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Support Services Spring Up to Help Mature PC Users

June 21, 2000

A growing number of firms have begun providing each of their employees with a computer, and the ability to handle these machines is coming to be taken for granted. However, for many middle-aged people of the analog age who have operated only pencils and abacuses their entire career, a computer is the last thing they want. Their alienation from new information systems have made them the target of disdain among their computer-literate counterparts, a situation that has given rise to the word tekuhara, short for "technological harassment" and a spinoff on sekuhara, "sexual harassment."

The Digital Generation Gap
Many young people who began using computers in school and have done everything from collecting employment information to applying for a job on the Internet often view the blunderings of the analog generation with irritation. Not all treat them with contempt, however, and some actually go to the trouble of trying to help them. Unfortunately, their acts of kindness are themselves perceived by some as a form of harassment.

Many television and magazine advertisements for computers promise immediate Internet access, suggesting that computers can be hooked up the same day they are purchased. They also give the impression that anybody can easily send and receive photographs by e-mail or set up their own Web site. The growth in the market for personal computers has been powered by first-time buyers who want to try something new on a computer. The Mellow Net computer network for older people, which was set up in 1991, now has more than 10,000 subscribers, among whom 12% are 70 years of age or older. The number of middle-aged and older computer users is steadily rising.

Nevertheless, novices in this age group are easily stumped by problems that people who are used to computers consider trifling or simple. They cannot locate the source of their problem in the massive users' manuals and often face being ridiculed even by the staff at manufacturers' support centers.

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, himself relatively inexperienced with computers, recently sent his first e-mail to students at a school in Chiba Prefecture before visiting the school. He expressed delight that the message arrived safely at its destination, offering hope to other late starters in today's world of online communication.

Firms Answering Needs of Computer Novices
This state of affairs has created a new sector of support service businesses that answer questions and dispatch staff round-the-clock. Independent venture capital firms promising "courteous" services have seen their profits grow steadily. One Web site run by an economic organization lists about 850 firms that are registered to provide support services, and the number is believed to be climbing at a rate of a few dozen every month.

Realizing that inadequate services could spell lower profits, manufacturers have set about rethinking their strategies. A number of companies continue to offer free telephone consultations, while others, in a bid to improve services, offer a few months of free consultations after which subscribers must pay a fee. Still others have created Web sites containing frequently asked questions or are focusing on electronic mail consultations. It seems likely that even more plans will unfold in the coming years as firms seek to attract customers by making life a little easier.

Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.