Thursday, April 15, 2010

S.03 Mobile Phones in Korea/US

Yoon’s “The representation of mobile youth in the post-colonial techno-nation of Korea” outlines some of the contradictions which come with the development of South Korea’s mobile phone industry. Mobile phone use is extremely prevalent among the Korean population (particularly among teenagers) and the electronics industry is expanding at a faster rate than ever; the government’s “financial support and de-regulation policies since the 1990s have encouraged the growth of the mobile media industry and of handset manufacture” (110). I found it very intriguing that despite (or perhaps because of) the powerful “drive to become a techno-nation” (109) which began in the 1980s, there is also very strong criticism of, and even panic surrounding mobile phone use. The mobile phone is considered “destructive to local culture, and brings with it a certain level of ‘media panic’ in the public domain” (111). While Korea is at the forefront of research and development of technology, there seems to be a very strong investment in the conservation of traditional values. I’m curious as to how much this contradiction is present in other cultures—for instance in the US.

In the US, cell phones are clearly tied to identity. The brand and model you choose, the apps you install, the files you have, the ringtone you order—these things which you consume define the person you are. This is also reflected in the commercial we watched in class: For every style there is a phone to match it, the ad claims. This promotion of individualism is exactly what South Korean media sphere seems to fear. According to Yoon’s article, this fear emerges because of a number of presumptions; these include the idea that the mobile phone “encourages excessive consumption”, is a “threat to learning and the development of literacy”, “precipitates the loosening of familial and communal bonds” and “can instigate social disorder” (112).

During lecture I was reminded of this commercial which ran a few years ago: Although the style of the ad is lighthearted and comical, I found it interesting that the subject matter includes some of the features Yoon lists. The most obvious of these is the fact that the children are speaking in chat slang, which clearly addresses the idea that mobile phones affect literacy. The fear that it encourages excessive consumption is also apparent since the children are being scolded for their cell phone bill. The scene takes place in a living room with a family, and the grandmother character is texting her friend instead of interacting with the other family members—this refers to a third fear, which is that mobile phones precipitate the loosening of familial bonds. Although the children are clearly being berated for their cell phone use, this ad mocks rather than takes seriously these social issues it addresses. I’m curious as to how an ad like this would be received in Korea, and where exactly, historically, these discrepancies in the cultural perception of mobile phone use come from.

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