He ran the car for about an hour, then entered the main street of Nishiarai in Adachi City. He bypassed the station, past the tree-lined avenues, until a concrete building came into view. Ryuuji passed through the gate above which was a sign that read “Data Device Research Museum,” parked in the parking lot and looked at the building’s entrance.
There were no signs of visitors. The surroundings were silent. This area was separated from the hustle and bustle of the city and it was quiet like the bottom of the sea.
Ryuuji exited his car and headed for the boorish concrete building in the thin rain.
On the door of the entrance hung a heavy old-fashioned lock. Ryuuji looked through the glass and peeked inside, but the lights were not on.
A man holding a yellow umbrella appeared from a side entrance. In his left hand he held a plastic bag from a convenience store.
He noticed Ryuuji and came over while closing his umbrella.0
“We’re closed today,” the man said. He had a slightly high-pitched voice, his hairline was receding and on his face was a 5 o’clock shadow. His eyes looked at Ryuuji from behind thick-framed glasses. On his shirt was an ID badge indicating that he was the curator.
“Is it a holiday? Well, that’s unfortunate. Is it a regular closing day?”
“Yes, we are closed the second Wednesday of every month.”
As he said this, the man turned his back to Ryuuji and shook the water droplets off the umbrella.
It was a poorly timed holiday, but of course Ryuuji wouldn’t reveal what he really thought of it. There were important questions to ask.
“Oh, excuse me. Are you…” Ryuuji said to the man’s back.
“Are you by any chance the curator Professor Taichiro Sugai?”
The man stopped moving and slowly turned around.
When he looked back to Ryuuji’s face, the signs that showed he was capable of a warm and friendly reception, which had been there for quite a while, completely vanished. He now spoke with an intense and obstinate tone.
“Are you with mass communications?”
“No, I’m not.”
Ryuuji offered his business card.
The man took the business card and looked at Ryuuji’s name and title written there.
“What is it you want?”
“I’m sorry I don’t have an appointment. I came here because I have something to ask you.
Ryuuji took out his mobile terminal, launched an e-book application and one of the books he had downloaded from the digital store - “Online Games Turn Children into Dolls! A Warning of Doll Syndrome!” was displayed on the front page.
“I’d like to ask you about the book you wrote.”
“There’s nothing to talk about. Please leave,” Taichiro Sugai said in a gruff voice. His face was turning red with thick blue veins appearing on his forehead.
“Every time some idiot causes an incident involving the internet, the press comes to me like I know everything and say ‘Professor, what’s your opinion on this?’ like deer caught in headlights. From my heart of hearts, even though I’m the author of that sensationalist book, I only pretend to be an expert on the internet. I’m getting fed up with it.”
Ryuuji waved his hand in a big motion.
“It’s not a sensationalist book at all. I got the impression that it is a wonderfully farsighted book.”
Mr. Sugai’s eyes shone grudgingly. He thrust his right index finger at Ryuuji.
“You read it and thought that? Elaborate.”
“You sincerely proposed that we think more seriously about the influence of computers on children,” Ryuuji said immediately.
Mr. Sugai blinked as though he had just received an unexpected counterattack.
“‘For people without discernment, the personal computer is a present-day Mephistopheles. According to promoters of the Internet, all information on the internet is supposed to be free. However, whenever we use a computer, we are parting with something more valuable than money. What this present-day Mephistopheles desires is our most precious resource, time.'”
Ryuuji recited the text from memory while being aware that he was not looking at the e-book on hand. Since he had read it yesterday, this morning, and in the early afternoon, some of the content was still fresh in his mind. He may have changed some details though.
“To use the internet, we must pay the cost with our time alive on this planet. What will happen to the children whose valuable time is sucked up when it could have been spent on developing themselves? Inner strength, social skills, decisiveness, perseverance. Such qualities cannot be downloaded from the internet. I think your assertion is exactly right.”
As he said this, Ryuuji looked at the e-book.
“Look, there are some good things written in here. ‘Social media does not foster social skills.’ That’s a wise sentiment.”
