[Viewpoint] Smart policies, not smart technologies

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[Viewpoint] Smart policies, not smart technologies

The invention of movable-type printing by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century was one of the most significant events in Western civilization. The Bible, whose publication had been monopolized by a small number of clergymen, was mass produced and made available to ordinary people. It led to the Protestant Reformation.

The distribution of books accelerated the spread of the Renaissance spirit and the Enlightenment. It was a smart technology that changed humanity.

However, it was not the technology itself that directly brought about the Reformation, Renaissance and the Enlightenment. It was the ideas and philosophies contained in the printed books. The significant texts include “The 95 Theses” by Martin Luther (1517), “The Praise of the Folly” by Desiderius Erasmus (1511) and “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine (1776).

But the focus of civilization shifts as television is introduced in the mid-20th century, the era of electronic technology. The televised debate between U.S. presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in 1976 is still considered classic content in media democracy. The television series “Dallas,” which began in 1978, is the most notable case of media content becoming a part of the daily lives for not only Americans but also viewers around the world.

However, the success of television is not entirely due to the content. Raymond Williams suggested that we needed to pay more attention to the “flow” of television programming, which arranges the content in a smart way.

The viewers entrust their eyes and ears to the flow of the programs provided by the broadcasters. Hence, the television earned the nickname “boob tube.” If you pay attention to the power of the flow rather than the content, the viewers sitting mindlessly in front of a television hardly look smart.

The keyword in 21st century communication is “smart technology.” Thanks to the advent of third- and fourth-generation communication technology, smart technology has enhanced our sensory organs to the highest level imaginable.

The efficiency of a network that encompasses time and space has become a part of our lives. It is hard to think about living a day without a smartphone. We have entrusted not just the eyes and the ears but also the entire body to the new flow provided by smart technology.

However, is the smart era actually smart? Once again, the point is the content. Wikipedia has replaced sets of encyclopedias on bookshelves, but it is hard to consider the Web site a system of knowledge in terms of sustainability, agreement within society and reproductivity. We all find it immensely convenient because it is so easy to search. But the value of knowledge contained within is very limited.

Twitter is the leader in communication in the era of smart technology. However, it is technically impossible to convey comprehensive and advanced content due to the limitations in the size of information.

In fact, it was not created to deliver substantial information in the first place.

Twitter is an appropriate medium to connect members and encourage empathy. It is especially outstanding in converging the attitudes and opinions of the young generation in their 20s to 40s.

The influence of Twitter was proven in the Oct. 26 by-elections. As everyone expected, it was Park Won-soon, the opposition candidate, who benefitted from Twitter. It clearly played an important role in attracting voters in the 20s to 40s, creating empathy and encouraging them to come to the polling station. Twitter served as a medium that appealed to the young generation. In the perspective of political engineering, Twitter is certainly smart.

Nevertheless, I do not think that smart technology, represented by Twitter, can lead Korea’s political culture so smartly. The outstanding tool of political engineering is likely to keep our views on the superficial level.

Moreover, it could block the way to a more thorough review and contemplation on the policy content of candidates. Twitter is useful in negative campaigning but is clearly limited verifying and scrutinizing policy, which is more important.

The election is over, and we should now forget about smart political engineering through Twitter. It is time to pursue a political philosophy and policy implementation, and the citizens need to shift their focus as well. Smart technology is a more powerful technology of flow than television. We need to be careful not to become hostage to the flow.

The era of smart politics is not necessarily smart. We should all keep in mind that true smart power does not come from technology itself but from the contents and ideas proposed by politicians and realized by citizens.

*The writer is a professor of mass communication at Korea University.

By Ma Dong-hoon
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