In my first blog post about initial thoughts, I wrote about how we live in a world no longer bound by time and space. The digital age has brought us together by freeing us from the restrictions of geography and time zones, as well as giving us an opportunity to further develop our networks that cater to the local trends and preferences.
Traveling frequently back and forth between Seoul and Boston, there are many cultural differences that I’ve encountered, but one of the most noteworthy is the presence and role of social media in each dimension. Social media is more than just a platform for marketing and advertising, since it reflects lifestyles and cultures in a unique way. What kinds of social networks emerge and how they are used give us insight into what people want and need as well what they find interesting, valuable, threatening, and many more. Since my friends back home and my friends here have different peak hours in online activity due to the 14-hour time difference, my news feed on Facebook and Instgram has phases that are divided into two different time zones. At the beginning of the day here when people are quieter online, it’s usually a bustling hour for my Korean friends’ accounts and vice versa. This drastic shift helped me notice the contrasting usage of social media in general as well as the acculturation Facebook has gone through not only as a dominant platform but also as a part of the local industry.
To briefly discuss the structural differences, South Korea has an internet system with the highest average connection speed, a development made possible by population density and competition-spurring public policy. (personally I don’t find this riveting, but there is more information on ISPs in South Korea on the following link, based on research up to 2015: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2482328,00.asp) Anyway, given this internet-friendly infrastructure, it was inevitable that everything from interpersonal communication to consumer trends attuned to how they would best function online. Starting in the early 2010s, there has been a steady rise in Facebook use, and by 2015, around 14 million people, meaning over half the country’s population was on Facebook. In August 2016, a research by DMC Media reported that users between age 19 and 59 spent more time daily on Facebook than any other platform. However, despite this impressive performance, I’ve noticed some factors that were different from the usage increase we experienced in the U.S. For instance, I remembered that I had never communicated with my Korean friends using Facebook messenger and that Facebook albums are rarely ever used by them since tagging and liking are the most common activities. Facebook messenger doesn’t have the competitive advantages over a homegrown messenger service called KakaoTalk, which is basically the equivalent of WeChat in China that Lesley has told us about.
(To the right is a brief summary of how the big messenger apps differ, in case you were wondering) In areas that the global dominance of Facebook cannot reach, there are players that take over using their knowledge of local culture, and stay in charge of keeping up with specific needs like instant messaging. For KakaoTalk, its vast range of graphics and emoticons and customization options like chat fonts and backgrounds find more appeal in Asia. Since gif. files aren’t used as casually in conversation in Korea, people stick to animated emoticons, and although Facebook messenger offers something similar in nature, it was not able to compete with the Korean emojis that had already become an industry of their own. On top of the aesthetic factors, there are so many consumer services that are adapted to or even created for the KakaoTalk network, including anything from transactions to mobile games.
Even aside from homegrown apps, the same platforms that initially come from the U.S. are used very differently in Korea. As mentioned above, Facebook does have a dominating presence of active users, but it is not really used for individual accounts; I don’t remember the last time I saw a photo album posted by a friend from home. Most of the photo uploading happens outside of Facebook on Instagram or Kakaostory, an extension of the messenger app that gives users a sort of timeline, but is limited since it’s very photo and status-based as well as mobile-exclusive without much room for sponsored contents. There definitely is a sense of personal identity on individual Facebook timelines because people upload and update their profile photos just as frequently as they do in the U.S. Even so, the most visible and popular Facebook activity emerges from popular pages and their contents because people tag and share more than post on their own. Memes and viral contents prevail on American Facebook as well, but it is more balanced in relation to the amount of personal contents such as status updates and check-ins. I plan on delving into this aspect in my presentation with more analytics and detailed information because I think this is a fascinating observation that highlights each culture’s characteristics. Doing research on this topic reminded me once again how #blessed we are to live in such a small, interconnected world where communication seems effortless and any interaction can be instantaneous. It’s a great time to be alive.