Friday, December 28, 2007

About This Blog's Author and My Interest in Korea

One of my pet peeves about web sites in general and blogs in particular is that some of them don't make it easy to find out who has authored the material, what organization supports the content and so forth. To avoid that problem with this blog, I've posted a prominent link to my personal website, However, it occurred to me that, even on that site, it requires a couple of clicks to get to the May 2000 article in the Korean edition of Newsweek. Yet that article is probably the most interesting biographical information to explain my interests. It was published in Korean and I've also posted an English translation. Use the following links.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Useful Links and Blogs on Korea's Information Society

With a little help from my friends I've started exploring the blogosphere to see what kind of information is being published about Korea's telecommunications development and its nascent information society. For the time being I will simply post them as "useful links" on the right-hand section of this blog, but I plan to impose a more efficient topical organization on the links as their number grows. From my own research on The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea and my efforts to follow developments over the past decade, I've discovered that certain government ministries and their affiliated institutes here in Korea are an invaluable source of data, both Korean and English language. I've posted some of those links, including the Ministry of Information and Communication, The Korea Information Society Development Institute, and the National Information Society Agency. There are more links to come in this category and not all are affiliated only with the Ministry of Information and Communication. Among international organizations, the International Telecommunications Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are must visits for anyone with a serious interest in following developments here in Korea. Blogs on the topic promise to be another very helpful source of information for understanding what is going on in South Korea as it constructs broadband convergence networks that are intended to lead to a ubiquitous Korea and a version here on the peninsula and globally of Web2.0.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Forthcoming Seoul Conference on "The Future of the Internet Economy

The OECD will host a Ministerial Meeting on "The Future of the Internet Economy" 17-18 June 2008 in Seoul. It will examine the implications of the rapid growth in the use of the Internet for our economies and societies and the policies needed for continued growth.
For additional information on the conference, consult the OECD website

©Picture: David Rooney

Saturday, December 15, 2007

VOIP services--global growth

Growth of VOIP in Global Voice Telephony
The graphic depicts a worldwide trend toward greater use of the internet (VOIP services) to carry voice telephony. Since Korea is arguably the most networked (wired and wireless) country in the world, it will be of particular interest to see how quickly VOIP services penetrate the market. The growth of VOIP, along with internet television (IPTV), is part of the general phenomenon of convergence that will lead to ubiquitous availability of information.

Language and Cyberspace

A striking aspect of internet usage in Korea is that the vast majority of Koreans prefer to surf the web in their own language, 한국말. While you might think that this should come as no surprise, the strong preference for Korean is often overlooked by companies or organizations seeking to do business or conduct affairs in Korea. Some of them mistakenly assume that the near-universal passion for learning English in Korea means that people here will gravitate to English-language materials on the web. The available empirical evidence points instead to a strong preference for Korean language on the web. Data from the early 1990s to the present shows that the number of internet users in South Korea did not significantly increase until there was an increase in the number of .kr domain names on the web. The web site of the National Internet Development Agency is the best official source of such data, and it has an English-Korean toggle. The continued dominance of NAVER as the internet search engine most frequently used by South Koreans has a lot to do with the fact that it is a Korean-language engine that returns largely Korean-language results. While on the subject of language, I suggest that Koreans who want to read my posts in Korean use Google Language tools. While this automated translation service is far from perfect, I think it is the best currently available. The steps are easy.

  1. Go to the language tools site
  2. Scroll down to "Translate a Web Page" and enter Then on the scroll-down menu, set your preference to translate "English to Korean."
  3. Click on the "Translate" button and you will quickly have a rough translation of this site into Korean.

Look to this blog for further musings about the role of language in creating the boundaries of cyberspace.

