A Year in Seoul

Namsan

Today marks one year of living in Seoul. To update some thoughts from my first month here:

A lot more Instagram, a lot less Twitter.  Snackability applies to posting and to reading.

It’s been interesting to see censorship in the media and how freedom of the press is limited in South Korea. For example, when the government refused to release the names of hospitals involved in the MERS epidemic, rumors filled KakaoTalk and message boards. Eventually, citizens created their own “MERS map” mashup to spread information that institutions wouldn’t. Native advertising / sponsored content is typically not called out either.

It’s still tough to get used to the price of coffee.
Coffee

Traffic is awful. One of the reasons traffic is so bad in the city is that double parking happens everywhere. The police never seem to ticket violators (perhaps it’s not actually illegal). Taxis are the worst offenders. They wait anywhere for a fare; a popular spot is in the middle of crosswalks.

Taxi in the crosswalk

The internet is fast and carriers here are working on 5G wireless. Korea Telecom has already taken a step in this direction; Samsung Galaxy S6 users on their network already have access to LTE+ speeds.

LTE speed in Korea

The South Korean government finally announced the phase out of ActiveX by 2017. But with the cost involved, I won’t be surprised if it takes longer for legacy websites to update to a more modern infrastructure. Maybe some owners will realize that there’s a competitive advantage to interoperability and allowing users of many different platforms to actually buy the stuff that’s for sale.

Some of the unexpected things that I’ve encountered:

Heated things. In the winter, heated floors. Heated toilet seats. Warm tap water served in restaurants.

Für Elise. This song is often used as an alert sound. When someone needs help with a subway gate. When an electric cart is driving through the airport. When you need help getting out of a parking garage.

Where are you from? This can be a tricky question to answer. This TED talk from Pico Iyer starts to explain why.

Over the past year, when seeing people I’ve known from the past, the question I’m most surprised to hear is “how does it feel to be back?” As in “how does it feel to return to Korea, country of your birth?” Others, upon meeting me for the first time, comment “your English is really good!” As the world seems to be getting more open-minded every day, it’s interesting to see how deeply held and unassuming most stereotypes reside within most people.

Everyday digital in Korea

South Korea is one of the world’s most wired countries (if not THE most). While living here, It’s easy to overlook the extent to which technology is just a part of going about your business every day. For example:


Easy in and out of parking garages

Most parking garages have license plate scanners, at apartments, department stores, and office buildings. Almost all cars have European-style plates with black type on a white background.

Korean license plate

No need to pull a ticket when entering a garage; a computer will track when you enter and exit.

Apartment license plate scanner


A national NFC payment system

A national stored value contactless payment system called T-money enables people to pay for public transportation with a tap. T-money is also accepted in taxis, eliminating the need for cash or credit. Beyond transportation, convenience stores and some other small shops accept T-money as well.

Tmoney


Widespread wifi coverage

High-speed broadband and wireless LTE network coverage are widely available; so is wifi.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 10.13.57 PM

In subways,  many riders pass the time by streaming video to their mobile (usually Samsung) devices.

Subway wifi


Wifi restaurant service

Dining in many food courts is a modified cafeteria-style, where patrons place their orders at a centralized location and pay in advance, then pick up their food when ready from a specialized outlet. In some upscale food halls, patrons place their order and then find a seat, then place a wifi beacon on the table so servers know where to deliver the meal.

Galleria 494 - wifi table service


Keyless building entry

Most people don’t carry around keys, because most apartment buildings are accessed by a NFC device, while apartment units use a keycode or fingerprint to unlock the front door. I guess young people never have to ask to get a key back if they break up; just change the code.


Thankfully in my daily life, none of this technology is used to serve ads or otherwise overtly monetize interactions for brand exposure. On the other hand, monitoring technologies like CCTV and internet filtering are also in use, so it’s likely that the digital enablers of everyday convenience have a latent governing and compliance purpose as well.