Mr. Sugai gave a low growl of displeasure and withdrew his finger from Ryuuji’s chest. He stared at Ryuuji’s face with eyes that looked as though they were looking at some strange being that was born of experimentation.
“‘Knowledge is power.’ What do you think of this as a statement that denotes the internet’s merits?”
“It’s like reheating cold bacon. It’s unappealing.”
Mr. Sugai let out a low growl again. This time his voice was clearly mixed with surprise.
“It’s rare that a person who has seriously read my book comes to me.”
It seemed his mood had improved.
“Oh, is that so?! If I could offer some honest feedback…” continued Ryuuji.
“I don’t really care for the title. I wonder if it’s perhaps a little too on the mark.”
“The publisher selected that without my input! I wanted to pick a more respectable title!” Mr. Sugai said with an angry voice, but his mood had become a bit more relaxed.
“So,” he said as he turned away. “What was it again?”
“Not your name, your business here.”
I wanted to get your side of the story on this book.”
Mr. Sugai held the closed umbrella between his hands and fastened the band around it.
“What are we doing standing outside talking on a rainy day like this?” he muttered without looking at Ryuuji.
“Let’s chat inside.”
Mr. Sugai entered the building through the rear entrance ahead of Ryuuji and passed through a hall on the museum’s ground floor.
There were no others in the building besides Ryuuji and Mr. Sugai. Only the vibrant emergency lights were illuminating the various exhibits.
“Please wait here. I’ll be back in a moment,” said Mr. Sugai who then disappeared into a small room in the back. It seemed to be a night-duty room.
While waiting for Mr. Sugai to return, Ryuuji looked at what was contained in the exhibition cases.
There were legacy devices from every time and place one could imagine. Machines that became obsolete due to the development of new technologies. It was a mortuary for old machines that were created as a result of changes in technology, flourished for a time, but soon became obsolete and vanished.
Things that Ryuuji himself had used before, things he hadn’t gotten to use and things he had never even seen before lined the cases.
Ryuuji spotted a machine housed in a big case beside him and suddenly felt nostalgic. He had used it many years ago. It was a communication device that acoustically couples to a telephone receiver using a speaker and a microphone to perform data communication.
“It’s an old-fashioned unit connection-machine,” said Mr. Sugai as he returned. He was still holding the plastic bag.
“Hackers from the early days were able to penetrate facilities from all over the world using that device and a telephone line.”
“There are a lot of nostalgic things lined up here. Do they still work?”
“I keep them maintained. If I set up the right circumstances, everything should work without issue. I don’t think I’ll get the change though.”
He proceeded to a simple service area set up on a table.
Mr. Sugai turned on a light in the corner, poured some coffee into a paper cup from a coffee dispenser and put it in front of Ryuuji. Then he took a small milk carton and anpan out of the bag and arranged them in front of himself.
“I’ll take care of this first. I haven’t eaten lunch yet, so I bought these.”
The time was close to three o’clock.
“I love bean paste,” said Mr. Sugai as he put a straw in the milk carton.
“My doctor warned me against it, but I can’t stop. When I eat this, I feel alive.”
Ryuuji drank his coffee. It tasted as though something had died in it.
Looking at him, Ryuuji felt that Mr. Sugai looked like an elderly person who was aging rapidly rather than a middle-aged man.
Ryuuji got the sense that Mr. Sugai was very lonely. Like a mood that emanates from a isolated and decaying tree.
“Sorry about before,” said Mr. Sugai, barely moving his lips.
“This is the first book I’ve written, but for me it’s like a plague. Thanks to that book, rude reporters often come to me and conduct one-sided interviews. So, I instinctively became brash.”
“I surmised as much,” said Ryuuji who then drank some coffee. Something definitely had died in it.
“A Warning of Doll Syndrome!” was the best-selling book authored by Taichiro Sugai six years ago in 2001. It suggested that computers have a serious impact on human beings which caused a major sensation at the time.
However, among those who read the book, how many people could understand Mr. Sugai’s true intention? The greatest misfortune of the book “A Warning of Doll Syndrome!” - and ironically its greatest fortune - was that its publication coincided with the AIDA phenomenon, one of the dark aspects related to The World.