"I Am Robot"

I just finished watching the last fifteen minutes or so of a television program called "I Am Robot," on YTN. The program itself was produced by a science TV channel. The segment I watched featured a robot festival at a large exhibition hall somewhere in Korea. Students from several universities entered their robots in a variety of competitions, including relay races, basketball, dancing, music and so forth. Some of the robots could mimic human moves, if one of the students wore a specially designed electronic suit. Others were controlled from a small hand-held panel. A few things impressed me about this robot festival.
  • One was the obvious enthusiasm of the college students for their projects.
  • Another was how human-like some of the movements by the robots were. These were all humanoid robots, with two arms, two legs, and most of the major joints that a human being has.
  • The audience for the robot competitions included quite a number of grade-school children and their enjoyment of the festival could be seen on their faces. Might this competition influence some of them to pursue a career in mechanical engineering and make a future contribution to robotics?

Korea is investing a great deal these days to develop the field of robotics. See, for example, the activities of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory (지능로봇 연구실) in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Korea University. Most of the other top universities have similar efforts underway, not to mention the work of government research institutes. Robots promise to play an interesting role in Korea's future information society as networks become ubiquitous.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Report Positions Asia, Korea in World IT Trade

The World Trade Organization yesterday issued an important report that highlights the role of trade in the development of Korea's information economy over the past decade. The World Trade Report 2007 marks the 60th anniversary of the multilateral trading system. More importantly, it contains a section that examines trade in information technology (IT) products since the December 1996 signing of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) by 23 economies at the first WTO Ministerial Conference in Singapore. When the ITA went into force in 1997 the trade value of the participants exceeded 90 percent of world trade in covered products. A goal of the agreement was to achieve maximum freedom of world trade in IT products by eliminating all tariffs on these products. As noted in the report, an outstanding feature of world trade in IT products was the prominent role of Asia. In 2005 Asian economies accounted for more than 50 percent of world exports and more than 40 percent of imports of IT products. In that year, (as shown in the chart below) Korea was the world's sixth largest exporter, sending IT-related goods worth some $87.95 billion (roughly 81.13 trillion won) to other countries. The top five exporting economies were the EU, China, the U.S., Japan and Singapore. South Korea ranked seventh in the world as an importer of IT products in 2005, purchasing $59.22 billion worth of such products from other countries. Perhaps most remarkably, South Korea was the only country other than China to maintain a continuous increase in world market share over the past nine years, despite the IT bubble bursting in the early 2000s. The entire World Trade 2007 report may be downloaded at the WTO website World Trade of IT Products by Region--Korea's Place

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Some Historical Perspective--the 1980s

Many observers of South Korea's telecommunications networks and technology today fail to grasp the historical antecedents that led to this situation. To do so, it is necessary to recall the 1970s, when lack of basic telephone service was one of the major social problems in the country. Then, during the period from 1980 to 1987, the government and industry implemented a long-term plan to revitalize the electronics industry. In three critical areas, this plan laid the foundation for the South Korean economy that we observe today. First, in a highly controversial move, the government decided to implement color television broadcasting and to encourage the manufacture of color television sets. By 1980, more than 100 other countries in the world were already broadcasting in color, but former President Park Chung Hee had opposed its introduction in Korea. The electronics sector suffered because Korean companies that manufactured black-and-white television sets were simply manufacturing the boxes and importing all of the components. Contrast that situation to today when Korean companies lead the world in exports of flat panel color displays and television sets. Second, South Korea decided that it needed to develop the capacity to manufacture semiconductors, the raw materials with which many of today's electronic devices are built. This project succeeded and the nation now leads the world in manufacture of DRAM memory chips, certain categories of flash memory and is a major player in semiconductors. Third, Korea focused on developing the ability to manufacture its own switching systems. The success of the TDX project meant that the nation would be able to manufacture these critical components of telecommunications networks and thereby not only solve its desperate backlog in telephone subscriptions, but also modernize its network and export network technologies around the world. Without its major successes in these three areas, there is no way to imagine the highly networked information environment that exists in South Korea today.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The DMZ as Digital Divide

