Korea's Weird Wired World
Strange things happen when an entire country is hooked on high-speed Internet. Dear Abby has yet to receive a letter on this one. Last September Han Sang, a 14-year-old boy in Seoul, stole $35 from his parents to buy sunglasses and other accessories. The petty thievery was bad enough, but what really irked his dad, Kim Sung Bae, was that none of the stuff he bought was real. They were for the animated character, or avatar, the boy used as a stand-in for himself on the Internet. Han was spending four hours each night hanging out online with his friends and wanted his virtual stand-in to look as cool as possible. Kim punished his son with an Internet curfew: No more surfing after midnight. Every Sunday afternoon would be Internet-free family time, and Han Sang would have to watch TV with his parents for a few hours a week. His parents, in return, promised to visit Han's virtual worlds with him. South Korea has gone gaga over broadband. This nation of 46 million people, packed into an area smaller than Virginia, has quickly become the world's most wired nation. Politics, entertainment, sex, mass media, crime and commerce are being reshaped by a population as online as it is offline. Some 11 million homes, or 70% of the total, have broadband accounts, and at peak times just about all of those homes are online. Nearly two-thirds of Korean mobile phone users have shifted to so-called third-generation handsets that offer speeds up to ten times that of mobiles in the U.S. Here, residential broadband isn't expected to enter 50% of homes until late 2004.