Moreover, such a time is agreeable to a publisher who wants to make a best seller and the expectations of the media who want to exaggerate the incident.
Of the nine chapters in “A Warning of Doll Syndrome”, the place that discusses the causes of the AIDA phenomenon actually takes up less than one chapter. In the first place, it is a proposal that people think about how they interact with computers, merely a collection of frank research papers unrelated to the occult and sensationalist pseudoscience literature.
The book was featured on a TV program and “A Warning of Doll Syndrome” eventually exceeded 400,000 copies, becoming a best-seller.
However, Ryuuji thought, as far as the current situation was concerned, Mr. Sugai alone continued to pay the price.
Academic societies in this country will never forgive people who have been exposed by the media. Mainstream academics will never let these people back into the fold.
This situation was more akin to a graveyard than to a workplace. Mr. Sugai himself seemed to be a legacy device. He was forced into a do-nothing job as a manager of a museum hidden away in a little corner of Tokyo, forgotten by everyone.
However, even though he thought this, Ryuuji liked the elderly man in front of him.
Although their ages were years apart, Mr. Sugai was somewhat similar to a teacher from Ryuuji’s college days.
“I don’t mean only the old days were good. That’s just meaningless nostalgia. Instead, we should rethink how we associate ourselves with computers. I wanted to say that in my book,” said Mr. Sugai.
“As you said, the concept expressed by Francis Bacon, ‘Knowledge is power’, which regards information and power as equivalent, is being abused and changing things for the worse. Bacon was conscious of the Old Testament when writing that. It represents the idea that personal growth is connected to ‘knowledge’ that is expressed in the Bible. It is experience, maturity and discernment. It is having a big-picture cognitive ability and a profound thoughtfulness that is unrelated to information rolling around on the internet. So, power has nothing to do with it. Even so, people want to think that the internet and the technology that supports them are omnipotent forces. They are convinced that innovative technology that is suddenly created one day will solve all of the problems and worries they’ve ever had.”
Mr. Sugai kept talking. Perhaps he was hungry to talk with others.
“So, what did you want to ask me?” asked Mr. Sugai, who suddenly remembered as he washed down the last piece of anpan with milk.
Ryuuji hesitated to speak.
What he was about to say may not be what Mr. Sugai had hoped for. There was a good chance of that. Ryuuji could not bear to disturb the man’s feelings by telling him things he was not prepared for.
Even so, it was impossible not to talk about it.
“If you’ll excuse me, I studied your career. You, Professor Sugai, taught at Chikuba University from 1999 to 2019. Is that correct?”
“I am working now to find out about a certain person,” said Ryuuji.
“I have been looking for some kind of potential involvement between that person and you, Professor Sugai. I came here today to confirm that.”
Sugai made a face as though he did not know what this was about.
“The problem is this book’s preface.”
Ryuuji took out his mobile terminal and displayed some text from “A Warning of Doll Syndrome”.
“‘Hell certainly exists…'” Ryuuji read aloud.
“‘It is a place of filth. A place that does not even receive the sun’s light and warmth. A place where streams of endless desires overflow. A place where terrible and sinister screams roar all around you. A place you should not be connected with. Yes, that is Hell. It is a place you should not uncover.'”
He stopped reading there.
“Should it be called an epigram? That is a sentence quoted from an American poet named Thompson.”
Mr. Sugai nodded.
“Ah, that’s right. I used to quote it often before my lectures. Rather than talking abstractly, I think it made it easier to imagine the negative side of the internet. So, I also used it in the preface of my book.”
“Is there anything else you remember about this epigram? Any memorable person? For example, was there someone who showed a strong interest in this poem at your lectures?”
When he saw Mr. Sugai’s reaction to the question, Ryuuji realized that he finally grasped a thread that could lead him somewhere.
Taichiro Sugai understood something that Ryuuji himself, who was seeking it, did not understand clearly.
“You know about him,” said Taichiro Sugai.
“Are you investigating Yuri Seto?”