News and discussions about technology in North Korea usually focus on the country’s nuclear programme. Often ignored, however, is the fact that, over the course of the past decade, consumer technology has also evolved. Maybe most importantly, cell phones have become increasingly widespread. They are now a common sight in the streets of Pyongyang and border cities. This is a momentous change which coincides with the emergence of a new generation, millennials, in North Korea.
To learn more about the role that technology, and especially cell phones, plays in North Korean society, we had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Suk-Young Kim. She told us about North Korean millennials and their characteristics, where North Korea stands in terms of technology, how technology and foreign media consumption interact to produce emergent trust networks among North Koreans, and why North Korea’s regime permits the spread of such a technology in the first place.
Suk-Young Kim is a Professor and Head of Theater and Performance Studies at UCLA. She received her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Theatre and Drama with a Certificate in Gender Studies from Northwestern University and her Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literature from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her first book, Illusive Utopia: Theater, Film, and Everyday Performance in North Korea, was the winner of the 2013 James Palais Book Prize from the Association for Asian Studies. More recently, she published K-pop Live: Fans, Idols, and Multimedia Performance.
What’s really fascinating for me is that, although we tend to bracket North Korea as a very different place in the world that is stagnant and anachronistic, and has been sort of an island, that’s not the case. Especially when you look at the seismic changes that have taken place in the last twenty years and the generational gap and the definition and characteristics of this tech savvy generation tend to be very much shared across the board.
This episode was produced in cooperation and with the support of the East Asian Studies Center at The Ohio State University and its Title VI National Resource Center grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The interview was recorded on August 2nd, 2021 remotely from Columbus, OH.