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Customer Review

on December 4, 2007
As the insanely long title would imply, Digital Korea basically showcases the Korean status of digital everything. Though covering a remarkably wide range of topics ranging from robots to e-government, most focus revolves around the various incarnations of mobile and Internet. It soon becomes clear - painfully clear - that on most fronts, the term "information society" is nothing but a word for example in Finland. In Korea it's a reality today; or, well, yesterday since books on such quickly developing topics tend to be old information by the time they're out of the press.

The book is bubbling with various statistics, both generally about the digital state of the world and specifically about Korea. Some are very interesting in the way they highlight the vast difference between the developmental stages of Korea versus other countries - like the fact that 98.5% of the handsets in Korea were mobile Internet-enabled already in 2005. Some other statistics are borderline obscure but insightful in other ways; for example the fact that according to BDDO, 60% of cellphone users globally take their phone to bed with them - physically to bed, not just on the nightstand!

In addition to the statistics bits, there are lots of other gems in terms of services covered, use cases and anecdotes of life in Korea. The most dominant online services like Cyworld are given quite a bit of coverage and each chapter winds up with a case study. Some of the gems of information to take home are not technological either, like the cellphone code of conduct from KTF.

As insightful, fascinating and good reading as Digital Korea is - and it is all that - there are some problems with the book ranging from minor to major. As a minor annoyance I would count the very poor-print-quality, mixed-style graphs and charts as well as the statistics that are interspersed all over the book (though to be honest, spreading them out is a good thing also). To the medium range go things like too much repetition; same services and comments can be (re-)mentioned in half a dozen places.

To the more severe side, I would personally include one blemish in particular; the fact that the authors take what I think can be a fatal assumption: that the present state and the future of Korea is our future as well. They state:

"We are convinced that these changes will happen in all industrialized countries [...] To understand our digital future, understand Digital Korea."

I find this assumption quite simplistic. Despite the numerous advanced technological developments and their consequences (which, it should be pointed out, are not all uniformly good), it's almost crazy to think that the world of Digital Korea will be copied as such to other nations. One only needs to look at a number of past or current technologies and services to understand that they are being utilized very differently in different countries.

While we may all have 100Mbps ubiquitous Internet connectivity at some point in the future, what we use it for will still retain a lot of variety - and as soon as there are deviations in the technologies and, more importantly, the way we use them, understanding one environment does not ensure understanding another. Does it help to see what is done elsewhere? Certainly, no doubt about it. But are all industrialized countries hardwired to repeat the process as it has unfolded in Korea? I think not.

Having said all this, I did find Digital Korea highly interesting and insightful reading. It certainly brings up a number of issues that need to be thought of over here, too. It also brings in some fresh ideas; what's more, many solutions can - and should be - copied or adapted from Korea ASAP. By setting aside the not-invented-here-syndromes and using some technology and services from a place where they're already mainstream, mature and widely used, we could easily get closer to the Korean level of digitalization on a number of fronts. All in all, Digital Korea is certainly worth your while if you want to understand some of the possibilities of the digital world.

Again I'm reminded of the slogan "The future is already here, it's just unevenly distributed".
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