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A day in the (digital) life of a South Korean boy

  • Story Highlights
  • Some 35 million South Korean residents regularly use broadband Internet
  • Kids can pay someone else to do their homework on online Q&A service
  • UCC (User-Created Content) is synonymous with amateur online videos
  • Cyworld's music sales amount to more than $100 million in revenue
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By Chang-Won Kim
for CNN
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SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- Some 35 million of South Korea's total 48 million residents regularly use broadband Internet. As such, Internet usage is not restricted to the younger generation: It is not uncommon to see a 45-year-old gentleman indulging himself in the popular online game Lineage II in a local "PC Bang" (Internet cafe).


A South Korean student logs on to Naver Knowledge iN at a PC Bang in Seoul.

Still, it's the kids who most actively embrace the bleeding-edge technologies. This peek into the everyday life of an imaginary South Korean boy named Insoo Kim offers insight into what the life of youths in the rest of the world might be like in the near future.

Insoo Kim, 14, is a typical junior high school student in Seoul. Like all his classmates, Insoo's main means of communication with his buddies is text messaging.

Insoo doesn't even have to take the phone out of his pocket to send an SMS. He knows how to slide it open, which buttons to push how many times to reach the "Send SMS" menu option, compose the entire text message, and hit the send button -- all without even looking at the phone. This is especially handy when he needs to send an SMS during class.

But these days, Insoo and his friends don't simply use their phones to send an SMS, or to take pictures or listen to MP3 music. Whenever funny things happen during the day, Insoo and friends shoot video with their phones and send the clip to portal sites, hoping their clips will be featured on the portals' homepages.

In South Korea, UCC (User-Created Content) is synonymous with amateur online videos. UCC took the Korean market by storm in 2006, and its popularity has stretched well into 2007.

School is over, and the time is now 4:30 p.m. Insoo has a few hours to kill before going to Hakwon, a private special-subject school, so he calls up the owner of a PC Bang and asks for a ride. The PC Bang offers skilled game players like Insoo perks such as free transportation.

Who knows, one day a kid like Insoo may grow up to become the national Lineage champion, giving the PC Bang he frequented exposure on national TV?

The first thing Insoo does after Hakwon is, of course, turn on the PC. Insoo has a difficult math problem as homework. He posts it up on Naver Knowledge iN, a popular online Q&A service with some 70 million entries.

Within about 10 minutes of posting, someone chimes in with a good answer, and Insoo awards him with some "Knowledge Power" points -- knowledge-based economy in action among 14-year-olds.

Don't Miss

  • Chang's English blog:  Web 2.0 Asia
  • Chang's Korean blog: Memories Reloaded

On Insoo's Nate On Messenger, provided by the same company behind Cyworld (SK Communications), a small icon pops up next to Insoo's friend's name. It means he has just posted new Cyworld content. Insoo clicks on the icon to read the new post and leaves a comment -- something Insoo is expected to do as a "1-chon" (Cyworld buddy).

Insoo's 12-year-old sister twists his arm to give up the computer so she can post a new entry on her own Cyworld homepage. Cyworld is regarded as popular among 20-year-old women, which is exactly why an 12-year-old girl aspires to use the service.

Cyworld is not as explosive as it used to be five years ago, but the service continues to see a steady influx of new users, helped by teens such as Insoo's sister.

Speaking of Insoo's sister, she follows every move of Dongbang Shingi, a popular Korean Wave pop group. Her Cyworld minihompy background music is, of course, Dongbang Shingi's.

Gone are the days when kids bought CDs by their favorite singers. For the young generation, music is deemed something that must be consumed over the 'Net -- CDs are for their parents. To date, Cyworld's minihompy streaming music sales amount to more than 200 million songs, or $100 million in revenue.

Insoo quickly checks out today's fun clips on a host of online humor sites, including the Humor University, and reluctantly lets his little sister use the computer.

Time to purchase a second PC, Insoo thinks -- but not before he gets his hands on the slick new LG phone, which Insoo's father had promised to buy him if he excels on the upcoming finals. Visualizing a shiny new LG, Insoo opens up his book for a quick round of reading before going to bed.

Who said mobile phones don't help kids study? E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Chang-Won Kim is the co-CEO of the Korean blog software company TNC. He is also an active blogger, conference organizer and speaker, born-again Christian, environmentalist and typical sport-loving guy.

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