Author: lelefos

“I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way.” Carl Sandburg

Once You Go DIGC You Never Go Back

North Korea has a complete lack of independent domestic media. It is illegal to access foreign media and there are harsh punishments for citizens who violate this. But where there is a will, there is a way, and a growing number of North Korean citizens are demonstrating that they are willing to take risks in order to access external information and technology. A lot of this IT is being disseminated across the Chinese border, which is creating a demographic of increasingly well informed border livin’ North Korean citizens. Apparently in the next few years it might even be possible for these citizens to access China’s less regulated Internet using smartphones, which would certainly broaden communication channels into and out of the country. I keep trying to think of Western equivalents to the technological barriers and challenges that these citizens face, all I can think of is it’s like trying to steal your neighbours WiFi, or trying to illegally download a movie… still not really that difficult but if we fail, it doesn’t really matter because there are hundreds of other alternatives that we can explore… if you get caught even just listening to unauthorized foreign broadcasts or possessing dissident publications it is considered a ‘crime against the state’, which carries extreme punishments. These include hard labour, prison sentences and a death penalty. All I got for breaching copyright infringement was a ‘warning’ email…

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Just like torrenting is becoming a more normalised behaviour in Australia, sharing and consuming information is becoming a more normalised in North Korea. Word of mouth is still the primary source of information retrieval and dissemination. When the regimes grip was tighter it was not uncommon for citizens to fear their neighbours as informants, who might relay information back to the state. However it has been noted that enforcement is becoming more irregular, with police and other forces often accepting bribes to look the other way. Defectors and foreign media informants have also noted that less North Korean citizens are reporting on one another to the state, allowing for the growth of underground networks where citizens can share media, information and technology.


I have discovered this sort-of media industry report of North Koreas changing media environment. While the data has been taken from a relatively small sample of North Korean defectors and foreign informants, it still provides a decent snapshot of what is happening in regards to media consumption behind that irksome iron curtain. A certain trickle-down effect/information hierarchy is in play due to the centrally controlled media distribution system.

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It’s so interesting to compare the information and technology climate in North Korea to what I am used to and experience every day. It’s like having juxtaposing examples or a way to contrast the “then” and “now” of media technology development. As I mentioned, like back in the heyday, word of mouth is still the most vital source of information, with 79% of respondents identifying it has the most important.obtain Most citizens obtain foreign DVD’s borrowed from friends and family, or purchased from a trustworthy source for a fee. Again, in my mind, I begin comparing this system of sharing ‘illegal’ media to that of illegal torrenting in Australia. However, instead of networking a relatively minimal range of tangible DVD’s across country borders, we can easily transfer gigabyte loads of ‘illegally’ gained data from one pal’s hard drive to another. In a very short space of time, with minimal effort and with no real impotent threat of punishment we can gain access to a very broad and diverse range of media. So, yes, in Australia I believe we have it pretty good, and once you have experienced what it’s like to easily access and consume media, it becomes extremely difficult for an authority to try and regain control of what the populace is consuming. I am not at all saying it is impossible, but North Korea has crossed the ‘Digital Rubicon’ and what I will say is it would be close to impossible for North Korea to revert back to it’s old way of doing things.

Information and Technology: Seeds of Change in North Korea

I know the past few posts I have said I will be discussing the illegal consumption of information and technology in North Korea, and I will! But first I think I needed to research where the government is at with their IT developments, what resources and infrastructure they provide, what is actually legal and who can actually access it. So, one of the biggest surprises when I started all of this research on North Korea was the abundance of material. Because North Korea is such a tightly controlled and isolated population the fairly recent introduction of information and technology, like mobile phones and a communications network, is an unprecedented development. People want to talk about it, which certainly makes reading and finding out about it easier than expected.

It was only in the last decade that the domestic closed Internet, Kwangmyong, and the mobile phone network was created. They are such a normalised aspect of our society, we probably have 10-year-old kids running around with iPhone 6’s. Meanwhile in North Korea it is only the countries upper class and elite who have access to 3rd generation mobile phones. North Koreas network, Koryolink, only allows for domestic calls, these are all monitored and tracked as closely as possible by the State Community Department. However, with now almost 1million cell phones in North Korea, the conversation between private citizens is becoming harder to follow (this is still a measly number compared to South Korea, where there are more cell phones than people).


