[KS] A peek into the life of modern Korean youth. (Cyber addiction)

Henny Savenije webmaster at henny-savenije.pe.kr
Wed Feb 8 10:08:52 EST 2006

I think many of you might find the following articles interesting

'I Was a Cyholic, a Cyworld Addict'
Citizen reporter Jennifer Park recounts her 
plunge into a realm of alter egos and big business

I was a cyholic, a Cyworld addict.

Each morning I woke up with blood shot eyes and a 
headache. That was nothing compared to more 
serious symptoms I eventually developed after 
being "on" Cyworld. I found myself turning into a 
serious exhibitionist and a stalker, a common 
symptom for cyholics. I will share my experience 
after "overdose" of Cyworld and what I have 
learned through the process of rehabilitation.

I used Cyworld to visit my friends' mini home 
pages provided to all members. Having witnessed 
how addictive Cyworld was, I kept away from my 
own home page. When my friends tried to lure me 
into becoming a cyholic, I thought I could resist. I was wrong.

When I saw that the rise in number of visitors to 
my home page, I needed to do something to keep 
them coming. That number gave me an incentive to "open" my home.

My new home had a personal profile, diary, mini 
room, photo album, bulletin board and message 
board options. I didn't need to pay "rent" but 
could simply "move in." The mini room came with 
an empty room and a character figure called "mini 
me" representing the user. I could change its 
facial expression, body position, hair and its 
clothing. I used to spend hours playing with 
Barbie dolls during my childhood, and one would 
have thought I grew out of it. Wrong! Mini me was my new best friend.

I wasn't the only one lost in this "Barbie 
business." Through a unique system of "forming 
kinship," which can be accomplished with two 
users' consent, I met many members of the cyholic 
gang. The list of my kin kept expanding and the 
hidden pressure started to reveal itself. I felt 
obligated to visit my kin often to maintain 
"kinship." Many of my so-called kin were people I barely knew.

This sort of phenomenon is common in online 
social networks. People tend to label those they 
do not know well as friends, perhaps for 
political reasons or to meet more friends through 
their so-called friends. I felt compelled to 
prolong the phony relationship because each user 
can find out whom out of your kin list did not 
visit you in the past month. Though this is 
intended to help people get along, it quickly becomes an unwelcome duty.

An example mini home page
Thus my addiction. For people living or studying 
abroad like myself, Cyworld is an alternative to 
international phone calls. With Cyworld, I did 
not miss out on life in Korea. It showed no 
clear-cut line between countries. Cyworld was 
just another living space and all Cyworld users 
had that common identity. I thought it was a 
cheap way to stay in touch with my friends.

Most of my friends had entered Cyworld before me 
and their mini rooms showed just that. They had 
tons of digital items such as fancy wallpapers, 
furniture, pets and more. Their number of 
visitors exceeded mine by far, triggering my ambition and jealousy.

As a cyholic, I unconsciously associated 
popularity with the number of visitors and 
believed that the number corresponded to how nice 
the mini room appeared. Decorating is a necessity 
in running Cyworld. My mini room only had a free 
wallpaper and mini me. I craved "acorns."

All digital items are purchased with cyber money 
called acorns, the main source of Cyworld's 
profit. One acorn, equivalent to 100 won (about 9 
cents), can be paid via several methods, such as 
a credit card or cell phone account. Cyholics 
also go through the phase of being a shopaholic. 
I no longer daydreamed about a guy, but acorns 
and things to buy with them. Because Cyworld was 
clever enough to substitute money with a harmless 
object like an acorn, I rarely felt like I was being a spendthrift.

I was convinced that I was doing some good when 
giving someone a gift. In an interview with 
Chosun.com, the head of Cyworld division at SK 
Communications Lee Dong Hyeong stated, "The art 
of living is giving as much as you receive."

This seems like an ideal way of maintaining 
kinship, but don't forget that acorns are needed 
to make this possible. Cyworld displays the 
number of gifts received on each users' front 
page to motivate them to exchange gifts. This 
relationship appears healthy and necessary, but 
it boils down to helping Cyworld's bottom line.

A Cyworld "success" graph
Cyworld displays your popularity on your front 
page, fueling the addiction. The bar graph 
compels you to seek acorns night and day. Each 
bar is labeled "sexiness," "fame," 
"friendliness," "karma" and "kindness." Cyworld 
knows that Koreans tend to be ambitious and 
ostentatious. They use this knowledge to display 
the front page with a measurement of "success."

Your "fame" increases each time you accumulate 
ten visitors. "Sexiness," "friendliness," "karma" 
and "kindness" go up when you give or receive 
gifts. Cyworld accumulates more visitors and acorns in this way.

Cyworld wasn't always this successful. The reason 
it was able to beat other home page services was 
because Freechal, once the most popular home page 
company, took the bold step of deciding to charge 
their services. Cyworld used this chance and 
pledged to operate free of charge for life, 
prompting Freechal users like myself to jump ship.

When Cyworld introduced its mini home page 
service in 2001 it had one million members. Its 
members skyrocketed in late 2003 when Freechal 
started its fee-based system. Cyworld has 7 million users as of July 2004.

