Category Archives: korea

internet etiquette education in Korea

i enjoy reading korean news online whenever i have leisurely time at home, though it happens rather sporadically nowadays. what caught my attention today was an article (in korean) about the new morality class text book content for elementary schools.

with the majority of its citizens having embraced lifestyles which internet is an indispensable part of, korean government’s march on adjusting its policy and legislation for the digital era is quite thought-provoking, to say the least. when camera phones came out, it was quick to mandate all camera phones’ shutter sound to be at least 65db years ago. more recently it is considering making it mandatory for GPS navigation device manufacturers to provide software update facilities in gas stations or convenience stores so that consumers do not become a victim of outdated map databases and map software on the road. not long time ago, a government organization, IAPC (internet addiction prevention center) also started running the bootcamps for internet addicts, a program to help serious internet/computer game addicts rehabilitate. the program made participants totally disconnected from the internet but instead engage in several physical and social activities in the real world. this organization was established in 2002 and has been doing research on koreans’ internet addiction. according to their website, it also conducted research on students’ mobile phone addiction and resulting behavioral changes as well.

it is not surprising to see the government’s effort to educate children about the right and wrong in the digital world early on, as the age when people first start to use internet is getting younger. morality classes start in the first school year for everyone in korea. according to the article, the current morality class text book has the following internet-related content:

4th grade (age 9)
danger and harm of hacking
immorality of illegal content downloading
5th grade (age 10)
respecting others in the internet
6th grade (age 11)
harm of cracking (malicious hacking)
telecommunication etiquette

the new text book proposal will have more pages dedicated to internet behaviors:
2nd grade (age 7)
preventing internet addiction
using polite and appropriate language in internet
4th grade (age 9)
moral problems children experience in internet
problems caused by improper netiquette
what netiquette is and how to behave accordingly
5th grade (age 10)
understanding the danger of computer game addiction
reflection of my own computer game usage behavior
desirable way of enjoying computer game

i believe these topics were chosen reflecting what has been researched well and emerged as patterns of problems like online gaming. It may have been that the article simply did not mention it, but I hope they would touch on identity related topics as well. many children including myself go through the phase when they relate their identity to imaginary or fictional characters. i am no expert in this area so i do wonder how future children would discover and exploit the fact that they can be the imaginary character to a certain extent if they want to, aided by other ‘people’ in the digital world, not just by their own imagination while they are going through the blossoming age of developing their social perception and individual identity. it is up to whether the child will be able to master the delicate skill set of constructing and maintaining the perception of a world in a non-physical form. there was an incident in korea last month that a girl in her early teens left her home for a few days trying to find her ‘virtual husband’, a 30 something years old guy she got to know through online chatting months ago. he had told her that he cannot be ‘with’ her anymore. heartbroken, she wanted to go and look for him even though she had never met him before as the real life form. even for adults, it is not easy to define what is real and what is not nowadays. more embarrassingly, we may have to be in the position to explain to younger people whether what is not real is good or bad.

while i am being a novice fascinated by the potential of education here, i am curious how much of korea’s move is shared by other countries. as far as i have experienced, most mobile / internet cultural norms people tend to be aware of are mostly based on or affected by the immediate communities they belong to. korea has always been a patrimonial society so their approach of institutionalized education and preventive legislation against mishaps and misbehaviors in the internet era seems appropriate.

considering the internet can be catalyst for globalization, how will we come to terms in establishing the desirable behavioral norms in years to come, and from what motivation? if we look a bit farther into the future, internet globalization will be advanced and hence we will have to come up with desirable norms.

there is a downside of authorities acting too fast without the reliable foresight: because korean government’s legislation on the internet banking security was made such a long time ago when there were only a few internet browsers were around, korean online banking systems do not allow access via newer internet browsers, according to a friend working for mozilla.

lastly, there was a very good talk at the new yorker conference in 2007 on morality by Jonathan Haidt, if you want to continue pondering on the topic.

the first picture was taken in tokyo underground in 2006; the second picture is my 3yo nephew watching the animation ‘cars’ on my sister’s laptop.

