Sunday, March 15, 2009

Reading :: Digital Korea

Digital Korea: Convergence of Broadband Internet, 3G Cell Phones, Multiplayer Gaming, Digital TV, Virtual Reality, Electronic Cash, Telematics, Robotics, E-Government and the Intelligent Home
By Tomi Ahonen and Jim O'Reilly

This book is being reviewed by Huatong Sun in my upcoming JBTC special issue on social software, so I won't provide a deep review here. It's an interesting book, though, more in terms of trends and implications than depth or analysis or data collection (most data comes from newspapers and trade sources). Like the authors' blog Communities Dominate Brands, Digital Korea provides an overview of how mobile and digital technologies are changing some basic aspects of how people interact - in this case, people in perhaps the most wired nation on the planet, South Korea.

"To be South Korean means to be connected," the authors state (p.5). Conscious of the high pace of digital change, the authors caution us that this 2007 text will be out of date by the time it hits print - and they note that the iPhone was just about to hit the market, to give you an idea of the changes involved - but they want to chronicle the trends that collectively characterize "the 'Connected Age,' the new wirelessly connected society which has moved beyond the 'Networked Age' of the 1990s" (p.5).

The authors identify several factors. For instance, "Generation-C" (the "community" generation) is constantly connected through mobile phones, particularly text messages; a third of SK students sent over 100 text messages per day in 2006 (p.17). Mobile phones are "umbilical cords" that bind youth, allow them to consult each other immediately before and after purchases, and link them constantly - they even take phones to bed and sleep with them (not on the bedside table as we aging Gen Xers do). They haggle with five car dealers simultaneously over SMS (p.19). As the authors state in a section title, "Adults don't get it" (p.21). (Incidentally, perhaps Twitter has taken off for adults recently in part because it folds SMS into a more familiar, less immediate medium?) Texting is preferred over email, which is characterized as communication for the boss (p.22). The mobile phone "is seen as a major element in the definition of a young person's emerging persona" (p.23).

Since youth overwhelmingly own mobile phones in SK, the authors state, they will not answer the home's landline. By definition, the call isn't for them, and they don't see a reason to take messages (p.25). In a related trend, the authors quote Mizuko Ito's research of Japanese youth, in which she notes that "it is common to send text messages before phone calls, to 'schedule' the time for a voice call" (p.30). (I thought this was brilliant, and I wish more people would do it.)

Paying for goods and services by mobile phone is common in SK, and this means that the mobile phone is the first credit instrument (p.31). Mobile phones also introduce youth to other adult practices, for instance, through simulated boy/girlfriends so that youth can learn social mores involved with dating (p.52), dancing classes delivered over the phone, and phone-based karaoke.

Moving along, the authors note that mobile-delivered full-length television programs were common in SK in 2007, making TV-watching mobile but also intensely personal (p.78). MMORPGs were common as well. Digitally delivered music outsold physically delivered music by a wide margin, with mobile phones and MMORPGs being the main delivery networks.

Digital Korea is an interesting read, although it's not a scholarly text and doesn't really pretend to be. It does get fairly breathless, and I had trouble figuring out how broad-based some of the conclusions were. It also tends to paint a very rosy picture of SK's governmental decisions and involvement; see Castells for a more critical view. But if you want a bloggish overview of different technologies and their potential to remake how we live and work, pick up this book.

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