Saturday, April 21, 2007

naver, daum, cyworld,minihompy and so on

I wanted to write this mini article since last month but did not really have time to… You know that I am not a fervent technophile, I would even say that I have a bad karma with all electronic tools, but, as soon as I get used to it, or that I like the design of the thing (think of these cute LG phones, LG laptops… damned!). As I have been observing Korea for a few months, I had to write a few lines on… the internet, of course!

Don’t expect anything particularly complex. Btw, for those who are interested in mobile com, technologies, and so on, please refer to my colleague Hanna’s serious blog (http://urban.blogs/seoul). Loads of barbaric expressions for the technosaurus I am (sorry, Hanna, I’m still stuck in the middle ages as you may know)? Well, for those of you who need a good outlook of the technology geopolitics in Korea…

As you may know, searching tools on the web, well, the most often used ones, in South Korea, are daum and naver. For unknown reasons, Google tries to settle down in Korea but daum and naver are stronger currently. Regarding explanations on the oligopolistic position of Daum and Naver, please refer to an article by Hanna on her blog. Currently, as my Korean is still very very poor, I just use because of the Korean-English dictionary and daum for the cheap flight ticket agency.

Well, let’s now move on to the next chapter : « mini hompy » by cyworld
If you are looking for a fun and interesting research dissertation, please refer to the forthcoming PhD thesis written by Miran Shin from UCL on the way people dress in real life and the way they customize their own avatars on mini hompy. A ethnographic part of Miran’s research consists in being nosy, looking in people’s cupboards. Must be great fun. Then, maybe because of a “professional pattern”, Miran likes looking in people’s bags and have a participative attitude towards the research by finding chocolate in my bags, and swallowing them hehe. Miran, that’s OK, seems you enjoyed the hebaragi chocolates!

So. Mini hompy. What’s that?
In the web.2 era…. Mmm, the beginning of this looks like a bad intro from a bad philosophy dissertation in high school, like ‘from times immemorial, Man used to blablabla’.
Well, since 2000, roughly speaking, as far as I know, Koreans often have a personal web page which was financed/launched by SK telecom (one of the big ones from the mobile operators’ oligopole). On this webpage, one can put personal info, pictures (no restrictions on quantity). Til then, nothing that would be different from a ringo, hi 5, or friendster, you’d say. But… the new thing with cyworld, is that it may have been an ancestor of Second life [you know, that parallel life on the web] [that’s only an idea, a hypothesis, so, if I’m wrong, you have the right and the duty to write bloody comments!]. So, cyworld enables you to create a parallel identity on the web, where you would have your avatar, who lives in a given environment. Of course, you need to dress up your avatar, customize its environment, done by buying clothes and furniture with a web currency specific to cyworld (that you still buy with non virtual money ^^). Well, that kind of investment is endless. My boss made us laugh when he told us that his daughter, settled in the States for a year, with his wife and son, had created a cyworld account/minihompy so that her dad may see her, and see that everything is OK, and now, she asks her dad to buy some cyworld currency to customize

You will be certainly be tempted to ask me the following question. So; little mouse, have you got your own cyworld mini hompy? My answer is: no. Not because I did not try, but because cyworld is only available for Koreans or those foreigners who have an Alien Registration Card (I don’t have it, that’s why I am in Japan these days). However, I have not resisted to the facebook sect. It’s really convenient, so few friends from France are in it. Actually, it’s a good way for me to keep in touch with my English speaking friends in Korea!

This light presentation on cyworld leads to my critical note on all that. Well, as you may know, the Internet should have been one of the spearheads of globalisation (and so on and so forth, I will spare you all the debates…). A means that made spatial and temporal frontiers old-fashioned (well, true when I am in an owl mode, chatting with French friends at 3 am… lol). South Korea claims to be the most web-networked country in the world. I shall admit this is quite useful. Just think of PC bangs open 24/7, the fact that I have managed to “free ride” on a wifi connection from the neighbourhood in Seoul, since the internet cable of my koshiwon room seems to be dead… What’s the drawback then? The will to territorialize, nationalise internet, that can be felt in a number of Korean policies. Just an example to illustrate that. So as to use a number of sites (i.e. KBS, MBC, SBS…), you have to register on their sites which means, of course, that you have to give them your civil identity (ID card number in Korea, or Alien registration ID). Needless to say that I get screwed up (well, if someone could register for me… so that I can have access to Full House, for free. Yes Rain Pi fans, Full House for free!) and I cannot have access to some webpages.

What’s wrong, then? It seemed that the Internet was the very instrument of information democratisation, one of the vectors of an epistemic community (one of my research interests for my PhD-to-be). Of course, I’m against nasty men than chase innocent young girls on the web. I do believe that on the Korean side, policies tend to make internet users more responsible. But… when it is a hurdle against freedom of thought which was the very
founding principle of the Internet… I feel awkward.

I’ll finish this article with an anecdote, showing the good sides of the internet.
So, in Januar, I was doing field (as we say in the research world) and I was doing some interviews among Japanese fans of Korean pop culture for my own records [maybe, for a forthcoming article on “tears and Korean dramas: the cathartic function of Korean dramas in the Japanese society”]
My fans are not that young, as you may know… (average: 60 years old)
So, I sometimes ask them how they access to information about their stars and so on. I was quite surprised to learn that a few of them would go to internet and computer classes so as to be able to surf on the web, seeking info about their sweeties, as well as sharing/creating info; that’s also why I have ideas such as the constitution of epistemic communities through the internet, and through pop culture (well, for those who feel allergic by hearing such words, sorry, that’s my PhD project). Pop culture enables these ladies to overcome their shyness, tie relationships, and overcome generational barriers often associated with technology (I had a few brief interesting conversations with my boss regarding this, as he also works on internet and its generational effects). The degree of involved technologies would not be an obstacle any more, and enable a generation of ladies to learn how to express what society would not have let them do. That’s it for today

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