video calls: intrusion potential

i read a short korean newspaper article today about sexual harassment through video calls. illustration below & the original article from

sexual harrassment through video call

according to the article, the reported callers disabled the caller identification so the receiver could not judge who the call was from before deciding to take the video call. one of the victims captured the video call with a camera and reported to the police. the victims said that the received video calls showed either masturbating scenes or exposed genitals. another sexual harassment case was also reported on a man who repeatedly made video calls of sexual nature to his (ex)girlfriend. the article urges a solution to prevent harassment attempts through video calls as their impact on the victims can be more substantial than text based messages or voice calls. particularly, in these cases, police failed to identify the callers through the mobile phone operators because of the caller id protection, which did not seem to have been designed for cases like this. if you can read korean, the original article is found here.

i pick on this as it is a good example of abusing a useful tool: can there be a smart design solution that could prevent or reduces the impact of the abuse without compromising the regular, normal usage (including the phone, calls, and the caller id function itself)? or a solution that would discourage people from attempting so to begin with, like advertising the existence of the surveillance cameras? the intrusion potential does become higher as the bandwidth of information transmitted through each communication session increases as with the potential benefits. furthermore as mobile communication channels diversify, it is important that people can be still in full control: how do i want to be connected and disconnected? this question has so many facets that relevant answers may (have to) come from – device user interface design, communication infrastructural design, legal enforcement, transformation of social norms, personal lifestyles and preferences, competence in using the device. people have incredible ability to adapt to or reject changes and the trade-offs between the cost and the effect will be always assessed before it is fully integrated as a behavioral change.

perhaps my past project called ‘defined delivery‘ may be a slightly related example of a design work on the topic of increasing mobile communication modality and therefore the social sensibility. the zest of the concept was that text messages can be delivered to the recipient in the desirable / desired context as the sender intends to, as this is our natural communication behavior. for voice calls, it is not rare that we ask upfront to the recipient whether it is good time for a call, implying that the caller does not want to interrupt the recipient and/or the call needs to take place in certain contexts – be it the recipient’s physical state or attention level, or the noises from the environment. translating the same principle into text messaging context, we designed and built a new messaging prototype application on Nokia 7650s that enabled the sender to define the context in which the message should be delivered (in fact notified) to the recipient. the prototypes were tested with a group of high school students and the result of this work was presented at CHI 2005, and the presentation can be available upon request to jung at younghee dot com. the official conference paper can be downloaded here (but beware of the boring language if you are not familiar with CHI paper format).

without going further on speculating the specific design solutions to relieve the mishaps of the intrusion potentials of the video calls, i would like to jump onto a simple example on how japanese people came up with solutions against sexual harassments in crowded commuter trains. have you have been to one of those super crowded trains which designated personnel to push people into, wearing white gloves? all illustrations are from other websites – click on the image to go to the webpage where it is originally posted from.
beware of chikan

it is difficult to identify the owner of the hands in an extremely crowded, confined space. and even if you do, it is not easy to deal with the situation when most passengers are under time pressure without being able to move freely. one solution is to designate women-only metro cars during peak hours.
women only metro car

another is to raise the public awareness of the fact that being ‘chikan’ is a criminal act through posters and signs. photo below is from jan’s weblog.
chikan is crime

there are a number of personal mobile accessories designed to prevent ‘chikan’, like a pen-sized stun gun or an alarm buzzer.
alarm pin

the legal system has also developed to promote victims to report cases. but it seems that the side effect is also substantial as once accused, it is difficult for men to get away with it. read these humorous tips for men below about avoiding false accusations of being chikan, with the original article in japanese found here.

[ excerpt from mari’s diary ]
No.1 Don’t stand behind women. especially you should skip beautiful woman.
No.2 If she misunderstands and glares at you, never look away. You should glare at her back. There was a precedent case that the testimony “he looked away, so I was convinced he was the molester” was accepted in the court.
No.3 Unfortunately when you are misunderstood as a molester, you should never go to staff room in the train station with her, even though she insists. The law of criminal procedure permits the immediate arrest by a private individual. If you follow her, it means you are arrested by her and she can turn you in the police. To take the best chance of clearing yourself, you should leave the place after giving your contact address to her.
My friends say they try to read a book using both hands, or one hand in the bag and the other holding on a strap.

surveillance techniques

Do you check your surroundings before you decide to quickly pick your nose, or adjust your underwear nowadays? We are increasingly aware of possible surveillance around us. Many authorities assume their legal right to place surveillance cameras, often as a measure to provide better security. In some countries, encouraging everyone’s participation to keep an eye on the suspicious people or objects may be necessary for the common good of the society. In some places, the signs of surveillance may be used as a measure to prevent people from misbehaving.