Satellite Photo of Korean Peninsula at Night--Symbol of the Digital Divide
On July 4, 1968 I stood in a reception line at the State Department in Washington, D.C. and shook the hand of then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk. I was a summer intern with the United States Information Agency (USIA) and we had all been invited to a diplomatic reception to celebrate the holiday and watch the fireworks display over the Washington Mall. The Vietnam War was raging and, upon meeting him, I identified Rusk only with the Lyndon Johnson administration and our involvement in Vietnam.
It was only three years later when I arrived in Korea that it occurred to me that I shook hands in 1968 with one of the two men who, in a hasty meeting after World War II, decided to divide Korea at the 38th parallel. It was Rusk who, along with Colonel Charles Bonesteel, decided to provisionally establish that dividing line between the North, which the Soviet Union would occupy and the southern U.S. zone which the US would enter. The Cold War later solidified that division into the tense military confrontation at the demilitarized zone or DMZ.
From the time I shook Dean Rusk's hand in 1968, right up to the present, the DMZ has been understood by the world and portrayed by its media as a potential military flash point and a prominent vestige of the Cold War. That portrayal underlies the appeal of the DMZ tours that have proven so popular with visitors to Korea over the past several decades.
From this point in cyberspace (or "in this blog"), I will make the argument that understanding Korea's DMZ in military or Cold War terms is an anachronism. In point of fact, the major historical significance of the DMZ is now as the world's most prominent digital divide. It divides the world's most highly networked (both wired and wireless) nation from arguably the least networked country--keeping in mind that Korea is actually a single nation, although tragically divided. The photograph above captures the lack of electric power in the North versus the South, but it mirrors dramatic differences in every measure of a modern economy. South Korea has become one of the world's leading economies, primarily through progress in information and communication technologies. That fact alone has much to do with its future, both in terms of national reunification and Korea's future role in the region and the world. More on this topic in future posts.

Some Thoughts on Telecommunications Service in Korea and the U.S.

In November of 2003 my wife and I purchased a small plot of land in a small town located in the mountains of Kangwon Province at an elevation of about 2,000 feet. Exactly how and why we did that is the subject of another post. It is situated alongside an expressway and we can drive there in just under two hours via either the expressway or a major national highway (providing that we avoid the massive exodus from Seoul and the same vehicle's return which now characterizes most weekends here). Our location in the mountains is considered rural, and although it bustles somewhat during ski season, it can be described as a quiet little town most of the year.
Korea Telecom Serviceman Installing DSL Service during February 2005 Snowfall in rural Kangwon Province
By February of 2004, despite some snow and frigid winter weather, we had placed a small container house on the property so that we could utilize it as a weekend getaway. The small house was cozy enough, but we wanted to install internet service. So, on a Thursday one week in February, my wife called Korea Telecom and made an appointment for them to come and install ADSL service on Saturday of that week. As it turned out, it was snowing rather heavily when we arrived at our place on Saturday and the young KT service representative actually asked my wife by phone whether we could postpone the installation of their Megapass ADSL service. However, she explained that we were only there on weekends and wanted it installed according to our agreement. As the photo to the left testifies, we did get the service connected that day! The experience says volumes, not only about service in Korea today, but about how the Korean experiences of the 1960s, 70s and especially the "revolution" of the 1980s helped shape the information society they are building today.
P.S. As I recall, when my family and I moved to Boulder Colorado, U.S.A. in 1994, we waited more than two weeks to have basic telephone service installed!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

In Korea, A Boot Camp Cure for Web Obsession

An article in the New York Times on "A Boot Camp Cure for Web Obsession" has caught the imagination of readers and blogs around the globe. This is an excellent example of the sort of new attention Korea is garnering based on the universal availability here of broadband internet and its social effects, especially on the younger generations. Based on my personal perusal of the news coverage (including blogs) generated by this article, I offer the following observations.
  • Many of the accounts are a bit ahistorical, implying that the Korean government only began paying attention to the problem of internet addiction in 2002.
  • They illustrate a sort of "internet effect" on news, created by the reality that the internet itself seemse to be a primary source for many of the stories. The story builds upon itself.
  • Quite a few of the stories challenge the notion of "internet addiction" or "web obsession" and point out the lack of evidence for it in the New York Times story.
I may look into this in more detail over the coming weekend and would welcome your thoughts on the topic.

