Research Output

Computopia Revisited: Yoneji Masuda’s Realistic Utopianism

  Utopianism has always had a bad press. The whole genre, not least classics such as Thomas More’s Utopia (More, 1516), Robert Owen’s New View of Society (Owen, 1813), and William Morris’s News From Nowhere (Morris, 1891), has allegedly been shot through with fatal weaknesses. Determinism, impossibilism, perfectionism, simplisticism, and even totalitarianism, it is an extensive indictment. Indeed, some of the most influential modern political thought had utopianism as its special target, George Orwell’s dystopia, 1984 (Orwell, 1949), being perhaps the most illustrious example. When the twentieth century ended, under the sway of global neoliberalism, even the modest Scandinavian “utopia” of social welfare had begun to look fanciful (Hinde, 2016). So we inherit in the new millennium a “supposedly ‘post-utopian’ here-and-now of capital and state” (Bell, 2017: 9).
Actually, that is a misleading picture. Although extreme forms of utopianism have been widely rejected, a more modest, chastened approach has begun to emerge. It can claim numerous exponents (e.g. Bregman, 2017; Levitas, 2013; Sargent, 2010; Sargisson, 2012), among them important public intellectuals (Azuma, 2014; Walzer, 2012; Wright, 2010). These latter-day utopians uphold the continuing value of the genre; together their work amounts to a sophisticated case for the proposition that there can be a utopianism that is not guilty of the standard charges. At the very least, their scholarship, each in its own distinctive way, suggests that we must be wary of what Robert Estlund calls “utophobia,” a prejudicial fear or dislike of utopianism (Estlund, 2014) (see also Weber & Vallier, 2017). The present article was generated in that optimistic spirit.
Our focus is technological utopianism, defined by the founder of social informatics as “analyses in which the use of specific technologies plays a key role in shaping a utopian social vision, in which their use easily makes life enchanting and liberating for nearly everyone” (Kling, 1996: 43). We will argue that this kind of utopianism is not just worth discussing today but increasingly plausible. Specifically, we contend that a utopianism based on information and communication technology (ICT) remains an entirely viable enterprise for the present epoch, the so-called Information Age. A particular construction of ICT-based utopianism, namely, “computopia,” will be examined. Combining “computer” and “utopia,” “computopia” was the title given by the late Japanese thinker Yoneji Masuda to his vision of an advanced information society. Our thesis is that Masuda supplied a powerful example of what has since become known as “realistic utopianism,” a term which, despite sounding like an oxymoron, purports to denote a feasible future society. We shall attempt to demonstrate that computopia, notwithstanding its vintage and garish label, delineates a realistic social model which, suitably updated for the third millennium, ought to be pursued with the utmost seriousness by policymakers the world over.

  • Type:

    Article

  • Date:

    13 November 2019

  • Publication Status:

    Accepted

  • ISSN:

    0388-7596

  • Library of Congress:

    Z665 Library Science. Information Science

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    020 Library & information sciences

  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded

Citation

Duff, A., & Ito, Y. (in press). Computopia Revisited: Yoneji Masuda’s Realistic Utopianism. Keio communication review, 42,

Authors

Keywords

Yoneji Masuda; reliastic utopianism; information society; computopia

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