Saturday, October 30, 2010

Yet another Broadband Index: Korea Ranks near the Top on "e-Intensity"

The Boston Consulting Group was recently commissioned to do a study of the internet economy in the U.K.  In order to measure the reach and depth of the internet in the United Kingdom, and to make comparisons with other countries, the BCG created an international "e-intensity index."  Fifty percent of the index is accounted for by enablement, which measures how internet access and how well built the infrastructure is.  The other two elements in the index are expenditure, how much money consumers and businesses are spending online on e-commerce and online advertising, and engagement, which measures how actively businesses, governments and consumers are embracing the internet.
The top ranked countries in the world on the BCG's e-intensity index are shown in the accompanying graphic (click on it to see a full size version).  South Korea, not surprisingly, ranks as the number two country in the world, behind Denmark.  I say "not surprisingly," given the weight given to infrastructure.  It is now well known aroud the world that South Korea has the most extensive and modern digital networks in the world.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Evidence of American Misperceptions of Korea

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has recently published a Report on U.S. Attitudes Toward the Republic of Korea, authored by Victor D. Cha and Katrin Katz.   A PDF version of the study can be downloaded from the Council's Website.  Coincidentally, both authors are recent alumni of the Fulbright program in Korea!  Their study was part of a national survey by the Chicago Council and it contains some findings that should alarm those who are concerned with the health of the U.S.-Korea alliance.
The survey, conducted earlier this year, found general awareness of South Korea in the U.S. to be low.  For example, only 51 percent of respondents thought of South Korea as a democracy, compared with 40 percent who thought it was not a democracy.  This despite Korea's status as one of the most successful examples of peaceful democratic transition in modern international relations history!  Fifty percent of survey respondents thought that Buddhism had the most followers of any major religion in Korea, while only 19 percent mentioned Christianity.  Fully 71 percent of respondents did not know that South Korea is one of the United States top ten trading partners.
Findings such as these are of concern because of their impact on public support for key U.S. policies toward Korea, including the pending Free Trade Agreement, the North Korean Nuclear issue, and the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea, to name a few.  Readers of this blog will know that I am very interested in the nature of Korea's national image and the major factors shaping it, including the internet and new digital media.  The easiest way to see past posts, such as this one, is to enter "national image" in the search box to the right.
The thought that U.S. policy toward Korea might be influenced by vague and misguided public images is disturbing to me, as it should be to all who are concerned with the current and future health of the relationship between our two nations.

Converged Network Operators Will Lead the Mobile Broadband Era

Interesting coverage in The Korea Herald yesterday of a speech by KT Executive Choi, Doo-hwan.  He makes some obvious, but important points about the network infrastructure needed for the emerging era of mobile broadband and eventually ubiquitous networking. "The key to success in the competition of wireless Internet, triggered by the rising popularity of smartphones, is gaining competitiveness in wired broadband networks,” said Choi. “The firm with both the wireless and fixed-line networks will ultimately pioneer the wireless Internet market.”
The reason for this is rather straightforward.  It will be necessary to spread the increasing wireless internet traffic to different networks, including Wi-Fi, WiBro and 3G in order to handle the amount of data used by smartphone users.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Will Physical Books be Gone in Five Years?

CNN is carrying an article today based on an interview with Nicholas Negroponte of the MIT Media Lab, who predicts that physical books will be largely gone in five years.  I encourage you to watch the interview on CNN's video as well as reading the article.
A basic part of Negroponte's argument is that old-fashioned printed books cannot be produced in sufficient quantity to reach the populations of developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  However, he also notes that, for him at least, the iPad experience of reading a newspaper is superior to reading the paper version.  As an author, I've made all of my books and monographs available free of charge via Google Books, and I actually prefer to read them electronically, mainly because of  (1) the ability to search the entire content of the book, (2) the hyperlinked table of contents, and (3) the hyperlinked index.  Actually, I rarely use the index anymore, given the search capability.  However, as one of those individuals not gifted with a photographic memory, I frequently find myself wondering exactly what I wrote or how I structured an argument in a book written decades ago.  Today, I can pick up my iPhone, launch Google and quickly search the full text of, for example, Television's Window on the World (my first book, based on my doctoral dissertation.)  Moreover, any of you who wonder what the world of television news was like back in the 1970s, before CNN and long before the Internet and Google News existed, can do the same thing!
I will chime in and basically agree with Negroponte's prediction, although I think he's using a bit of hyperbole to make the point.   I expect that some people will continue to print their own books or use "print on demand" services to get a paper copy.  However, most of us will prefer the power and convenience of light weight, high quality color readers with full internet connectivity.  The players in Korea's display industry should anticipate and lead this global trend.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Why a Book on Digital Development in Korea: Reason 1

