I came across two pieces of information today, and the juxtaposition was too much to not share. First piece: a new study out by AXA has found that retired people in 11 countries are now spending more time using the Internet over traditional pastimes of gardening, hiking, traveling, etc. Apparently, the term for this new demographic is “silver surfers.”
Second piece: Near North Korea’s northern border, Chinese cell phones and prepaid phone cards are a hot black-market item, regardless of the government trying to ban them. The reason: the new phones have free access to the Chinese Internet, which, even if censored, is a portal to the outside world not available to North Koreans through their regular Intranet.
So while four in ten retired people are regular e-shoppers and 88% chat regularly with friends and family over the Internet, North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Il says things like, “Officially, our computers are mainly for educational and scientific purposes… Chatting on our web, I also met my girlfriend.”
Pay close attention to his use of “our web.” The North Korean ideology of self-reliance is best observed through the way the country installed a fiber-optic cable network for domestic use and launched a nationwide “Intranet” in 2000. The Intranet has a browser, email, news groups, and search engine. But only a few thousand people can have direct access to the real Internet. The rest are cut off via the government’s computer center and fed only approved materials from those that have the real access.
So while even my parents now get their daily news, shop, and interact with others via the Internet, North Koreans live in virtual silence.