand-made everything (see my complaining here). Part of it is maintaining tens of thousands of jobs that would be redundant in a modernised work environment (the girl who sits beside the fax waiting to send messages for you or the old man who stands beside the ATM ready to hold up a piece of cardboard to shield the screen from the glare of the afternoon sun, for example).

A graduating student was telling my husband recently that she regretted joining the school computing club instead of the English club he runs. He asked her what they did in the computing club and she said "mostly excel formulas... and sometimes we get to use the computers." Upon further enquiry she explained that the computer club met in a computerless classroom and usually practised excel formulas using pencils and paper. THE COMPUTER CLUB.

When we bought our car, we foolishly went to the dealership (having researched online and found the exact car we wanted) with cash and driver’s license and attempted to just… buy the car. This caused great consternation. First was the long discussion about whether we shouldn’t test drive some other cars first (no, thank you, we really truly just want to buy this one). Then the dealer had to make us all coffee and snacks. Then we filled out several forms. Then she told us about the process. It turned out that our inkan (little stamp that acts like a signature), although good enough to use to open a bank account and rent a house, was not official enough for a car. We had to get a certificate of registration from city hall. We also had to visit the real estate agency, who in turn had to call our land lord, and then issue certificate stating that we had off-street parking (this is unnecessary if you have a K-car). We had to take this certificate to the police station, along with the forms from the dealership, and wait three to five days for the police to give the dealership permission to sell us the car. In the meantime the dealer had to personally confirm the existence of our carport by doing a drive-by of our house. We also had to get our voluntary (note: not really voluntary) insurance organised before we could drive the car home. It took about two weeks, and the dealer told us that we should be please at how quickly we managed to do everything. Just think of the hours of work involved (all done with pen and paper, then digitalised on a machine probably running Windows ‘95, then filled into a filling cabinet at some central data storage facility) and the number of people who were involved in the transaction. When Japan does experience the digital revolution, the social consequences in terms of employment may be as profound as the consequences of the industrial revolution.
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