[Update: I meant to link to this post at Roboseyo...]
Chosun Ilbo columnist Kim Ki-cheon takes a critical look at Korea's dependence on Microsoft and lack of diversity.
Korea's Internet monoculture has been a subject of concern here for some time and remains an issue. In a recently published book, Kim Ki-chang, a professor at Koryo University, says that Korea's Internet environment is so unsound that nothing like it can be found in any other country in the world.No one will be surprised that Korean cyberspace - and the software that supports it - is monolithic ['One portal to rule them all'], as cyberspace reflects the people, institutions, and governments that populate, maintain, and rule it. That internet 'structures', so to speak, are weak or on shaky foundations should also be no surprise. What I find fascinating about the internet in Korea is precisely how it reflects the society that created it. The hardware aspect of it, and the speed at which Korea set up its broadband infrastructure is impressive, much like the miracle on the Han, but the software aspects of it represent a structural weakness not so different from the
What is the problem? For one thing, accessing many Korean websites requires jumping through hoops not found anywhere else in the world. [...] Nowhere else are websites so complicated and inconvenient.
People moved into cyberspace quickly, using it to organize World Cup red devil street cheering and the candlelight protests in 2002 that influenced the election. The government responded by banning all use of the internet to discuss elections during campaigns from then on in, in order to try to prevent 2002 from happening again, but were caught off guard by the 2008 mad cow protests, which in many ways took place as much in cyberspace as in the symbolic space of Seoul's downtown streets. What's interesting in reading accounts of foreign explorers who visited Korea during the Joseon dynasty is how pervasive the government's control of the people was, and how much the people feared talking to the foreigners - at least until no one else was watching. That control has been replicated in an even more pervasive way with the need to use your resident number to do almost anything on the internet, and has been augmented further with the real name system. Now, once events occur, the authorities can trace them back to a single post on the internet and arrest the person (aren't those truth-is-no-defence libel laws handy?). Worth noting is that, with its need for resident numbers, Korea's internet is essentially off limits to the outside world, and a media which is happy to exploit the language barrier and misrepresent what is said in foreign media and a search engine which gives pitiful results when searching in other languages (in comparison to Google) help recreate the Hermit Kingdom of old online, much as the real name system has helped recreate a degree of the authoritarianism and surveillance of the post war authoritarian governments.
It's in Korean cyberspace that we see many of the conflicts that a rapidly modernizing Korea is currently going through, with the desire for democracy and openness slamming up against the state's desire to maintain its authority in the manner that it has for hundreds of years (and which is profoundly anti-democratic). It's also the site of conflict between those who accept or reject Korea's demographic changes over the past two decades, which have challenged the basis of the ethnic nationalism which was used to bind people together in the post war period, from someone like Minu, who used music and video to share a message of inclusiveness, to Anti English Spectrum, who preach a message of exclusiveness and intolerance - to 'expel the barbarians.'
I took a course in my last year of university on the public sphere in England in the 1770s and 1780s, and much of what was interesting about that course was watching how the growth of the press created the public realm - a latter-day cyberspace - and the social changes and popular culture that stemmed from it. This era followed the gin craze - which Gord Sellar has compared to Korea's dependence on soju - and featured figures like Junius, who openly criticized those in power with aplomb and wit - and who could likely never appear on the scene in Korea considering its libel laws and lack of anonymity. I've often thought how it would be interesting to compare the growth of the press and public sphere at that time in England with the development of cyberspace in Korea, as the speed at which Korea is embracing it leads me to think that I'm watching a similar process unfold - all of which makes Korea a fascinating place to observe.