&#91FORUM&#93Barrier in the Internet kingdom

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&#91FORUM&#93Barrier in the Internet kingdom

A junior of mine in school who had been to the United States with his family for a year of training came back alone as “a goose father” ― a father separated from his family.
He said it was all due to his son’s salvation from Internet addiction. In Korea the Internet superhighway is built to reach everywhere, but in America his son became irritated and even nervous when it took him hours to download computer game programs by depending on a mere modem. His game environment became messy due to the frequent disconnection of his programs.
As working parents, the couple had not noticed how seriously their son, an elementary school student, was addicted to online games. They were literally shocked to know their son’s situation. When he gave up online games in about two months and showed interest in the piano, the wife, a teacher, mailed her resignation to her school in Korea and decided to stay in the United States with their son.
Although I don’t readily approve of the recent trend in which a couple lives apart for the sake of their children’s education, I could understand the decision. There are almost no alleys in Seoul, however narrow, without a “PC room,” and Korea is, both in name and reality, an Internet kingdom with more than 26 million subscribers.
A young couple I met the other day was more seriously involved in the Internet. “Even if we have a fight before we leave for work, we are no longer angry by the time we return home. Thanks to a messenger program, we can get access to the Internet the moment we turn on the computer at work, and we can have the second round of the fight and express all pent-up feelings. So, at the dinner table, we can be as intimate as before.” I came to realize how different their generation is than my off-line generation: When we had a fight, a “cold war” would last for days.
A well-established Internet infrastructure surely makes access to a variety of Web sites easy, gives both positive and negative impacts to our life and enables us to enjoy all the pleasures and conveniences that the Internet kingdom can offer. Unfortunately, however, there is a group of people who cannot share this blessing: foreigners living in Korea. Well-catered and inexpensive, time- and money-saving Internet shopping malls and information-sharing and friend-making activities of the Internet community are all pie in the sky to them.
In a survey on Korea’s image recently conducted by CICI, a communications research institute, foreigners counted the convenience of the Internet among the benefits of living in Korea. As shortcomings, they said, “Koreans are closed-minded and prejudiced against foreigners.” They also pointed out, “Every Web site demands Korean resident registration numbers.” Because they have a different registration system, Internet access is blocked to foreigners from the very beginning. This may bring tremendous damage to the nation’s image by reducing our strong points to weak points.
The Korean resident registration system, in which every Korean has a unique identification number, is aimed at enabling the central government to integrate and manage each individual’s information. Aside from the issue of finger-printing for the current resident registration system, the government can hardly avoid criticism of putting operator’s convenience before user’s if it lets every Web site demand a Korean resident registration number.
Everyone should have free access to the Internet sites. Not only countries without a resident registration system but also countries with similar ones do not require “numbers” to give access to Web sites. In Japan, one’s name and address are required to gain access to Web sites. In England, France and the United States, depending on the sites, a social security number, or even nothing, is required.
This fundamental blocking of Internet access, which ruins the prestige of the Internet kingdom, is a shameful product of our inconsiderate and uniform culture. If a resident number is indispensable for certifying a person’s real name to prevent side effects of the Internet, the government should take complementary measures so that foreigners can have easy access to the sites. How long will we continue to live like “a frog in a well"?

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Hong Eun-hee
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