Japan's lost decade was from about 1991 to 2000, a period of high unemployment and slow or even negative growth. In this regards, they were ahead of us. Our lost decade was from 2000 to 2009, a period when job creation rates that had averaged nearly 2 million a year dipped into negative territory. In this, they were ahead of us. They were also ahead of us on some technology.
In 2001, I was in Japan riding the subway, I couldn't help but notice that so many Japanese seemed to be averting their eyes, looking into their lap as if it were bad form to make eye contact with other commuters or even to look at them. "Very polite people," I thought. Then I did look at them more closely. I realized that they were playing with something. My first thought was that they had worry beads or the equivalent of Japanese rosary beads. I didn't understand it.
"What are they doing?" I asked my contact at the client's, a man from Canada who'd been in Japan for years.
"They are texting," he said.
"They type messages to each other," he said.
"On their phones?"
"Why wouldn't they just call each other? How could that make sense to type out a message on a tiny keyboard with your thumbs rather than talk to someone?"
"I don't know," he said. "It's just something Japanese do."
Ahead of us on texting, a form of communication that seems to represent the triumph of the need to connect over the drive for efficiency. And ahead of us on a decade of slow or no economic growth. Maybe productivity simply doesn't matter as much as connection. And once we've got access to the latter, we expend less energy pursuing the former.