North Korea Carefully Implements Information Technology

North Korea Carefully Implements Information Technology

November 9th, 2012

The information age has come to North Korea, but in a slightly different way than many Westerners would hope. State-sponsored, state-monitored cell phones and intranet have been distributed to the country's elites, allowing certain North Koreans to access carefully watched communication networks.

 

The Diplomat reported this morning on the phenomenon. TV and radios in North Korea are hardwired to only receive government controlled media. Foreign newspapers and periodicals are forbidden. In fact, travel within the nation itself only happens with government permission, information has been carefully restricted by the government, and in fact has been a key tactic of the regime's continued survival.  Even visiting foreigners are carefully monitored by multiple minders, who do not allow them to interact with the North Korean populace.
 
Thus, it's so surprising that North Korea has allowed the adoption of information technology including cell phones. In fact, there are now more than one million third-generation cell phones in the country, though the phones can only call other phones on the network (called Koryolink), and are unable to make calls out of the country. The internet, likewise, is restricted only to North Korean elites in good social standing, and features message boards, chat functions, and state-sponsored media.
 
According to Scott Thomas Bruce, who wrote the book "Double-Edged Sword: Cell-Phones and Information Technology in North Korea", upon which the article is based: 
 
During the floods and famine of the 1990s, the North Korea regime was able to withstand the death of at least 5% of its population by forcing its poorest and least trusted citizens to bear the brunt of environmental disaster. Today, with one million cell phones in North Korea and a government sponsored intranet, the regime believes it can survive the advent of information technology by restricting its use to the most elite 5% of the population who have the largest stake in the survival of the regime as it currently exists.
 
North Korea hopes that access to some information technology tools will increase foreign investment in the country, and help build a more efficient economic system. Cell phones and the intranet will allow the state to control production and establish standards between Pyongyang and remote areas of the country.  North Korea also hopes that the limited use of cell phones will encourage investment from overseas, in particular China. The lack of cell phones has been noted as one of the biggest challenges for investors dealing with North Korea.
 
Hopes across the world for a Pyeongyang Spring are almost sure to be disappointed.  The songbun caste system in North Korea ensures that those with access to cell phones are only the most elite and trusted members of the population. North Koreans of low rank, or those living in the country side, will never see, let alone own, a Koryolink cell phone. They will similarly never access the intranet.
 
Though we write quite a bit about ecommerce, PPC, SEO, social media, and Google here on Volacci, it can be easy to forget how lucky we are to even have those tools to work with. In the spirit of the season, we at Volacci are very thankful of our internet freedom, and hope that, some day, similar freedom will come to the people of North Korea.
 

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