I think one of the reasons I find this research so interesting (umm epiphany?) is because I know I am going to be able to follow the story in North Korea for decades to come. For the last three years of this media degree I have been educated on the potentials and abilities of communications technologies to provide freedom and a movement of ideas, which can often result in liberating change. I feel as if North Korea is at the start of this journey. While it is still very early days and the future is always uncertain, I am going to witness the strengths and limitations of new media technologies, within a nation, that only a decade ago was completely debilitated in that field.


On that note, I think it is important for me to understand why North Korea decided to expand the use of IT, even though it poses such a risk to the rigid control of the regime. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, the North Korean economy is weak. The DPRK’s goal is to increase productivity domestically and attract international investment. Of course, these newly installed technologies will only reach their full potential if the DPRK opens up to the outside world. At the moment, North Korea has created something of a “mosquito net”, allowing for a flow of foreign investment while blocking infiltrations of foreign ideas, news and culture. As a result of this structure North Korea is currently stable and the possibility of a ‘North Korean Spring’ is pretty far-fetched.

I still believe that North Korea is moving in the right direction, but that is just the opinion of someone studying media and technology in a Western country. The notion of a modern revolution in North Korea is extremely tricky, in the West we are obsessed with the logistical utility of technology (it is very useful) and the legal importance of free communication (it is a right), but I think we may under-appreciate the psychological and emotional power of the tools we’ve created. As seen in the Arab Spring, social media has the power to diminish the loneliness inherent in discontent. Imagine being a North Korean and having the desire to overthrow the North Korean regime. Practically, how could you even organise anything large-scale enough to effect change. Psychologically, you would feel disconnected from others; unable to communicate on a large scale with fellow like-minded people. I think I would feel as if I was alone in my stance, maybe I was wrong? I feel as if I would be overwhelmed with a sense of alienation and paranoia. Especially after decades of education, propaganda and policy that have been put into place to make rebellion a deep source of shame and mortal fear. On top of this, many North Koreans are against any change, with the modern and materialistic ways of their South Korean cousins representing a polar opposite to their traditional, deep-rooted familial, political and traditional values. So yep… change in the DPRK = complicated to say the least.


This week my idea of what was going on in North Korea has been challenged and transformed. There are so many more complications to change in North Korea than what I originally thought, I guess my research was still kind of at surface level. Anyway, information and technology still has the force to challenge the DPRK, pushing for either reform or collapse. The thing is, North Korea has an ancient system in place for preventing political change. These foundations run very deep and I guess to shake them you would need a vast majority from all levels of the rigid caste system. At this stage, mobile phones, new markets and foreign DVD’s may be the sprouts that lead to this change, but for now they are just seeds… so next week let’s see where these ‘seeds’ are being planted.

Me & Autoethnography

Ellis, Adams and Bochner (2011) make reference to autoethnography as being a useful tool for helping yourself and others understand different cultures. This is attained through describing and analysing your own personal experiences in order to unpack a cultural experience. By researching a culture and its practices, values, beliefs and shared experiences as a ‘participant observer’ you essentially help both insiders and outsiders reach a better understanding of the culture. By expressing hindsight of your experiences you can help others tackle some of the pre-conceived judgements, misunderstandings or false impressions that often come when trying to understand another culture.

I have been having some trouble with researching North Korea auto-ethnographically. Firstly, my understanding of autoethnography is still in the ‘confused stage’. Secondly, I have not been consciously aware or taken note of my experiences and feelings during my research (whoops, will try harder). This may be because I am often so involved, focussed and interested in discovering what is going on in North Korea I become distracted by the existing research, and forget to compare and contrast this with my own experience. Also, I don’t think I am very good at talking or expressing how I feel… more often than not I just make jokes and try and change the conversation, which is probably evident in my blog posts. Thirdly, I find it hard to connect with a cultural experience through a computer screen. Because I have chosen a topic I can interact with in really no other way I am not faced with first-hand, impulsive emotion (not complaining, just sayin’). I spend so much time researching global events and am often presented with harrowing images and videos. While I take all of this on board and everyday it helps broaden my global perspective, I believe this type of second-hand research and the visual evidence that comes with it, often has less of an emotional impact on me, or for me these feelings aren’t as close to the surface.

While auto-ethnography may not be my cup of tea, I haven’t given up yet! I will try and embrace my personal feelings, thoughts, stories and observations more so in the next few weeks, and make these thoughts more visible in my blogs and my digital artefact. This post has been helpful in understanding where I stand with autoethnography and will certainly help me move forward in my final project. I definitely need to work on how I can absorb more autoethnography into the visual aspect of my digital artefact, which at the moment stands as a Prezi tracking the information and technology flows into and out of North Korea. Even if in the end me and autoethnography don’t work it out, I will still be happy in knowing that just a few people have a greater understanding of how difficult it can be for North Koreans to access the technology and free information that we, most of us media students, spend so much time using to broaden our own knowledge.

