Google chairman Eric Schmidt recently went to North Korea with his teenage daughter daughter. She blogged “informal observations” in a droll and bemused fashion. They visited, with multiple handlers watching them at all times and assuming everything was bugged, areas like the Palace of the Sun where few Westerners (or North Koreans, for that matter) have been allowed to enter. It is starting to appear that Kim Jong-un wants reform. Yes, the Hermit Kingdom has prison camps. So does China. And they know they can’t keep the Internet out. But once it comes in, the propaganda becomes much harder to enforce.
Eric Schmidt was blunt.
After returning from a private mission to North Korea, Eric Schmidt says he sternly warned North Korean officials that their country risks falling further behind economically without a connection to the global internet, but didn’t elaborate much further on the trip.
Here’s some of what Sophie blogged.
Nothing I’d read or heard beforehand really prepared me for what we saw.
The best description we could come up with: it’s like The Truman Show, at country scale.
The Kim Il Sung University e-Library, or as I like to call it, the e-Potemkin Village
Looks great, right? All this activity, all those monitors. Probably 90 desks in the room, all manned, with an identical scene one floor up.
One problem: No one was actually doing anything. A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. More disturbing: when our group walked in–a noisy bunch, with media in tow–not one of them looked up from their desks. Not a head turn, no eye contact, no reaction to stimuli. They might as well have been figurines.
Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care? Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home.