Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Job Creation 7 Times Slower Than Economic Growth"

An article in today's Korea Times quickly caught my eye with the headline "Job Creation 7 Times Slower than Economic Growth." Fundamentally, this is all due to the advances in communication technology that started in the 1980s and are now bearing fruit. The newspaper article quotes an official from the Ministry of Strategy and Finance as saying ``Korea's industrial structure has transformed into a technology-and capital-dependent one from a labor-intensive one. Manual jobs have largely been moved to China and other Asian economies in which labor costs are much cheaper than here. The economy is expanding without creating as many jobs as it used to." This Ministry official's reference to technology really refers to information and communication technologies (ICT), more than any others. Even more specifically, I would note that there are four key anchor technologies in the fields of industrial and consumer electronics that underpin South Korea's economy today. They are:
  • Semiconductors
  • Flat screen displays including color television displays.
  • Mobile handsets and other devices.
  • Electronic switching systems which are key components of digital networks.

As shown in the accompanying graphic, employment elasticity ― the job growth rate divided by output growth rate ― fell to an all-time low of 0.15 in the second quarter of the year, down from 0.25 in the same period last year.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Social Effects of New Communications: Digital Alzheimers?

The English edition of the Chosun Ilbo today carried news of a new malady, termed "digital Alzheimers."  A doctor with a large university hospital said, “There are no statistics, but the number of young workers who visit hospitals for forgetfulness counseling is definitely on the rise.”  Experts say more and more workers in their 20s and 30s suffer from forgetfulness due to the flood of information that assaults them in the office and their growing dependency on digital devices. Some seek treatment in hospitals when the symptoms get worse. Doctors even have a name for it: Digital Alzheimer’s Disease, a condition they say now afflict modern urbanites just like migraine or insomnia. Somehow, from my personal experience I can identify with the "flood of information" part of the argument, and also the increasing dependency on digital devices.   More on this one in later posts.

World Leadership in Broadband Penetration to Continue

According to a widely-reported new study by Gartner, South Korea is likely to lead the world in broadband internet penetration for at least another five years.  The nation currently has a broadband internet penetration rate of 93 percent (that means 93 percent of households here have a broadband connection to the internet), making it number one in the world.  The Gartner study projects that Korea's broadband penetration will reach 97 percent by 2012.  According to PC World's account of the Gartner study, the United States will have reached a broadband penetration rate of 77 percent by 2012, while  the rate for The Netherlands is projected at 82 percent, Hong Kong at 81 percent and Canada at 79 percent.   One of the advantages that the top three ranking countries share is that of dense populations contained in small areas.  Worldwide, 17 countries will have broadband penetration rates of 60% or more by 2012, up from five countries in 2007

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Stop Island Theft" Campaign in New York City

Today's English edition of the Chosun Ilbo carried this image of a life-size figure of a thief,wearing a Japanese flag as a mask.  The sign reads "Stop island theft.  Japan attempts to steal Asia's islands by distorting history."   It is part of a guerrilla advertising campaign by Yi Je-seok.   I think it also illustrates the powerful use of an image.

A Call for Greater Integration of IT and Conventional Industries

Reinforcing a point I made in earlier posts, the inaugural meeting of the IT Innovation Forum in Seoul called on Korea to bolster its national competitiveness through greater integration of its information technology sector and conventional industries.  As noted in the Joongang Ilbo, policy makers from the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, the Federation of Korean Industries and academia said that Korea has not taken full advantage of its world-class IT infrastructure.   Participants in the innovation forum noted that efforts must be made in the coming years to push for a paperless business environment that can benefit a wide range of businesses, including logistics, and establish software as a service  into everyday work. "Software as a service,"  is a term for online use of software for a fee, rather than purchase of software products.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Photos Show that Dokdo is Visible from Ulleungdo

As further support for my posting on Dokdo and Cyber-Diplomacy, the English edition of the Joongang Ilbo today published a short article describing how several people have actually photographed Dokdo from Ulleungdo, using an ordinary camera lense.  One of those photos accompanied the article and is published here.  Dokdo is about 47 miles from Ulleungdo.  According to the article, Korean government records written during the Joseon Dynasty, including “Geography of the Sejong-Sillok,” written in 1454, and “Geography of Goryeo History,” written in 1451 include phrases that people “could see Dokdo from Ulleung Island on a clear day.” 
Finally, for further information about Dokdo, checkout the "Cyber Dokdo" site maintained by the Gyeongbuk Provincial Government.    A very nicely done web site.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dokdo and Cyber Diplomacy II: 독도는한국 땅이라 !

독도는한국 땅이라 !

As you can see, I prefer to state my conclusion at the outset of this post.  "Dokdo is Korean land."   I base this conclusion on several things.