In Korea, a country technically still in truce, there’s a dedicated phone number, 111, to report spies (North Korean or industrial), terrorists, or international criminals. The rewards for reporting spies or spy ships are also clearly written in the commonly found posters: Approximately 65kEur for a spy, 1.5 times more for a spy ship. Having the dedicated phone number for turning spies in is a practice with a long history, which provides immediate ways to act for those who are willing and have access to voice calls.


111 number korea

An ad placed in buses in London encouraging people to be alert about the “suspicious”. Less direct than the Korean approach, but it at least stopped me to think about what would be appropriately suspicious enough to tell the bus staff or police.

london bus suspicious

london bus sign 2

In Helsinki, you may see stickers very visibly indicating the existence of surveillance cameras even though you don’t see the camera itself on taxis or in the airport. The camera icon without any written description implies that people would understand the meaning of the icon being the function of surveillance cameras.

helsinki camera icon

helsinki camera icon on taxi

The more typical signs possibly built with the intention of amplifying the effect of having the surveillance cameras are easily found in UK. The first sign is from London, second from Whistable.

london street surveillance sign

london surveillance sign

Buildings with security companies behind them often display the company logos on the building. Perhaps the reputation of the security company among the petty criminals in the neighborhood is something we would need when selecting which company to turn to.

london surveillance house

In buses or metro stations in Tokyo, this sign featuring big eyes are often found. It is issued by the Tokyo police department, read “We won’t let evil escape” – a message very indirect, but probably functions as a reassurance of the police’s presence.

tokyo police slogan

In addition to the formally established surveillance mechanisms, the emerging form of surveillance is enabled by the majority of individuals carrying recording and communication devices – as already discussed 3 years ago in South Korea over the ‘dog poop girl’ incident.

Leaving the debate on the good and the evil of the citizen journalism enabled by the proliferation of digital tools aside for now – I am wondering how people’s public behavior may be influenced by the implicit potential of people near you reporting your bad or good deeds. ‘Nearby’ people may be those who share the same physical space and time or communication channels like a chat session or a wifi hub with you at the same time. With digital devices’ increasing ability to capture contextual information such as location coordinates, reconstructing a coherent scene or a story with digital data collected by hundreds of people will become relatively easier as well.

Surprisingly a lot of people see mobile phone as a useful tool to capture evidences to prevent lies or fraud and to be used against future disputes in our recent work hosting a mobile phone design competition called Open Studio. On the other hand, the rejection for adoption may be well on the way as well. During the first trial of Lifeblog prototype in 2002, some people showed the fear of collecting the comprehensive personal mobile data including their whereabouts. It was the fear of giving up the protection of ambiguity, the plausible deniability when the usage of technology becomes widely known and adopted.

That leaves another interesting question: How would people drop out of, or at least minimize their digital traces and minimize contributing to create others’? We are probably not expecting stickers and badges showing “this person does NOT have cameras” or “this person will NOT use cameras”. One of the memorable Ubicomp conference talks was on the interesting concept of creating capture-resistant environment, preventing camera phones to take photos by overexposing photos attempted in the region covered by this technology. While I am sure there are certain types of places this technology would be very useful, I do have my doubts if there would ever be any technology successfully controlling people’s digital behaviors.

car + mobile phone number


putting owner’s mobile number printed on the front window seems to be on its way to become a norm for car owners in korea. and often its not a scribbled note anymore. the parking convention in korean cities does require leaving the contact information on the car, as people may have no alternative in resting your car without blocking other cars’ exit route, for instance.

how private is your mobile phone number? what combination of contexts and other personal information makes it unacceptable to give the number out?


future of urban mega cities?

A couple of weeks ago, I had luck in flying to Seoul’s Kimpo city airport under a great afternoon light. These photos are not of the central Seoul but the neighboring areas around the airport, but show the representative forms of housing in Korea: The giant apartment building blocks.

seoul view 3

Seoul is the 6th most densely populated city in the world with 16,700 people living per square kilometer, after Mumbai, Kolkata (India), Karachi (Pakistan), Lagos (Nigeria), and Shenzhen (China). Considering Tokyo is ranked at 50th and Helsinki 111th, it is the busiest city I ever lived in as well. The housing is probably the most distinctive problem in these densely populated cities with the limited space.