Kim Jong Un: What Leader?

A while back this was pretty much the extent of what I knew about the Kim dynasty dictatorship… (oh how influential pop culture can be)

This week I decided to research the Kim’s and try to work out how the family business is faring after three generations of dictatorship. It is crazy how long the Kim’s have been in power! Although it seems with each generation this power is slipping. We have gone from Kim Il Sung who established the regime in 1948 (Eternal Leader), to Kim Jong Il (Great Leader) who succeeded his father in 1994 and ruled with an iron fist, to current ruler Kim Jong Un (Adjective TBA Leader). Kim has been in charge since late 2011 following his father’s death.

A combination photograph shows founder of North Korea Kim Il-sung, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-il's youngest son Kim Jong-un

My final research topic and digital artefact centres on the notion of change in North Korea, and how digital technology plays a part in this. Of course this change links directly with North Korea’s new leadership and one event, supporting this link, was a recent admittance of failure (something out of the ordinary the DPRK). For the first time among three unsuccessful missile launches they actually told the country the truth, they had failed. This act of ‘taking responsibility for your actions’ (something you learn when you’re 5) might just indicate that the government has finally acknowledged they can no longer keep sizeable secrets from their people. The regime now understands that a significant percentage of NK citizens are illegally consuming foreign media (next weeks topic). Because of this influx of information into and out of the country the populace is becoming more informed and less susceptible to the brainwashing tactics witnessed in the last few decades.


I have been emitting a lot of positive vibes in regards to a better future for North Korea, but I think I need to be a tad more realistic. To be honest, things are probably going to get worse before they get better. Kim Jong Un has recently violated international law, as he refused to cooperate with the US to receive food aid. North Korea is no stranger to chronic food shortages and the government has actually advised people to consume grass and bark as a part of a balanced diet. The food situation in North Korea is bad. It really hits a note with me, maybe because I am not used to seeing these particular images of poverty, or maybe because it looks like footage from famines that occurred last century, either way it seems Kim’s rash decisions for missiles over food is not sitting well with global aid (when treated like an inferior the regime likes to act out by firing missiles, to compensate for their lack of everything bar an army and nuclear weapons… seriously, all the Kim’s have done it). After providing the DPRK with more than 12.5 million metric tons of food, worth up to $4 billion over the past two decades, the international community seems to have developed a case of donor fatigue. I guess you can’t really blame them.

P.s Kim Jong Un is building a Ski Resort… I guess if it makes him happy?


The in’s and out’s of technology in North Korea (literally)

Last week I began researching the concept of ‘citizen journalism’ in the Democratic Republic of North Korea. Just how difficult and dangerous it is to smuggle information (not approved by the state of course) in and out of NK. It was this research that led me to the Japanese freelance journalist Ishimaru Jiro, and his courageous work smuggling footage and technology across the border from China. For my final project I will be researching North Korea’s digital underground, tracking and researching the flow of information and technologies across the Korean borders and around the globe (which I will hopefully display in a Prezi). When I first started further research for this topic I was prepared to start digging… compiling information from multiple sources that I had scavenged from the corners of the web. Turns out… it wasn’t as dramatic as this. In fact (just one Google search away, praise the lord for the Internet) I found a whole Channel 4 documentary on Ishimaru Jiro and inspiring defector ‘Mr. Chung’ trying to shake some of the propaganda out of North Korea. How? Through technology, information flows and pop culture (how relevant). 


Channel 4’s ‘North Korea: Life Inside the Secret State’ (released November last year) covers the freelance journalists risking their freedom to secretly film ‘everyday’ life in North Korea, including devastating footage of the Korean street children known as Kkotjebi. The doco also follows ‘Mr.Chung’, a former inmate of a political prison camp who now smuggles USB sticks and DVD’s of South Korean Soap operas and Western movies into the country (apparently the bond movie Skyfall is the most popular amongst NK blokes). Foolproof: Mr. Chung poses as a mushroom farmer to transport the technologies across the border, where guards operate a shoot-to-kill policy. Chung believes that “The more people are exposed to such media the more likely they are to become disillusioned with the regime and start wanting to live differently”.