Ironically, people like myself who abandoned 
Freechal because of its fee unknowingly invest 
great sum of money in Cyworld. When I buy a frame 
cover said to last for 30 days at the cost of 20 
acorns, I am investing 2,000 won ($1.72) and feel 
compelled to buy a new one when it expires. 
Recently Cyworld's daily income ranged from 70 
million won to 103 million won ($60,280-$88,780). 
This means that cyholics buy around one million acorns a day.

Cyworld's main page
Cyworld's success is recognized by all ".com" 
industries in Korea. Founder Lee Dong Hyeong sold 
his company to SK Communications because he 
lacked the necessary funds to operate his 
ballooning enterprise. SK Communications has 
since made a lot of money after incorporating Cyworld with Nate.com.

Nate.com was ranked third after SK merged the two 
corporations. Cyworld's profit then increased by 
60 percent and "Cyworld fever" is everywhere. 
Instead of asking for a phone number or e-mail 
address, people ask, "do you Cy?" SK 
Communications even made it possible to check 
mini home pages through cell phones, so people 
can take Cyworld with them everywhere they go.

Cyworld expanded its sphere of influence with a 
function called "people search," allowing a user 
to find any Cyworld user by typing in their name, 
year of birth and gender or by entering an e-mail 
address. This allows people to contact someone 
they have lost touch with. According to one 
29-year-old housewife in Seoul, this has been a 
useful tool to find friends she lost touch with after she married.

On the other hand, some people use this tool for 
stalking or to send unsolicited messages 
encouraging people to visit their page. And some 
employers take an advantage of this system to 
keep an eye on their employees. Many online 
network users should keep in mind that they may 
have to pay consequences for their freedom of expression.

Cyworld makes it easy to get addicted. A single 
click on the name of any Cyworld user will hook you into Cyworld for hours.

A diagram of "kinships"
I kept on committing the sin of saying "just one 
more" which turned out to be all night. It only 
takes a second to load someone else's page, but 
the time consumed in posting and reading the 
message board and checking out the album is 
substantial. When you see someone familiar or 
attractive in that home page, you simply click 
and skip over to that other person's home page and repeat the process.

After I became a true cyholic, I often visited my 
ex-boyfriend's mini home. It started as mere 
curiosity and ended almost like stalking. Cyworld 
makes what is impossible in real life possible in 
cyber world. I live far from my ex-boyfriend and 
can't invest the money and time required to hunt 
him down. So I simply "hired" Cyworld to do the 
spying for me. Peeking at his mood indicator, 
message, board, and album, I knew exactly what 
was going on in his life. The only thing that 
stopped me from stalking him was the messages 
that his friends left on his board congratulating 
him on finding a new girlfriend.

I found out how serious the Cyworld phenomenon 
was when I discovered it was taking over reality. 
A person my friend introduced to me was the owner 
of a page I recalled from my friend's message 
board. Scary as it may sound, I knew exactly 
where the person was going to school and who he was friends with.

I felt like a stalker but couldn't help but to 
ask, "You are friends with xxx, right?" What 
shocked me even more was his response. "You just 
graduated from xyz school in abc, right? I saw 
you in my friend yyy's Cyworld." We knew personal 
details about each other -- though we'd never met.

There is no embarrassment in confessing to be a 
stalker because, ironically, people enjoy being 
stalked. According to one 29-year-old man, 
knowing that a woman he was interested in was 
visiting his home page, he shaped his image through Cyworld and won her love.

Cyworld was for me another realm, perhaps more 
real than the real world. What I got in return 
for making others happy were red eyes and a 
headache. I came to find that there is so much to 
enjoy in life when you say "no" to Cyworld.

I no longer rely on others to judge me by how I 
appear in the cyber world, because many of that's 
not the "real me." I still visit Cyworld and some 
friends still visit my Cyworld. I guess I am not 
fully rehabilitated, but I no longer depend on 
some corporation to run my life for me.

Here's a similar one

Henny (Lee Hae Kang)
http://www.henny-savenije.pe.kr Portal to all my sites
(in English) Feel free to discover Korea with Hendrick Hamel (1653-1666)
http://www.hendrick-hamel.henny-savenije.pe.kr/indexk2.htm In Korean
http://www.hendrick-hamel.henny-savenije.pe.kr/Dutch In Dutch
http://www.vos.henny-savenije.pe.kr Frits Vos 
Article about Witsen and Eibokken and his first Korean-Dutch dictionary
http://www.cartography.henny-savenije.pe.kr (in 
English) Korea through Western Cartographic eyes
http://www.hwasong.henny-savenije.pe.kr Hwasong the fortress in Suwon
http://www.oldKorea.henny-savenije.pe.kr Old Korea in pictures
http://www.british.henny-savenije.pe.kr A British encounter in Pusan (1797)
http://www.genealogy.henny-savenije.pe.kr/  Genealogy
http://www.henny-savenije.pe.kr/bboard Bulletin board for Korean studies

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