Many first time visitors will be probably very curious about these gigantic apartment blocks, as for some they may be reminiscent of several European communist housing projects. I am no expert in urban planning and history of Korean society, but I understand that these massive residential building blocks have been the main body of urban development and the driving force behind the adoption of broadband internet in Korea.

seoul view 4

seoul view 1
seoul view 2

Over the past decades most of residential neighborhoods in Seoul have been or are waiting to be put under the redevelopment scheme, which means demolishing the old houses in the area and building these apartment blocks instead.

seoul view 5

The size of each building varies greatly but it seems there is no limit to how high they can go, partly thanks to the fact that Korea is not considered as earthquake-prone country, unlike its neighboring country, Japan. My parents live on the 12th floor in a 25-story building, which was built 15 years ago. If your dream is to live in a house with a garden in nature, these apartments in the super artificially built environment may seem like a living in a chicken cage. But many Koreans I know who are born in the city do consider living in a modern apartment to be the best form of housing. There are several benefits. To name a few:

Shared cost of living and delegation
A group of apartment buildings usually form a community of their own, which could be equivalent of a villiage. Such a community usually hires a management team to delegate tasks that are of shared nature for the whole community, including security, garbage disposal, and maintenance of shared facilities like car parking and boilers for central heating. Shown in the picture is the monthly maintenance cost bill of an apartment. It details all the expenditure of the shared maintenance cost. This bill combines electricity, gas, water, central heating, insurance, sewage and garbage disposal cost and the likes shared by the community. Terrestrial and cable TV subscription fee are part of it as well, since most people sign up for these services.

utility bill

Magnetic power of the mass
Because of the large number of residents moving to the area, it can attract many service businesses and even governmental infrastructure such as public transportation network at the same time. This way, these communities can get equipped with all the practical conveniences at hand. This high density of residents also enables for some businesses to provide exceptionally personal services with low cost, especially making the home delivery and pick up service a norm.

Peace of mind being surrounded by people
Urbanites that grew up in these buildings can grow the tendency to feel insecure in areas with low density of people. I have no scientific reference to my point here, but it is all based on my personal experience (with my acquaintances) and observations (of the real estate investment boom in Korea). I have talked to several from the elderly generation of over 60yo who wish to stay in the city despite the lack of nature because they want to stay close to other people. I do observe Korean people enjoying all the bustles of living closely together with others – including all the conflicts, gossips, jokes, encouragements, and competitions alike. It’s not surprising to read a news article about a number of Koreans who had immigrated to New Zealand returned to Korea because they were too peaceful, and too bored.

Dissemination of new infrastructure
The density and the power of the mass together enable easy and fast dissemination of the new infrastructure. This gives Korean companies and government the extra acceleration to implement something new very fast once they are determined to do so. This is the secret behind the fast dissemination of broadband internet in Korea: You install one base station, and the whole building-full of houses get to use it. Aside from the benefits of physical density, the real power of this close-knit communities is probably the ability to share and teach each other the new and the useful. The trend rises and spreads (or die) at a formidable speed in korean society – be it adopting a new internet service or a new tupperware-like container.

I see the popularity of mega residential buildings as a unique by-product of Korea’s fast economic development, urban expansion, and pragmatism. Personally I have been always saddened by the disappearing natural landscapes, replaced and redefined by squads of residential buildings. The practical necessity at hand is too demanding for the community members to reflect upon what these developments will really mean in the future, but it certainly leaves me wondering: How will urban Koreans perceive nature in the future? How about happiness?

Below are photos of Favela Jacarezinho (Rio, Brazil) and Nima market in Accra (Ghana). How will the industrialization and economic development change their preferred forms of living in these communities? Will the urban changes of a big scale be possible without the government’s or big corporations’ push? How will their unique cultural characteristics be reflected to their urban landscape?


nima accra

I remember an interview with a Chinese labor worker: For him, the biggest charm of urban living was easy access to food all year around, despite the harsy living condition. For future urbanites – what would be the charm of leaving the urban living? Would there be necessities strong enough like hunger and employment to drive the phenomenon of mass moves, to reverse the expansion of urban developments?


Originally uploaded by jabberer.

“made in china/popular in korea”

i instantly wanted to buy it when i saw it in ssamzie-gil in insadong,

seoul, korea.

but this is an ‘art piece’. a few days later, i met the artist in

tokyo design week. he said: “make one yourself”. i shall try to

venture on the fake market next time i am in korea or china to get the

right ‘prop’ :-)