My Interest in Korea's Information Society: II

In his classic 1950s study of American perceptions of China and India Scratches on our Minds, Harold Isaacs noted that "Vagueness about Asia has been until now the natural condition even of the educated American." His study was motivated by the apparent tendency of Americans, including policymakers, to view the world with emphasis on Europe, despite the obvious importance of Asia in America's emergence as a major world power. As I have written elsewhere, Korea illustrates the persistence of such tendencies. After living in Korea for two years as a young (early twenties) Peace Corps Volunteer, the lack of attention to Korea by the mainstream U.S. media became a matter of concern. When I began researching television coverage of international affairs for my doctoral dissertation at Stanford in the late 1970s it became clear that Korea's status in the American media was similar to that of many other developing nations. It appeared in the news only when there was a crisis to discuss. Other than that it was hardly covered at all. These empirical findings are all documented in my book, Television's Window on the World. Even in May of 1980, when the Kwangju uprising shook Korean politics to its core, the American television networks and other mass media devoted only a minimal amount of attention to Korea. (See my "Quiet Diplomacy in a Television Era: The Media and U.S. Policy Toward The Republic of Korea") They were preoccupied, as was the U.S. government, with the long, drawn out Iran hostage crisis. The Kwangju story never led a network television newscast. The State Department in Washington and the White House under Jimmy Carter never held a press conference. As a result, the television networks and the other major media didn't have the incentive of a press briefing in Washington D.C. to cover the Kwangju uprising. Over a decade later, in the early 1990's, I began to conduct research on the remarkable changes in Korean telecommunications during the 1980s. They constituted a truly amazing transformation, yet they did not attract the international attention they deserved until much later, after Korea itself had become an active member of both the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Even in the late 1990s and the early years of this century, the media seemed to have great difficulty in reporting South Korea's world leadership in broadband internet infrastructure and usage. I attribute this lag in international recognition of South Korea's accomplishments to the general patterns of coverage that were well-established over the years in television and the mainstream press. Although South Korea is now receiving well-deserved press attention, much of that is because of North Korea's nuclear weapons development, the six-party talks and related topics. The information revolution and the new information society evolving on the Korean peninsula, although attracting attention, are hardly given their due. Nor, for that matter, is the importance of the digital divide in Korea. The Korean peninsula, which was divided as a vestige of the Cold War, is now the world's most poignant and extreme example of a digital and communications divide. Vagueness and misunderstanding of Korea persist in the United States and other parts of the world. One purpose of this blog will be to call attention to that phenomenon and to add context and clarity whenever possible.

Monday, November 19, 2007

My Interest in Korea's Information Society: 1

I first set foot on Korean soil in February of 1971, arriving at Kimpo Airport in Seoul as an American Peace Corps Volunteer. Our group, designated as K-16, came to teach English at universities and colleges around the country. I was assigned to the English Education Department of Kangwon National University in Chuncheon. Among the many things I learned in two years of life in Korea was that telephone service and telecommunications in general were primitive. Simply making a long-distance call to Seoul required a walk from the building housing English Education to the main administration building, where we would be permitted to use a black telephone in a certain Dean’s office. During my two years with the Peace Corps I heard so many Koreans shouting into telephone receivers that I initially thought it was a cultural trait, rather than the result of such poor voice quality over the existing lines. All of this would soon change. During the 1980s Korea achieved a revolution in telecommunications that caught the attention of the industry worldwide and forever changed the quality of life for South Korea’s citizens. The story of that revolution became the subject of my book, The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea, Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1995. I have been intensely interested in Korea’s subsequent efforts to build an information society which have thrust it into a leading role internationally and at the same time have rendered my book an historical document. Therefore, I am now working on a second edition with the ambitious goal of trying to provide a faithful and comprehensive account of recent developments in South Korea. For information on my background you may consult my personal website, which is basically an electronic resume. For my thoughts on Korea’s telecommunications industry and its rapidly advancing information society, check this blog on an occasional basis.