Wednesday 19 October 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 19/10/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

James Chambers / Opinion

It’s good to talk

For almost 10 hours last weekend, much of South Korea was in the dark – digitally speaking. The country’s main messaging app, Kakao, went down on Saturday after a fire at a data centre. More than 53 million people suddenly experienced what life was like in the old offline days; back when we used to speak to people in person, hail taxis on the street and withdraw cash from banks.

While hyperconnected South Koreans could arguably do with a little less screen time, the novel experience has spooked many into recognising the near-monopoly that Kakao enjoys on communication in South Korea. More than 90 per cent of the population uses the messaging app. The shock led to calls for lawmakers to safeguard both competition and innovation, and to consider security in a nation that’s constantly threatened with attack and destabilisation from its neighbour to the north.

The South Korean military can – and regularly does – prepare for hypothetical tactical missile strikes but didn’t seem to have a ready response for when its go-to messaging app went down. President Yoon Suk-yeol saw the panic that the Kakao outage caused and has vowed to take decisive action. What this might look like is less clear.

More broadly, the role of private, unaccountable and often opaquely run technology companies needs further discussion – and fast. You only need to look at the advantage that Elon Musk’s satellite technology Starlink has given Ukraine’s war efforts to see how civilian services can be co-opted for good or ill. For now, we should be working to apply strict antitrust laws to online services and stress test them in case of emergencies. What would happen if a massive email server went down or a social media firm fumbled elsewhere? Most nations would still be in the dark about how best to reply.

James Chambers is Monocle’s Hong Kong bureau chief.

Image: Reuters

Diplomacy / Israel & Lebanon

Dealing with a leak

A historic agreement is in the offing after details of a maritime border deal between Lebanon and Israel were leaked. If ratified, the long-touted settlement would define the countries’ shared sea border and unlock the potential for oil and natural gas exploration. For Israel the deal is a security move and a leap forward for the fragile truce between the two countries. But for Lebanon the motive is probably a financial one as a deal would provide a boon to the country’s tanking economy. Energy experts, however, say that such dividends could take years to pay off. Others feel that the potential windfall could do more harm than good. “The current political class sees this as a way to secure governmental survival and bypass financial reforms,” Lebanese oil and gas expert Laury Haytayan tells The Monocle Minute. “This could be a recipe for more corruption and mismanagement by the old guard.” Both sides hope that the deal will be ratified by the end of the month: Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun’s term ends on 31 October while elections in Israel are slated for 1 November.

Image: Jake Naughton

Urbanism / Quito

On the up

Things in Quito are looking up – literally. The Ecuadorian capital is a long, narrow city of almost two million nestled in the foothills of the Andes. It is home to a spate of new towers built by world-renowned architects, including Israeli-Canadian modernist Moshe Safdie and Dane Bjarke Ingels, whose studio designed Iqon (pictured). As the city’s transport and infrastructure improves (with a 22.5km, €2bn metro line due to open in December), a new generation of creatives is returning to Quito.

Though its new buildings are world class in pedigree and execution, the longer-term task of helping these alien-looking structures to feel as though they are part of the city fabric is still up in the air. “For 30 years there was no real planning here,” architect Gonzalo Diez of design practice Diez+Muller tells Monocle. “Things are slowly starting to change; people are beginning to understand the importance of thinking about how our city evolves.”

For the full report on Quito’s rising fortunes and the challenges it faces, pick up a copy of the November issue of Monocle, which is out this week, or subscribe so that you never miss an issue.

Image: Alamy

Politics / Hong Kong

Stem the tide

Hong Kong’s chief executive John Lee (pictured) will make his maiden policy speech today and seems set on trying to tempt new talent to the region after a seriously bumpy run. The raft of measures – including new visas, tax perks and cutting red tape around hiring – is the former police officer’s attempt to reverse the tide of locals leaving the city. More than 100,000 people emigrated in the 12 months to June 2022: many were residents who no longer saw a future in their home city, others were expatriates fed up with strict coronavirus regulations and political uncertainty.

Lee arrived in office in July at a low ebb for a city still struggling with crackdowns on freedom of speech and sporadic lockdowns. He soon scrapped Hong Kong’s hotel mandatory quarantine policy and today’s announcement is set to further acknowledge the city’s need to boost its stagnant economy, stem the brain drain and put out the welcome mat. Whether this will be enough to compete with business incentives to move to Singapore or Dubai remains to be seen.

Image: Grand Palais, Patrick Tourneboeuf

Art / Paris

All the city is a stage

For a portrait of the art market’s rude health, collectors and the curious should look to Paris for Art Basel’s first outing in the city, which opens tomorrow and runs until Sunday. The contemporary art fair, dubbed Paris+ par Art Basel, showcases the works of artists from 156 galleries, brought together by director Clément Delépine. While the main fair is taking place in the Grand Palais Éphémère, large-scale public-facing works will be shown in the Place Vendôme, the historic École des Beaux-Arts, and the Jardin des Tuileries, with conversations hosted on a boat moored near the Eiffel Tower.

“I am truly delighted with the scale and ambition of our inaugural edition,” says Delépine as he stresses the importance of putting the city at the centre of proceedings. “The talks and installations are accessible to all, extending our programming throughout Paris to a broad audience beyond our fair visitors.” Some might wonder whether the art calendar needs another event; they will have their answer within the week. Our hunch is that Paris will prove to be an irresistible addition.

Image: Alamy

Monocle 24 / Tall Stories

Edificio España, Madrid

Paul Logothetis visits one of Madrid’s historic skyscrapers, recently reborn as a hotel after lying dormant for more than a decade.

Monocle Films / Japan

Tokyo’s colourful community bus

An electric bus service has injected a new playfulness into a borough of Tokyo in need of a revamp. We hop aboard and meet Eiji Mitooka, its creator and Japan’s foremost train designer, who explains why he puts fun at the top of his list when designing public transport. All aboard! Read more in the June issue of the magazine.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00