Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Digital Divide Concept as Applied to Korea

These days I've been looking more closely at the origins and different uses of the concept of digital divide.    As readers of this blog will know from prior posts, I believe the concept has particular relevance to present circumstances on the Korean peninsula and to prospective unification of the country.
Popular and scholarly use of the term "digital divide" roughly coincided with the large-scale adoption of the internet in the 1990s.  It is a multidimensional concept that has been used to refer to almost any aspect of access to and use of information using the internet and digital information processing devices.  The concept has been used to describe divergence in digital development between and among nations, differential access to information within nations, and also differences in how well different groups of people use information to participate in public affairs (the so-called democratic divide).  Those three approaches were outlined by Pippa Norris of Harvard in her 2001 book.
The digital divide has also been conceptualized in relation to the classic S-curve in the diffusion of innovations.  The accompanying graphic (click to see full size version), used in an ITU presentation by Choi and Lee,  illustrates the framework suggested by Molnar.
Korea's national division and its demilitarized zone originally took the form of an armistice that ended hostilities in the Korean War.  Both occurred decades before the digital revolution and arrival of the internet.  However, as I have argued on occasion, the latter developments have increased the significance of the DMZ as a digital divide, while decreasing its importance as a purely military demarcation line.
While searching for scholarly material on the digital divide, I ran across a fascinating book entitled Bytes and Bullets:  Information Technology Revolution on the Korean Peninsula.  It was published in 2005 based on an earlier conference hosted by the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, a U.S. Department of Defense Center in Honolulu.  The good news is that all nineteen chapters of the book are available in PDF format on the internet at this link.   Although much of the book deals with the digitization of defense in South Korea and some "guesses" about the role of IT in North Korea's defense modernization and in its economic development generally, the book and the conference represent the single most thorough treatment of this topic that I've yet located.   The introductory chapter, by Alexander Mansourov, outlines the scope of concerns treated in the book, and Chapter 18 by Scott Snyder, offers some interesting speculation on the digital divide on the Korean peninsula and the possible role of the IT sector in North-South reconciliation.
Comments are welcome, especially if you're aware of any more recent studies dealing with this topic.

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