Off to Korea!

Timothy Mack's picture

I am just returning from a two-day turnaround to speak for an hour (and then do a series of print and TV interviews following that speech) to the Korean Communications Commission in Seoul. The subject was the future of smart technology, which South Korea has invested vast amounts of money and effort in, with the result that they lead the world in technology prototyping and market penetration for their own country…. My purpose there was to remind communications ministries around the world that while the gadgets may be stylish and entertaining, the technology could be used to improve the lives, productivity and future of countries without the resources of South Korea and South Koreans.

In a way, this observation was reflected in the country participation. While a number of US officials from the Federal Communications Commission came to discuss technical or market issues as experts, the countries that sent high level representatives to discuss policy were those smaller ones most likely to benefit from the exchange of vision that the conference represented. Those attending countries included: Bhutan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Cameron, Azerbaijan, Equator, Ethiopia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, Uruguay and Vietnam. Of these, only Brazil closely approaches the boundary of Developing/Developed, but it is also one of the most innovative nations globally and its presence and understanding of where the cutting edge in communications technology will be in 2020 testifies to its visionary leadership. For a more thorough discussion of the keynote presentation that I gave to the conference, take a look at the article on

As for the trip, it was an adventure from the beginning – not because I had never been to Korea. On the contrary, I go there more than to any other country…they understand the need for strategic foresight and want to be in the lead – and they are, across a wide range of categories. Next year, in fact they are hosting the 2012 World Exposition in Yeosu, Korea, on the theme of the future of oceans (and WFS has served as an advisor for that event for the past several years). The trip was an adventure because of the number of personal firsts involved. First, I got my first byline in a foreign newspaper. The article you can read on our WFS homepage was also in the Korea Times during the conference. Second, I was invited to risk death (now that is adventure!) by having dinner the first night at a Korean blowfish restaurant. I had always thought of blowfish as a Japanese specialty (Fugu), but it is very popular in Korea as well…perhaps because of all the times Japan invaded. In Japan the mythology is that correction preparation requires seven years to learn, in order to avoid poisoned customers. In Korea, it seemed much more relaxed, with the meal including fried blowfish, blowfish stew, blowfish salad and so on…the table was so full, and so was I! And I am still here to tell the tale, a week later so perhaps they did not take the seven hour course in its preparation versus the seven years.

As for my third first, I traveled in the First Class section on Korean airlines….so I am ready to reveal the secrets of what goes on behind those pulled curtains. This luxury was actually because of a seating mistake by the airline, with two people assigned to the same seat, so I was bumped upstairs when I arrived early for check in. So now I can tell the world that although a First Class ticket costs a great deal more, the differences are pretty disappointing. The seats are still uncomfortable although they tip back almost flat, and so it is still hard to sleep in the middle of the day. The food was not that different (although they did offer a jar of caviar and all the champagne you could drink, if you could stomach it – I could not and did not). The biggest premiums where Bose headphones and an actual set of pajamas (should you want to get undressed among strangers) both of which you had to give back. I passed on the pajamas, but the headphones certainly cut the engine noise… And fourth, I arrived on the Buddha’s Birthday for the first time, and the biggest urban temple in Korea was in downtown Seoul right across the street from where I was speaking. There were huge crowds, like an American state fair, with lots of vendors and giant inflatable statutes of all the Buddhist deities…everybody seemed to be having a wonderful time!

So, all in all, it was good trip, except on a two day turnaround (28 hours in the air) the jet lag is enormous…so my head felt stuffed with cotton. But I find that those little bottles of ginseng elixir seem to really help…try it sometime!


"useful" high-tech for Africa

Dear Timothy,
thank-you for your insightful report on your trip to Korea. I remember well that our host at a restaurant in Korea some years back tried to convince me we are eating dog meat. Since I had seen the long strips of meat that had been brought to the table, I was pretty sure the meat was most likely the conventional type...
Now to your media technology: here in Africa the use mobile technology is increasing rapidly. When I traveled in the very remote Kaokoveld in Namibia, we found that the Ovahimba tribe rejected most of the western way of live, but are still making use of mobile phones. You are quite right - these gadgets need to "improve" their lives to be useful.
Which features do you see as desirable for gadgets to improve lives and the future of people who barely live on $1/day?
Regards, Rudolf