During South Africa’s darkest decades an unforgivable crime, which often gets overlooked due to the atrocities that went on under cover, is the destruction of information. Authorities, in their attempt to control the thoughts and ideologies of the population, could not allow information to be freely available. With information people can make up their minds, and when people make up their minds, others (authorities) cannot do it for them. This can eventually lead to loss of power – a big threat to any authoritarian state. Back then information was mostly available in the form of publicised works such as books, magazines and newspapers from outside South Africa. Usually the rest of the world’s attempt to punish such governments e.g. through sanctions, isolated the population further. Arguably, be a better approach is to reach out beyond the regime’s range and speak to the population itself. This, however, is either made very difficult by the regime or, as in North Korea’s case, impossible.
North Korea has been cut off from the outside world for the last 70 years under rule of the Kim Dynasty. Kim Jong Il not only banned all foreign media but also banned access to the internet or any outside films, TV series, fiction and non-fiction as well as communication with foreigners, completely isolating the North Korean population from the outside world. To enlist the North Korean population to these restrictions, propaganda is spread about the evils of the Western world, painting the entire West as murderous, greedy, promiscuous and barbarous, with only ill intent for the East and its riches. Propaganda and fear are the most popular tactics used. According to a 2004 Human Rights Watch report, the North Korean government under Kim was “among the world’s most repressive governments”, having up to 200,000 political prisoners according to U.S. and South Korean officials. These prisoners have no freedom of the press or religion, political opposition or equal education; “Virtually every aspect of political, social, and economic life is controlled by the government.”
In an attempt to avoid mass scale war and destruction, the Human Rights Foundation launched a campaign to reach the people of North Korea called the Flash Drives for Freedom campaign. The goal with this campaign is to get media like books, films and Entertainment from the West to North Koreans. If you are interested in helping, Google “flash drives for freedom” to donate your flash drives. Your old unused drives will be filled with information and smuggled and distributed to the people of North Korea.
This initiative draws our attention to just how important it is to stay ahead of developing technology. If we had not stepped into the digital age when we did, it would be impossible to smuggle even a fraction of information into North Korea. Having so much data available on such tiny storage devices plays a huge part in avoiding destruction of knowledge and promoting the spread of information. It is quite amazing to think that you can carry every episode of “friends” as well as the Korean-language version of Wikipedia and a few popular dystopian novels on a device small enough to hide under your tongue. The digital journey so far has been quite exciting and shines a light on how innovative people have become in using technology to their advantage or to the betterment of humankind. We cannot wait to see what the future holds in digital transformation.