Thursday, April 20, 2006

Early to bed - early to rise in South Korea

Cyworld=MySpace+avatars+Flickr+virtual world+people

Started in South Korea and owned by SK Telecom (Korea’s largest wireless provider), Cyworld boasts 17 million users — that number is almost one third of the country’s population.

This is possible because South Korea is the world’s most wired country, where 72 percent of all households have broadband access. The secret of their success is that South Korean government decided back in 1997 that the only way to get ahead in the world it to be a tech-savvy community, so this type of business gets a lot of help from authorities, directly and indirectly in such ways as having almost every school have advanced Internet connections for all students.

But Cyworld is smart in that it integrates video gaming, mobile technologies, music downloading and every possible aspect of what users want to do online — so it is a kind of monolithic all-in-one service, a kind that may not be quite as popular in the US because of cultural differences.

This is all nice and said but what about the impact? Let's face it, social technologies succeed when they fit into the social lives and practices of those who engage with the technology.

Society as a whole is moving in a direction that supports this. As the speed of innovation increases and the social glue of the family unit decreases, youth and alienated individuals are inclined to spend more time going through identity development processes because they are trying to "figure out who they are."

The menu is getting bigger and bigger - more social networking opportunities are at hand - decisions are harder to make due simply to the opportunity cost.

Blogs and social technologies are particularly supportive of this. Of course, blogs require having something to say while social media let you meet people and exchange ideas like never before.

People do grow out of ongoing identity production, but not for quite some time. Traditional (read:local) society needs people to be serious and fit into pre-defined checkboxes - to know who they are.

the new society (read:global) allows for individuals to broaden their reach and connect to others with similar ideas - wherever they are. Smartmobs breaking any type of boundaries. Dissatisfaction in France leads to uprisings in Germany.

See what I mean? It's not all about productivity. It's about knowledge.

Even when there's no prescribed reason for surfing the net - people are collecting ideas. They're hanging out. They're comparing their ideas with others in front of digital mirrors. They're supporting these ideas and patting their friends on their digital backs. They're increasing the strength of their relationships through sharing. They're consuming and producing cultural nuggets of knowledge that position them within their digital societies. They're laughing, exploring and being entertained - all while attending the digital classroom.

South Korea gets it. Too bad we don't. Too bad developing nations can't.

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