A few weeks ago I wrote about Eric Schmidt, one of the co-founders of Google, visiting North Korea with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. The trip was an opportunity for Schmidt to speak with the leaders of North Korea about expanding internet services in the country. North Korea has long been isolated, lagging behind its Asian counterparts in most social and economic categories. However, this past Tuesday marked a big step in opening the country up to the rest of the world. Google Maps released a new map of the country complete with street names and, of course, a slew of visible death camps called gulags.
The people of the internet are known for their outstanding moral fiber and impeccable behavioral standards. As soon as Google released the new map, the good people of the interwebs took it upon themselves to fill in the blanks. A Google Maps search for “Gulag North Korea” yields results of 10 concentration camps across the country. The Bukchang Gulag lies just north of Pyongyang, and according to the fantastic folks writing Google+ reviews, it has all the amenities of a large death camp while still maintaining an off-the-beaten-path feel. Some mentioned that the “guides” were very helpful during the political re-education courses and the daily 3am physical fitness routines. Most raved about the convenience of the 24-hour torture chambers and the fat melting all rice diet. The more environmentally conscious visitors were excited about the Gulag’s small carbon footprint and ability to recycle everything from glass and plastic to dismembered human remains.
Now a more honest and ethical human being would probably turn their nose at such black humor, but that’s only a small percentage of the internet. Most had a laugh and moved on with their day. It will be interesting to see how North Korea responds, however. The internet is a platform on which opinions can be voiced. North Korea has spent the past few decades suppressing opinion in every way, shape and form. Hopefully Kim Jong Un has thick skin, because some of the fake twitter accounts in his name are downright vicious. Unlike with those who voice their negative opinions within North Korea, the country will have a hard time executing a 24 year old pizza delivery boy in Akron, OH who lives in his mom’s basement and is currently struggling through his 5th semester of community college.
Opening up the country to the internet means more transparency. Kim Jong Un may never appear on an exclusive episode of MTV Cribs International Palace Edition, but at least we may get a little more information about the day to day lives of an average North Korean citizen. Completely unrestricted internet access in the country is probably a pipe dream though. It’s more than likely that North Korea takes the route of China and gives its people a watered down version of the most important invention of our lifetime.
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