Accessibility links

High-Tech Korea Eyes 'Ubiquitous' Future

From the classroom to the car garage, broadband technologies are reshaping life for South Koreans. VOA Correspondent Kurt Achin in Seoul takes a look at wired South Korea.

In an experimental South Korean classroom, paper is largely a thing of the past.

The students' math books are interactive digital texts, on tablet computers issued by the school. They solve the problems onscreen using electronic pens.

Up front, on a sort of digital blackboard, the teacher can call up any of the students' work. Because all of the computers are networked, students can receive online help from the teacher - or each other.

At Seoul National University, older students get serious about fun and games. The teacher, Min Yong-che, is from Nexon, the company that produces the successful game KartRider. The players race little cartoon cars online, and spend real money on fancy upgrades for their digital vehicles. The game made more than $38 million last year alone.

"Online games are enormous,” says Min. “These students are here to chase some of that opportunity."

Addictive games are just a small part of South Korea's emerging media landscape - both online, and in on mobile devices. Broadband Internet access is taken for granted here: more than two thirds of South Korea's 48 million people use a broadband connection regularly.

South Koreans on the go watch television via broadband on their mobile phones. And this year, for the first time ever, some South Korean voters used mobile phones to choose their parties' candidates for this year's presidential race.

Cyber-technology is everywhere, and as a result, South Koreans have chosen "ubiquitous" as a buzzword for their broadband lifestyle.

The developers of New Songdo City, being built in South Korea's Incheon province, say their "U-City" offers residents a complete "U-Life."

Model apartments offer medical devices that can relay vital signs to doctors in other locations – then allow for broadband video consultations if there are signs that raise concern. Refrigerators will keep track of food supplies, and new deliveries can be ordered via broadband consoles right near the front door.

Smart cards and vehicle sensors are planned to ease just about every aspect of daily life, from traffic flows to small purchases. The complex is saturated with closed-circuit cameras, prompting worries among civil rights advocates about privacy.

Songdo spokeswoman Huh Junghwa says not to worry. "Even if it means delaying some of the most advanced technology in certain cases, we will always protect our residents' privacy," Huh says.

The first 2,000 residents plan to move in to Songdo by 2009, having paid a cool half a million dollars each for the privilege.