One of the themes of UBICOMP 2006 was “the power of infrastructure.” As Bruce Sterling put it, and I paraphrase, infrastructure has power that is more subtle and more pervasive than politics, ethnicity and culture. A living experiment exists in North Korea which has chosen, by fiat, to live “off-the-grid” (another theme of previous UBICOMPs). They have no legal Internet. The New York Times has a thoughtful description of the current situation in North Korea, but leaves any prediction of the future state of the country to others.
The Internet Black Hole That Is North Korea – New York Times:
“The problem is much more vexing for North Korea, Professor Zittrain said, because its “comprehensive official fantasy worldview” must remain inviolate. “In such a situation, any information leakage from the outside world could be devastating,” he said, “and Internet access for the citizenry would have to be so controlled as to be useless. It couldn’t even resemble the Internet as we know it.”
But how long can North Korea’s leadership keep the country in the dark?
Writing in The International Herald Tribune last year, Rebecca MacKinnon, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, suggested that North Korea’s ban on cellphones was being breached on the black market along China’s border. And as more and more cellphones there become Web-enabled, she suggested, that might mean that a growing number of North Koreans, in addition to talking to family in the South, would be quietly raising digital periscopes from the depths.”
I wonder if any of the technologies that are being developed for disaster recovery and first response will find their ways into the black market cell-phones on the Chinese border of North Korea? Maybe the internet will come to North Korea in the form of ad-hoc networks of anonymous cooperating parasitic mobile micro-servers. (More buzzwords please). Maybe it’s already happening.