I have been so interested in researching North Korea this week I seem to have neglected all of my other work. Since Kim Jong-un has come into power it seems his ‘loyal’ nation is beginning to slip through of his chubby fingers #sorrynotsorry. With defectors sharing their stories (check out Yeon-mi Park on dateline this week) and an influx of new technologies, pop-culture and ideals weaselling their way out from under the regimes big fat heavy boots, the people that inhabit the people’s republic of North Korea are beginning to speak up, back and out. Sadly, this has lead to an increase in political prisoners as surveillance and satellite images capture camps growth. During my research I have discovered some harrowing realities of human rights violations. Torture, imprisonment and starvation are still a major threat to North Koreans if they act out against the ‘great leader’ (I am still struggling to come to terms with most things that are going on in North Korea). However, this harsh control seems to only motivate dedicated NK defectors and citizens to fight for the decentralisation of their nation. Change is a’comin (in the next 5yrs apparently), and I want to know more about it!

Check out one of the many NK defectors residing in South Korea, who sends technology (as well as money and hope) over the South/North Korean border in balloons,

Telling a ‘Digital’ story where ‘Digital’ is illegal

Storytelling is an ancient form of communication that has evolved over time with technological development. Digital storytelling is not just about the transfer of knowledge; it is also a movement designed to amplify the voice of a community (Burgess, 2006). Everyone can participate because everyone has a story to tell. But what if your country ranked 196 out of 196 in terms of media freedom. How can you share your story and experience the potentials of new media technologies, if your involvement leaves you facing a risk of imprisonment or even execution? 


The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the archetype of a ‘closed society’. Only an elite few have access to the Internet that I can see hundreds of people using around me in the University library. While we could all be considered ‘citizen journalists’, North Korean citizen journalists are few and far between. Their work is illegal and extremely dangerous. Ishimaru Jiro, a Japanese freelance journalist, began making trips to the China-North Korea border in the 90’s, where he would Interview refugees, shoot videos and write. One of these refugees, Lee Jun, was determined to become a journalist and help North Koreans understand their situation. He began filming in marketplaces with a camcorder stitched into a shopping bag. Jun and Ishimaro also began smuggling footage into these marketplaces. The videos were edited in Japan and sent to China, where a few hundred copies were burned. Traders on the border were eager to get free merchandise and within days the discs were being bought and sold in markets throughout the country. Click here to view Lee Jun’s Story.


The extent North Koreans have to go to receive or send information certainly makes you take a step back and appreciate the ease at which we can ‘connect’. Throughout this media degree so many terms are thrown around. We can now document events in real time. We are produsers, members of online fandoms, bloggers and Vloggers… I mean ‘Googling’ is in the dictionary. The sheer amount of research that has been done on ‘new medias’ and ‘digital technology’ really highlights just how out of the loop North Korea has become (and just how obsessed Western society has become). In a way it shows how easy it is to be left behind by such a fast paced developed world… it certainly makes you think and appreciate #deepthoughts #realtalk #inappropriate?

On a lighter note, here is a really cool time lapse of North Korea’s capital, Pynongyang, showing slowly but surely North Korea is not immune to change… (while I really enjoy this time lapse I also found this article… am I being fooled by NK propaganda too? aghhh!)


I think North Korea installed its Internet backwards

For weeks and weeks I have been tirelessly searching for a research focus (previous statement may or may not be true). When I first thought about the words ‘Digital Asia’ I was expecting to tap into some kind of inner well… full of innovative and fresh ideas on the tech-happenings of the futuristic and far off ‘Orient’ (I understand I am using this term very generally/sarcastically). However the more I tried to link the ‘Digital’ with ‘Asia’ the more lost and confused I became. T’was then I realised; maybe I should just take the ‘Digital’ out of ‘Asia’ instead. Presto. That narrows it down. So here we are, the North Korean Internet… what’s the go with that? AR-140209606


 Well, it seems North Korea has found a controlled and authoritarian answer to that ‘freewheeling’ Internet of ours. It’s called ‘Kwangmyong’, or ‘Bright’ and its users can now chat and email as they please (be careful what you say though because it is all monitored). When I think of ‘censorship’ I think of things that cannot be seen online, what has been taken away, or is missing. In North Korea’s case the censorship is reflected in what you can see. The Central Scientific and Technological Information Agency (CSTIA) have developed this ‘North Korea only’ network, not to keep its population informed, but rather to broadcast the official ideology and strengthen the technical skills of those who work for the ‘fatherland’. So, as of this week I will begin researching the censorship placed over North Koreas digital 130621-opnorthkoreatechnologies (Anonymous recently claimed it hacked into the Bright network), what this means for its users, and how these heavy regulations are patrolled as well as where North Korea is headed technologically. But for now, don’t you want to hear about the North-Korean Internets biggest star?