  • My wife (who is Korean) and I have visited Ulleungdo on three separate occasions for a delightful summer vacation.  Ulleungdo is the jump-off point for most Dokdo tours in the East Sea, and no one in their right mind would question whether Ulleungdo is Korean land.  If you like fresh air, fresh squid and freshly caught squid drying in the air, Ulleungdo is the place to go.
  • Most of the efforts to dig up historical claims to Dokdo favor Korea.  Much of the evidence produced in favor of Japan's claim involves the period from 1905 until the end of World War II--hardly a period of which Japan can be proud.  Check for yourself!  Comments on this post are welcome.  I think that serious historians, from all over the world, tend to favor Korea.
  • Korea now has a human and military presence on Dokdo.  Given the Japanese claims to this set of islets, this seems the only prudent thing to do. 
  • Although not an historian, I do know that during the long occupation of Korea during the first half of the twentieth century, Japanese authorities forced Koreans to assume Japanese names.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise when Japan takes a piece of Korean land and attempts to claim it for Japan and give it a Japanese name.
  • Finally, and most relevant to the subject matter of this blog, I find it interesting that the argument about national sovereignty in Dokdo is taking place not only in traditional media, but in cyberspace.  Since South Korea leads Japan in key measures of development of an information society, it is entirely appropriate that the nation press its inherent advantage in cyber-diplomacy to clearly plant Korea's flag on Dokdo.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Korea's Digital Divide--Iconic Evidence

The information society or the telecommunications revolution in Korea is only half complete. There has been no such revolution or transformation in North Korea, which explains why the satellite photo here has been so widely circulated. It is a powerful and iconic symbol that instantly conveys the problem of national division.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dokdo and Cyber-Diplomacy

Dokdo is in the news again. References to the island as Japanese territory in newly published guidelines for middle school teachers in Japan provoked widespread anger and demonstrations in Korea. In fact, last night some of the participants in a candlelight vigil against the import of American beef apparently moved over in front of the Japanese Embassy to join the protest against Japan's latest actions. Others took the message about Dokdo to international media and into cyberspace. According to the Korea Times, vocalist Kim Jang-hoon, 41, teamed up with a freelance Korean public relations expert Seo Kyoung-duk to publish a full-page ad in The New York Times. Headlined "Do You Know?" the ad stated that``For the last 2,000 years, the body of water between Korean and Japan has been called the `East Sea.' Dokdo (two islands) located in the East Sea is a part of Korean territory. The Japanese government must acknowledge this fact.''  There is a great deal of information about Dokdo on the internet and this site provides a good starting point for anyone interested in more information about the issue. The official web site of the Korean government,, also carries a great deal of information on the Dokdo issue. also includes a Cyber Dokdo History Hall.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Korea's Beef "Infodemic"

This is a follow-up to my earlier post on President Lee Myung Bak's speech to the National Assembly, in which he warned that Korea must guard against "infodemics." President Lee may have, intentionally or not, given a big boost to the international use of this recently-coined term. The term was apparently coined by David J. Rothkopf, who used it in a 2003 Washington Post article to describe how the circulation of misinformation about the SARS epidemic had implications more far reaching than the disease itself. By "infodemic," Rothkopf meant the following: "A few facts, mixed with fear, speculation and rumor, amplified and relayed swiftly worldwide by modern information technologies, have affected national and international economies, politics and even security in ways that are utterly disproportionate with the root realities." He further noted that "Infodemics are emerging as one of the most virulent phenomena known to man, able to transit continents instantly. In virtually every respect they behave just like any other disease, with an epidemiology all their own, identifiable symptoms, well-known carriers, even straightforward cures. Yet to date many in power seem unable to contain them or unwilling to acknowledge their existence." Continuing the epidemic analogy, Rothkopf suggested that infodemics can be cured, stating that "... if information is the disease, knowledge is also a cure. We should react to infodemics just as we do to diseases. Understand how these ideas are introduced into the population, how they spread, what accelerates their spread, what their consequences are, and what localized outbreaks may be contained. That does not mean repressing information. It means effectively managing each outbreak and presenting the facts fully and quickly to critical audiences."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mobile Phones are Ubiquitous in Korea

The broadband revolution in Korea has received a great deal of attention, but on the 20th anniversary of South Korea's mobile telecommunications industry, it is appropriate to give mobile phones their due.   As the Korea Times noted in an article marking the occasion, mobile phones have long since become ubiquitos in this country.  The article reminded me of an occasion, five or six years ago, when my wife and I were spending our summer vacation on the island of Ullungdo.  We were having an afternoon snack in the main port city on the island and the view in front of us resembled a "sea of squid" as several women worked to hang the fresh catch of squid out to dry in the sun.  Right smack in the middle of this ocean of drying squid was an "ajuma," a towel wrapped around her head to protect it from the sun, talking to someone on a mobile phone.  That image has stuck with me for years. 
These days ownership of a mobile phone is considered to be the right of every Korean citizen.   Note the following quote from the Korea Times article. ``It is the coming-of-age day for the mobile phone. It is not just a means of communications anymore. It is the center of communication,'' said Kim Shin-bae, CEO of SK Telecom. ``It is not exaggerating to say that Korea's IT industry, which accounts for 29 percent of its gross domestic product, started from the spread of mobile phones.''  I respectfully disagree with the CEO that Korea's IT industry started from the spread of mobile phones, and think that historical evidence shows other sources of its rejuvenation.  However, there is no denying that mobile communication is a big part of the IT industry and the information revolution here.  In addition to being ubiquitous, mobile handsets have become the number one IT export from South Korea, currently exceeding the export volume of semiconductors.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

