Submitted by Connor Dearing ETA’12-13
This entry originally appeared on a Fulbright grantee’s personal blog and is published with permission here. The views expressed in these entries are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fulbright Korea or the Korea Fulbright Infusion staff.
Korea is without a doubt the most wired place I have ever been. Living in this land of the LED, I consequently have become the most wired I have ever been. My eyes actually hurt from how much I have been staring at a screen all day so I want to keep this brief.
Prior to coming to Korea, I had denounced social media of almost every sort, and limited my internet usage to email and watching movies/tv shows sporadically. It was wonderful. I worked with my hands and feet all day at restaurants, constantly communicating with people vocally and in real time. When not working, I spent almost all my time outdoors in and around Austin TX—hiking the greenbelt, running through my curvaceous neighborhood, biking everywhere, and swimming in various watering holes.
Now, in the most wired nation on earth, I have followed the masses and become attached to the digital screens. I am back on the book (Facebook), where fellow fulbrighters are constantly (like, constantly) updating our group page with updates on their misbehaving students, steller lesson plans, homestay conundrums, or travel plans. Don’t get me wrong, its very convenient and useful, and I’m joining in the parade, but I also find it suffocating and addicting. And unfortunately I am not one of those individuals who can just shut it off when they need to. Facebook is all or nothing.
But the ‘book does not even scratch the surface of Korea’s techno world. The star of the show is KakaoTalk, Korea’s text messaging system. Think AIM. It is a free service (unlike standard text messaging through phone plans) and thus the lifeblood of every Koreans’ (and expat’s) social life. Its how I communicate with my host parents, establish new friendships, and make weekend plans. You can get it in the States as well. (Actually, maybe you should… because then I can text you for free… more digital communication!)
I’m not even sure if non smart phones (flippies) exist anymore in Korea. Smartphones are essentially another body part in Korea. And I use mine so often that I must carry my charger with me at all times for when it eminently loses power.
In my homestay, there is no TV. But there are three smartphones (mom, dad, and boys to share), a computer with HD effects to watch television on, and two ipad-like devices the boys use to play games and study english.
Yet here, in my family’s living room, is the catch:
I’m not sure if my homestay family is a rarity in Korean culture (although I am beginning to think they are), but they seem to have achieved a wired nation/real world equilibrium. While they use technology for the obvious convenient values it holds—education, easy communication, camera—they are not absorbed by it. Much like my real family back in Buffalo, NY, they staunchly hold on to print styles: the newspaper is brought in and read at the breakfast table each morning, the centerpiece (see picture) of the entire home is a gigantic bookshelf, and our schedules (and chore list; my idea, Mom and Dad!) are written on a big white board near the fridge. Additionally, they are wildly active in outdoor pursuits. In just three weeks they have taken me hiking, rock climbing twice, and biking along the river.
So, while currently attached to the tech both day and night, I have the models of my upbringing and current home to serve as examples of a healthy, balanced life I want to achieve.
** There is so much more to be said about the digital revolution in Korea and its effect on society. If you are interested in seeing more, look here: http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/south_korea802/
“Wired Nation” was originally posted on Connor Dearing’s blog “uncovering the hermit kingdom” on September 13, 2012.