For the first time, North Korea’s sole mobile service provider, Koryolink, allowed visiting foreigners to bring their phones into North Korea and have access to the internet on the 3G network. This same wireless internet is not yet available to North Koreans since they are governed by separate telecommunication rules. It is unfortunate that North Koreans do not have this freedom, but it opens up a new world to outsiders and will allow us to see more of the country that many regard as one of the most isolated nations in the world.
To give you a point of reference that illustrates how monumental this is, AP’s David Guttenfelder recently made his 20th trip to North Korea. During his first trip, he was prevented from taking photos from the bus and even his hotel window was covered with a black plastic sheet. Fast forward to recent months, where he has had the ability to instantaneously post geolocated instagram pictures from inside North Korea. Although there are still quite a few restrictions, allowing real time photographs is ground breaking, especially for the American culture who expects transparency and immediacy.
While Guttenfelder plays it safe with every day pictures on his instagram feed, including restaurants, food, and cute children, he thinks it further bridges the connection between North Koreans and outsiders. During an interview with NPR he said, “You’ll see that from the outside and say, ‘Oh, I do that, too,’ and that’s a connection.”
That connection is an idea very much alive within the work we do. We consistently use social media to apply behavior-change theories, such as Social Learning Theory. We use social media platforms to model and reinforce actions and behaviors. When we see others doing something, we learn from it and it can encourage us to take that same action. For example, when you “like” something on Facebook or when you share lessons learned or success stories with your community of online friends, this helps to reinforce others’ behaviors. Seeing the effects of social media from a communications perspective alone is very impressive. We have seen the way social media has changed the way we do business, it’s made the scope of our work and jobs much larger. Though currently it is just for visiting foreigners, it is intriguing to think about how the access to wireless internet, and in turn, social media platforms may have an effect on North Korea.
With the rest of the world’s mastering of social media, in combination with an ever-evolving market, it is a break-through for an isolated country to allow wireless internet access. I look forward to seeing what Guttenfelder and others share with us, and can only hope that one day this advance will spread to North Koreans as well.