It is not only the city of Seoul, but South Korea and the Korean peninsula more generally that has an "image problem." I will address this problem in much more detail through posts on this blog, but wanted to share with you the latest effort to address the image problem. In today's Korea times, an article reported that "As corporate identify (CI) is used to upgrade corporate image, the city wants the new symbol to become the city's new icon and contribute to boosting the capital's international image. The Mayor of Seoul is quoted as saying that "Despite the scale and reputation of Seoul, we don't have any representative symbol. We've selected Haechi as the symbol and we hope it will promote the city internationally.'' The Mayor wants Haechi to become like the Big Apple of New York, Merloin in Singarpore and Buddy Bear of Berlin. The city made the selection after six months of preparation, including various surveys and public hearings. Most respondents picked Gyeongbok Palace as a representative icon of the city but the city chose the palace's guardian Haechi for its practical variations along with its historical characteristics." I commend the Mayor and the City of Seoul for recognizing the problem. However, is this how Seoul wants to be represented in the media around the world, let alone cyberspace?
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
An article in today's Korea Times proclaims "Doors to Blackberry Yanked Open." The article notes that "The government partially lifted its ban on the Canadian-made BlackBerry handsets in time for the visit of the handset maker's chief executive to the OECD Ministerial Meeting to be held in Seoul next month. The ban on BlackBerry has been criticized as a typical example of a non-tariff barrier by foreign businessmen here. BlackBerry is a hybrid mobile phone and palm-sized computer, specialized in e-mailing and personal scheduling. First introduced in 1997, it has become an essential tool for businesspeople around the world because of its ability to receive e-mails real-time. RIM says that there are more than 14 million subscribers in the world. Korea was one of few countries where it was not available, partly because it did not meet a technical specification imposed by the government, which was set up in favor of domestic phone makers such as Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics. In addition, local mobile operators had little incentive to introduce the Blackberry here as the need for mobile e-mailing was not very high, as the country has Internet access on every other corner of the street in the form of Internet cafes and public PCs. " Consult the full article for further details.
Posted by James Larson at 7:50 PM
The current political phenomenon in Korea, involves a mediated frenzy that is being whipped up with the aid of new information an communication technologies, notably the internet and mobile phones. This suggests to me that South Korea, which has internet and mobile communication infrastructures unequalled in the world, also has certain cultural characteristics that accentuate the political impact of these communication technologies.
One of the interesting findings from research on human communication networks is the so-called "six degrees of separation." It refers to the idea that, if a person is one step away from each person he or she knows and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people he or she knows, then everyone is an average of six "steps" away from each person on Earth. This idea has its origins in the 1960s experiments of American psychologist Stanley Milgram. The concept has since accumulated an impressive amount of empirical evidence or "proof." One of the more interesting studies "proving" the concept was published in June of 2007, based on data from everyone in the world who used the MSN "instant messaging" service. In a research paper from June 2007, titled "Worldwide Buzz: Planetary-Scale Views on an Instant-Messaging Network (PDF)," Eric Horvitz of Microsoft Research and Jure Leskovec of Carnegie Mellon University analyzed 30 billion conversations among 240 million people using Microsoft Instant Messenger in June 2006. It turned out that the average path length, or degree of separation, among the anonymized users probed was 6.6.
The relevance of this to the current political upheaval in South Korea? Politics here are based on interpersonal communication networks. Family, hometown, school and regional associations are of paramount importance in Korea. Modern communication networks such as the internet and mobile phones amplify the speed and scope of interpersonal communication in part because of "six degrees of separation." This phenomenon has also been dubbed "smart mobs." Middle and high school students use mobile-phone-based instant messaging and internet bulletin boards to share ideas about importation of American beef, and to organize candlelight protests that draw tens of thousands in Seoul and other large Korean cities. Korea's homogeneous culture and the importance of networking with friends and associates seems to be creating a strong new political dynamic in the information age. With only six degrees of separation, information spreads more rapidly through the new digital networks, creating candlelight vigils in which sixty percent or more of the participants were reportedly middle and high school students.