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Japanese People and Smartphones

Part III: By analyzing the phenomenon of "making oneself stand out or appear in a positive light on social media," we begin to see a simulacrum model of the information behavior of young people.

While Japan is said to have entered the era of 100 million smartphones, there is still relatively little in-depth research regarding what users are actually doing. Since last year, however, the joint research team from Video Research Ltd. and Dentsu Innovation Institute has been reporting their findings regarding smartphones. The theme of part 3 of our special feature, "Japanese People and Smartphones," is visual communication, which is rapidly gaining popularity among young people. However, visual communication using photos and videos taken with smartphone cameras is beginning to have an impact on the consumption behavior of young people. Below, we provide an introduction to this influence.

Japanese People and Smartphones (Part 3)

Spread of smartphones driving rise of visual communication

"When we began investigating the information-related behavior of young people—who live at a time in which smartphone-centered lifestyles have become mainstream—one of the key characteristics we found was that they use photos, videos and other visual media to communicate. While previously photos and videos generally had been reserved for recording special events, nowadays such media are a tool for sharing emotions and situations with other people.
"Consequently, although blogs and text-focused social network services (SNSs) have been popular to date, we are now seeing a transition to a type of SNS usage in which text has a relatively low weighting. This can be seen in the way people are using such SNSs as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
A group of female opinion leaders, the members of which are all university students—the Hare-Onna Iinkai (fair weather women's committee)—conducts regular surveys of SNSs that are popular among female university students. Based on their surveys, we found that in 2012 and 2013, there was a dramatic fall in the number of text-based service users. Meanwhile, visual media-focused services (see chart below) were becoming mainstream.

"According to data gathered by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, during this period the smartphone penetration rate (smartphones as a percentage of total mobile phones) passed the 60% mark, which we see as a key threshold. We believe it essential to investigate usage—particularly by young users—in this way to predict future trends among smartphone users."

Several factors are driving the rise of visual communication. Heading the list are the spread of smartphones, improved camera functions and the evolution of apps and services. At the same time, in terms of information technology, it is now easy for people to communicate emotions and situations with richly expressive photos and videos. The fact that these can be readily shared has been a major factor in reducing the importance of text.

In this environment, where information technology and users are evolving together, the trend toward visual communication is irreversibly advancing. And, while the process centers on a younger generation, survey data indicates that the trend applies to smartphone users in general and across a broad age-group spectrum.

"According to research by the Video Research Human Lab targeting senior citizens, the ‘love my life' segment of those studied, who are sensitive to social trends and enjoy an active consumer lifestyle, is showing a tendency to greater use of smartphone cameras and photo apps, along with SNS apps. Among young people, such behavior tends to manifest in quite conspicuous forms. However, we have also observed a quiet but steady uptake of visual communication among people in senior age groups."

Japanese People and Smartphones (Part 3)

  1. Respondents belong to the Hare-Onna Iinkai—a group with a membership of 100 women currently at university in the Tokyo area.
  2. LINE was included in the survey from 2013
  3. Instagram was included in the survey from 2015
  4. LC = Literal Communication / VC = Visual Communication

Making oneself stand out or appear in a positive light on social media is a barometer of a young person's activity

The demographic leading the visual communication charge is female users in their teens and 20s, who are primarily driven by emotions and a sense of style. They are adept users of smartphones and photo/image processing apps, and engage daily in emotion-rich communication.

The members of this demographic group were enthusiastic users of purikura (amusement-oriented photo booths that abound in Japanese shopping malls), which have existed for about two decades and have nurtured a culture of using basic tools to process and decorate photos to enhance appearance.
These users also have a long history of sharing via email photos taken on their mobile phones. The key point of such visual communication is to "make oneself stand out or appear in a positive light on social media." The phenomenon of making oneself stand out and appear in a positive light on social media may be broken down into two components—SNS posts that are photogenic and posts that show one's offline real-world life to be fulfilling and replete.

The important take-away is that, in both the aforementioned components, what young people want to express through photos and videos is not what is being photographed, but what it says to their audience, namely, "Look at my fashionable, stylish lifestyle!" or "Look at the lovely experience I had." By sharing or retweeting friends' experiences through social media, users are implicitly saying, "This is how I want to be, too" or "I want to try this." The mutual arousal of interest and consumer motivation functions as a trigger for purchasing and other behavior.

"The key point with visual communication is that the subject of the consumer's desire is the sharing of intangible things (experiences), rather than the ownership of tangible things. For example, the strong growth seen in Japan's Halloween-related market in recent years (estimated at \122 billion in 2015) is definitely being driven and underpinned by visual communication. The popularity of Halloween events is being driven by the desire of consumers to amplify and share their experiences."

The center of smartphone-based communication has shifted from text to visual media. We wish to focus closely on this change in young people's style of communicating information. Until a few years ago, a diary style of blog—using text—was the mainstream way of recording one's daily thoughts and activities. However, this is changing into what may be termed an "album format," in which photos and videos are the main media used.

One of the particular characteristics of this style is that the text accompanying the posting of a photo does not tell the audience the true feelings (in particular, negative feelings) of the person posting. Rather, the text is a straightforward recording of the facts. This may be seen as indicative of the unique social atmosphere in which young people have grown up—everything one says takes into careful consideration the standpoint and likely reaction of one's audience. This is known in Japan as "reading the atmosphere," which attempts to anticipate the reaction of listeners and avoid making faux pas. Emblematic of this cultural conditioning is the "excuse hashtag" frequently seen on Instagram posts recently (see illustration 1).

Generally, we are able to observe the impact of the strengthening presence of visual communication. This is observed in the shift from blogs and other one-directional communication to empathetic communication through which experiences can be shared interactively.

Japanese People and Smartphones (Part 3)

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