Monday, March 4, 2013

Korea's highways and its information superhighways

I've been interested for some time in the origins of the "information superhighway" metaphor and how it took root in Korea shortly after Vice President Al Gore used it in a 1994 speech at UCLA. (e.g., see this earlier post)  However, I've recently become aware of information that sheds additional light on the power and popularity of the information superhighway metaphor, especially here in the Korean context.
First, my colleague Professor Chihyung Jeon published an article in Technology and Culture (January 2010, Vol. 51), entitled "A Road to Modernization and Unification:  The Construction of the Gyeongbu Highway in South Korea."  His article included "An Imaginary Drawing of Korea in the Year 2000" from the Dong A Ilbo, January 1, 1970 (shown at left).  Professor Jeon's research explains how President Park Chung Hee, and the Dong A Ilbo newspaper, used the metaphor of the new highway, Korea's first expressway, to symbolize the dual challenges of economic development and national reunification.  Jeon notes that, in terms of economic development along, the Gyeongbu Highway became a symbol of the "Miracle on the Han River," as South Korea's post-war economic boom became widely characterized.  However, instead of focusing on the economic impact per se, his essay zeroes in on the manner in which this famous highway became such a powerful symbol in the nation's recent historical memory.  The full article can be accessed through Project Muse or via the journal online.  I highly recommend it.
The second piece of new information came by way of yesterday's Hankyoreh newspaper, in an article which showed up when I did a Google this morning search for "미래창조과학부," the proposed new Ministry for Future Science and Innovation (my translation--the government has not yet announced the official English designation for the ministry, nor has it received the necessary stamp of approval by the National Assembly).  The Hankyoreh article (Korean language) basically argues that President Park's tenacity in insisting on approval of the new Ministry for Future Science and Innovation is because, upon close examination,  such an "ICT expressway" forms the foundation for realization of the "creative economy" one of her major campaign promises, and also the "second miracle on the Han River," that she invoked in her inaugural address last week.  The article quoted the presidential spokesman who explicitly compared the challenges faced by the proposed new ministry and the Korea Communications Commission to deal with cable, IPTV, satellite and other means for content distribution with the role played by the Gyeongbu expressway back in the mid-twentieth century industrial era.  "In the old days" according to the spokesman, the expressway stimulated the building of nearby factories and the distribution of new goods and services.  Even more specifically, the spokesman noted that just as President Park's father had utilized the Gyeongbu expressway project to create the first "Miracle on the Han River," the new president views the ICT superhighway as a core component of her plans to create a second miracle on the Han.
Metaphors play an important role in politics and in the public promotion of policy all around the world, and Korea is no exception.  For Koreans, the Gyeongbu expressway is a powerful political symbol and metaphor, which contributes in interesting ways to the influence of the newer "information superhighway" metaphor.  This post only begins to suggest some of those ways.  

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