Social media are changing the ways Koreans interact, leading to ever fewer face-to-face encounters. But that extra distance also means that many have become more open about sharing slices of their private lives.
Reticent in person, they are more sociable than ever on the Internet. Once the number of guests at a person’s housewarming or child's first birthday party used to be a gauge of his or her social status. Now it is the number of "likes" they get on Facebook or Instagram.
"Offline relationships take a lot of time to develop, but people can elicit responses much faster and more easily online," says Kim Seok-ho at Seoul National University. "People are trying to satisfy their need for recognition in cyberspace if they can't achieve it offline."
There is no escaping boring clips of people's daily lives, but perhaps their mundanity is the point. Lee Hye-ri, a 31-year-old office worker, said, "By sharing snippets of my daily life with my friends on social media, I'm reassured that we're all in the same boat." Lee admits she feels uncomfortable talking with others offline.
"Relationships become more efficient online because they deliver a high level of satisfaction at minimum cost and effort," says Lee Joon-young at Sangmyung University. "People can just log off when they've had enough."
Smartphone apps also offer an escape into a world without consequences. One 31-year-old goes to gatherings arranged online where people do not give their name or contact details.
"I go to such gatherings from time to time, because I can meet people with the same interests or hobbies at a time and location that suit me," he said. "We do not know each other's personal details, so we avoid asking personal questions."
On some of the apps, the rules mandate the use of aliases and ban exchanging contact details so people can meet just once before fading back into anonymity.
Some even prefer to go on trips overseas with strangers rather than family or friends. They form tour groups via smartphone apps and split the costs, and they travel in groups for certain parts of the trip but spend the remainder sightseeing and eating alone. A surge in such apps is testimony to the rising popularity of such trips.
People seeking to find companions just set the time and date and candidates simply have to push a button to join.