President Lee says "We Must Guard Against Infodemics"

In his address to the recently convened National Assembly, President Lee Myung Bak stated that "We must guard against infodemics." President Lee was not the first to use the term "infodemic." A quick Google search shows that it has been used by representatives of international organizations with reference to saturation news coverage of disasters. The Korea Times published a full English-translation of President Lee's speech to the National Assembly. The portion of his speech dealing with "infodemics" went as follows: "An advanced society is characterized by the dominance of rationality and civic virtues. A society rampant with excessive emotional behavior, disorderliness and rudeness cannot be called an advanced society by any measure. In this connection, we have to guard against "infodemics," a phenomenon in which inaccurate, false information is disseminated, prompting social unrest that spread like epidemics. It is about time we began to firmly respect and understand each other better and extend generosity and thoughtfulness to other people. Generosity and thoughtfulness are instrumental to overcoming the age of confrontation and divisiveness and forging ahead with the age of harmony and partnership. society." What President Lee left unsaid, but which is clearly implied by the term "infodemic" is the manner in which information spreads so rapidly via the internet and new mobile networks. This is the "six degrees of separation" phenomenon that is such a powerful factor in South Korea's emerging political culture and was touched on in an earlier post in this blog.

Note the Addition of Categories and Google Search

I've finally developed and implemented a set of categories for this blog. The main purpose of using categories is to help readers, especially new visitors, more quickly find the subject matter they are looking for, now that there are more than 70 posts on the blog. For those willing to scroll down the right-hand margine, I've left the long list of tags. Even more helpful than categories in finding information on this blog is the Google search function that I've recently added. Check out the powerful tabbed functions of this search utility! Your suggestions for additional improvements are welcome.

Korea Pursues The Ubiquitous Network Society

If all the latest and best data are used as a basis for the statement, South Korea is probably the most networked nation in the world.  Not satisfied with that distinction, the country is one of a handful leading the charge toward "The Ubiquitous Network Society."    The ITU describes such a society as follows.  "The vision of a “ubiquitous network society” suggests a world in which information can be accessed from anywhere, at anytime, by anyone and anything. New and exciting technologies are making this vision a reality. The word “ubiquitous” is derived from a Latin root and means “existing everywhere”. It has been used in conjunction with terms such as pervasive or ambient. Early forms of pervasive technologies can be seen in mobile telephony, and to some extent in the broadband internet. But in the future, ubiquitous networks will extend beyond person-to-person and person-to-object connectivity: connectivity will unite everyday things in one huge, ubiquitous communications network, the so-called Internet of Things."  Click on the accompanying graphic to see a larger version.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Korean Communications Companies Going Global

An interesting article in the Korea Times recently pointed out that, for Korean mobile operators, the future challenge may lie in going global. The article notes that "In Korea, over 90% of the population now have mobile phones, and worldwide, the demand for mobiles grows not by the year, but by the day. For most mobile providers, it is sink or swim time, as successful mobile operators from other countries are now getting involved in overseas mergers and buyouts, or launching their own services abroad." With the local Korean market for mobile communication services being saturated, it would stand to reason that companies seeking continued growth will have to achieve it through either (1) introducing more advanced, value added services or (2) expanding internationally. While the Korea Times article focuses on mobile operators, the question can be applied to communications businesses more generally. When this is done, it becomes apparent that such companies as Naver, Daum or Empas may find it very difficult to expand internationally because their services have been designed for and within a Korean-language media context. The question of "going global" also needs to be applied to such companies as OhMyNews, which began as a Korean-language effort at "citizen's journalism" and now has an English edition.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Cutting the Cord: Mobile Telephone Growth in South Korea

An article in today's Joongang Ilbo notes the dramatic change in mobile communication that occurred in South Korea over the past two decades. Just looking at a picture of the mobile telephone that was introduced prior to the Seoul Olympics in 1988, one gets a clear understanding of why the term "brick" entered the vernacular here to describe older, bulky and heavy mobile handsets. The first mobile phones in Korea cost around 4 million won ($3,824), weighed 1.3 kilograms and were 23 centimeters long. It was only in 1996 that the size, weight and cost of mobile handsets in Korea allowed them to diffuse rapidly through the population. The bar graph included here shows that growth in popularity of mobile phones. Today, more than 90 percent of the people in South Korea own a mobile phone. This statistic only underscores the digital divide with North Korea, which just this year engaged Orascom to begin building mobile networks in its larger cities. The ubiquitous presence of mobile phones in South Korea their universal use here offers a little glimpse into the future of mobile handsets and the "ubiquitous networked society" that this nation is consciously building.