Here goes.  The idea occurred to me some time ago and I've decided to act on it.  In a series of posts over the next 4-6 months, I'm going to share with readers of this blog some of the reasons why I teamed up recently with Dr. OH, Myung to write our forthcoming book, Digital Development in Korea:  Building an Information Society Routledge, March 2011.  Let me be clear from the beginning that these posts reflect my own perspective, not necessarily that of my co-author, who has a long and distinguished career in Korea's ICT sector, and has written or spoken publicly on many of these issues.
One of the first reasons for undertaking this book project was quite simple.  There appeared to be no other scholarly book in existence that examined South Korea's ICT development over the past three decades.  Back in the 1990s I had spent more than two years researching and writing The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea (Hong Kong, Oxford University Press, 1995)  Well over a decade had passed since that book was written, years which I spent as an administrator with the Fulbright Commission in Seoul, formally known as the Korean American Educational Commission, with responsibilities for our academic testing (mainly TOEFL) and technology (the web was becoming the principal channel for study abroad advising).  My personal experience of Korea's burgeoning networks and electronics sector convinced me that an update of my book was in order.  So, I contacted editors at Oxford University Press in New York, London and Hong Kong with my idea.  After some weeks of e-mail consultation, they declined to even receive a proposal for a new book, citing the lack of a market for such in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries.  Whether or not there is/was such a market is a topic for another post.
To some extent it is true that the world took note of South Korea's digital development, especially when it emerged with the arrival of the new millenium as the world leader in broadband internet penetration as shown by leading international measures.  It is also true that the ITU published a short monograph entitled Broadband Korea:  Internet Case Study in 2003, the OECD has published voluminous statistics, and the World Bank has paid attention to the Korean experience through its project and series of publications on Korea As a Knowledge Economy.   Ahonen and O'Reilly's book, Digital Korea, which appeared in 2007 is an industry-oriented survey of the Korean experience.
In addition to these efforts, there was a measureable increase in the number of articles appearing in scholarly journals about the Korean experience.  However, given the magnitude of Korea's ICT-fueled development, one might have expected a dozen doctoral dissertations and at least half that many books to appear over the past decade and a half.   The story of why such research was not undertaken and published in English is a complex one involving lack of Korean language and area expertise on the part of Western scholars, coupled with a lack of incentive for leading Korean scholars to publish in English for a world academic audience.
However, I stand by my argument.  One of the first reasons for co-authoring Digital Development in Korea, was that there were no other books available that offered a similar treatment of this important topic!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Are Koreans Less Social than Other Nationalities? More on Social Networking

I haven't touched on the topic of social networking lately, but it is all over the news.   One set of articles that caught my eye were those that mentioned a new TNS study of social networking in 46 countries around the world.  A headline in the Chosun Ilbo declared "Koreans Among Least Social in Online Networking."  That caught my attention for the simple reason that "least social" is the last thing that would come to my mind to describe Koreans.  "Most social," perhaps, or "More social..."  According to the Digital Life report released by the British market research firm TNS, Koreans had an average of 50 friends in their social networks, ranking 44th among 46 countries studied.
Overall, the Digital Life study noted such broad trends as social networking sites overtaking e-mail in popularity and the the growing use of digital sources for news around the world.   It would be interesting to know how much of the first trend is due to the seemingly uncontrollable growth of spam and malware.
The suggestion that Koreans are "less social" may have to do with the structure of the study (were Western, and English language sites weighted equally with Cyworld in the study?), or it may simply require further explanation.   After all, most Koreans were experimenting with their own version of "social networking" via Cyworld about four years before Facebook hit the market in the U.S. The finding may simply reflect the close-knit family-classmate-friend nature of Korean interpersonal networks or the linguistic and homogeneity of the information culture here.    Comments on the TNS finding are welcome.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Note to those of you with e-readers

As a courtesy to present and future readers of this blog, I've just made it easier to link directly to the full text online or a PDF download of my 1995 book, The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea. Just click on the cover image at the right. The gadget was previously set up to go to my personal website and required two clicks to get to the actual Google page with PDF download capability.
A small, but hopefully helpful change.

The Korea Discount: Information Age Politics in Korea

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean war and the division of the peninsula into North and South Korea. Over the past six decades, the South has developed into a technologically advanced country and is one of the world's leading exporters. On a day-to-day basis, people living in South Korea don't think much about the possible outbreak of war, even after the recent Cheonan incident. However, the world's mainstream media--television, newspapers, magazines and the business press--continue to frame the Korean situation in terms of national division and the threat of war on the peninsula. Nowhere is this more evident than in the continued widespread application and acceptance of the so-called "Korea Discount." As reported in the Joongang Daily this morning, the global rating agency Standard and Poors reports that uncertainty surrounding North Korea’s power transfer is weighing on South Korea’s sovereign credit rating because of the possibility of war and the potential for huge unification costs.  “Significant uncertainties remain from a possible succession in the near future in North Korea,” Standard & Poor’s (S&P) said. “We continue to view instability as an important constraint on the creditworthiness of South Korea.”
The credit rating agency said the South Korean presidential council estimated earlier this year that sudden unification could cost the country $2.14 trillion by 2040 and raise government debt to 147 percent of gross domestic product (GPD) in that year, compared with the government’s estimate of 36 percent by the end of this year. It would be interesting to see an estimate of how much the "Korea Discount" has cost South Korea over recent decades in lost foreign direct investment or other costs directly related to its application.
Moreover, the Korea discount is really only information that estimates the probability of future conflict or economic burdens on the Korean peninsula. As such, it illustrates the power of information, created by the mainstream and financial media and disseminated instantly via the internet. From a certain perspective, one might say that the most stable thing on the Korean peninsula for almost sixty years now has been the nation's division.  How does one really estimate the possibility of a peaceful or gradual unification of Korea versus a sudden, disruptive one?  The nature of the "Korea discount" and its real, empirical meaning and value deserve much more attention in era of information age politics. Perhaps some of you who occasionally read this blog can shed more light on the topic. Comments are welcome.