Back from his trip to North Korea, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt has posted a few thoughts on his visit. But far more interesting and revealing was the travelogue from his daughter Sophie, who accompanied him on the trip.
Eric Speaks Of Isolation
Schmidt posted about his visit on his Google+ page, saying North Korean technology is limited, the internet is supervised and that North Korea will find it increasingly difficult to stay isolated, concluding:
As the world becomes increasingly connected, the North Korean decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world and their economic growth. It will make it harder for them to catch up economically.
We made that alternative very, very clear. Once the internet starts in any country, citizens in that country can certainly build on top of it, but the government has to do one thing: open up the Internet first. They have to make it possible for people to use the Internet, which the government of North Korea has not yet done. It is their choice now, and in my view, it’s time for them to start, or they will remain behind.
Sophie Pokes Holes In The North Korean Facade
Meanwhile, spotted via Quartz, Schmidt’s daughter Sophie — who he invited to go on the trip — shared a fascinating and frank travelogue of the journey. Some highlights:
Speaking about how every visit to a place was preceded by an intro praising Kim Jong Un for making it happen, she wrote:
Reminded me of the “We’re Not Worthy” bit from Wayne’s World. Just another example of the reality distortion field we routinely encountered in North Korea, just frequently enough to remind us how irrational the whole system really is.
I mean, really: how lucky are they that their new Leader turns out to be a nuclear technology expert, genius computer scientist and shrewd geopolitical strategist? That guy is good at everything.
After encouraging anyone who has the chance to visit, she warns never to do it in January, given how cold it is — something that leads to a further contrast to the amazing things the North Koreans thought they were showing her and reality:
The cold was compounded by the fact that none of the buildings we visited were heated, which meant hour-long tours in cavernous, 30-degree indoor environments.
It is quite extraordinary to have the Honored Guest Experience in such conditions: they’re proudly showing you their latest technology or best library, and you can see your breath. A clue to how much is really in their control.
Of a visit to the Kim Il Sung University e-Library, seemingly filled with busy people working on computers, she calls it a “e-Potemkin Village,” writing:
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.
In the end, she notes for all their isolation, there are North Koreans savvy to what’s offered outside their country and wanting more. Writing of some of the questions her father answered:
Those in the know are savvier than you’d expect. Exhibit A: Eric fielded questions like, “When is the next version of Android coming out?”and “Can you help us with e-Settlement so that we can put North Korean apps on Android Market?” Answers: soon, and No, silly North Koreans, you’re under international bank sanctions.
They seemed to acknowledge that connectivity is coming, and that they can’t hope to keep it out. Indeed, some seemed to understand that it’s only with connectivity that their country has a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping up with the 21st century. But we’ll have to wait and see what direction they choose to take.
It was a great read. Be sure to read the entire thing which is, unfortunately, written on a horrid Google Sites template. Someone please upgrade Sophie to Blogger. Or WordPress.