Great technological feats have made phones smarter and smarter, but their users seem to be moving in the opposite direction.
Some 40 million Koreans now have smartphones, and an increasing number of them are causing inconvenience and accidents as they are absorbed in playing games or watching videos in busy areas.
Reports to the police emergency phone line 112 of disputes or violence on the Seoul metro rose from 436 in 2011 to 776 in 2013 mainly due to an increasing number of people obstructing others' passage while absorbed in their smartphone.
An officer with the Seoul Metropolitan Police said, "We've seen a rise in reports of disputes on metro trains, and most of them started with a smartphone. People who are distracted by their smartphone are becoming a serious risk to society."
They are causing road accidents too. The Korea Transportation Safety Authority carried out a research on pedestrians crossing patterns at the 10 crossings in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province with the greatest number of accidents in the past three years. It found that 25 percent of 54,604 pedestrians were vulnerable to accidents because they did not look before crossing the road, and 27 percent of them were absorbed in their phone.
Hyundai Marine and Fire Insurance analyzed motor accidents claims handled by the company from 2009 to 2012 and discovered that the number of smartphone-related accidents soared from 37 to 848 over the same period.
The company said 21.7 percent of smartphone users said they had nearly had an accident because of their phone, and usage of smartphones while crossing the road made people recognize honking cars at a 42 to 57 percent shorter distance than normal.
Prof. Kim Min-shik of Yonsei University said, "There's a limit to people's ability to pay attention. Smartphones require vision and audio information processing as well as action, so it is very dangerous to walk on the streets using a smartphone."