I am sure you can guess, and I am not even trying to be funny here, its Kim Jong-un (+ his Kim Jong predecessors a.k.a papa and grandpapa). But seriously, North Korea is probably one of the hardest places to tweet from. I mean a list of their A-listers includes diplomats, ambassadors, anyone who has won an Olympic medal representing North Korea, religious leaders and military leaders.

 tumblr_n4ep1lX2p61r8asibo1_500So, all that really leaves me with is this tumblr page of Kim Jong-un looking at things.

Cowboy Beb,oops I stopped paying attention.

A few weeks ago my roommate (a very excitable young lass) runs into my room overjoyed that one of her favourite anime series, Cowboy Bebop has finished (legally…) downloading after about 2 weeks of constant anticipation (on her behalf). One of our favourite activities is watching television shows together and then vigorously discussing it, mostly in social situations where nobody else cares. While our taste in TV is usually on par there is one area where her interest excels far beyond mine, Anime. My experience with anime does not reach much further than Pokemon, Sailor Moon and a serious love for Avatar: The Last Air Bender (which is not even ‘really’ anime, apparently…). So, out of respect for experiencing new television genres and my dear roomie there is no way I can say no to a sit down viewing of Cowboy Bebop, ‘Session #1’.


So its in the future, there are ‘gates’ in space that allow us to travel from one universe to the next, there is a moody bounty hunting fella called ‘jet’, a dude with a robot arm, some fighting, some dialogue… I should mention that throughout most of this first session I was ‘multitasking’ between watching and Facebooking, so a lot of it went straight over my head, or maybe I am just not that into Anime? (shh don’t tell my roommate). After my first week in DIGC330 I determinedly sat down and watched the next 4 sessions, and I did like it, but I was really trying… I enjoyed the light hearted comic moments however when the anime got darker, dudes with big swishy fringes wearing long leather coats and holding symbolic red roses (ya know?), I started to lose interest again, why was I so bored by the visuals, the storyline? This got me thinking; imagine growing up surrounded by anime and manga comics, your childhood memories brimming with those bright and wacky images. It seems that those cartoonish aesthetics are embedded within Japanese culture, on their televisions and in their advertisements. These images accompany you from childhood right through to adult life. To be honest I am jealous, I feel like our culture is so cemented in reality, it seems so much less… colourful. That’s not to say Japan doesn’t have it’s fair share of darker shades.

Japans bright manga influenced pop culture seems to contrast so drastically with some of its rigid historical traditions and dark events. When I focus on this contrast I realise that during my visits to Japan the historic and the modern seem so intricately connected. Upon further research this combination of pop culture, art and history are all present in manga comics and anime (I mean heck, even the bible has been ‘mangafied’). Some examples include manga series Barefoot Gen’; a comic loosely based on the authors experience as a Hiroshima survivor, and ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ an anime film referencing the final months of WWII. This contrast and connectedness between Japan’s modernity and it’s vast history might be a good place to start for my research project… maybe. I’m still confused.



Just a bit late..

Howdy. My name is Leah and I am a third year media student. I have pretty much finished my international media and communications major and now its time to finish my digital media major. I have only just arrived back from the states after 2 months on break and my brain is in serious holiday mode, so apologies if I am slow to respond/often don’t pay attention… While this subject is mandatory for my degree I am excited to expand my knowledge on Asian cultures and their digital endeavours, as well as to increase and draw on my experiences within this field.

On that note, I am lucky enough to have experienced some contact with Asian cultures first hand. With a few trips to Japan under my belt, as well as South-East Asia and some Malaysian cities, I hopefully have some material to work with. While my brain is still yet to kick into gear (hurry up) I believe I have the most personal connection with Japanese culture. My aunty, a Japanese language teacher, has spent a sizeable portion of her life living in Japan with her Japanese husband. My cousins, who live in Sydney, have grown up speaking both English and Japanese, and from a young age I experienced the cultural difference between both of our families. I have memories of their rooms, full of anime posters, figurines, models and some seriously technological games and toys. As a young girl I certainly had very limited interest in any of this, and in hindsight I wish I had been curious enough to at least try and explore some of these differences… Oh well, I guess I was like 5.

So, I suppose I will be researching and delving into the depths of Japanese digital culture. I have some previous knowledge of Orientalism, Fandom and some contact with Anime (my roommate and I are watching Cowboy Bebop at the moment, this can now be called ‘homework’). So I guess I need to start collaborating and probably consult my dad (he’s an ideas man), and I’ll get back to you 🙂