Korea is one of the most wired nations in the world. Not surprisingly, the Internet has naturally been a part of the growing-up process for the Korean young generation. They are often called “Digital Natives,” “Digital Nomads,” and “Candlelight Generation”, actively using information-communication technologies.
They have become cultural trendsetters in a new realm of communication and meaning-making. For them, the Internet is an important channel for connecting to others, creating something they like and having fun. Also, they actively raise some social and political issues, interchanging their opinions with others online, and sometimes these opinions are extended offline. We can find many interesting cases which recently happened on- and off-line in Korea to show the picture of Korean youngsters as cyber-publics.
Quite probably, “the Red Devils” can be a good example for this. The Red Devils is the official fan club of the Korean National soccer team created through an online club. It is a non-profit organization made up of citizens who simply love soccer and have an interest in cheering for the national team
This supporter group held a massive campaign, and this drew tens of thousands of people during the 2002 World Cup. Millions of Koreans wearing red T-shirts came out of their homes, and more than 2,000 large screens were set up at approximately 1,800 locations during the competition. It was the IT-friendly Internet generation that mobilized the entire nation and attracted global attention.
On the other hand, the Red Devils have initiated a new wave of patriotism in Korea. The spontaneous gatherings of millions of people wearing the same color shirts have demonstrated a collective expression of national interest and pride. This was particularly true for young people who had often been criticized for their lack of patriotism. But the Red Devils came to represent national pride, patriotism and favor during the World Cup. The Red Devils are one of the nation’s earliest examples of a growing trend of bringing together the online and offline worlds. Another dramatic example that drew young people’s attention to a political issue can be found in the case of U.S. beef imports.
In 2008, Korean Government’s resumption of American beef imports triggered candlelight demonstrations, opposing the full opening of the local market to US beef. In fact, teenagers were the first group to organize the protests, which had later gained supporters in universities and other institutions. One of the reasons that teenagers participated in these protests was because there was a great possibility of this ‘mad cow’ being provided as school meals.
Also, they gathered together through Internet communities such as Internet fan clubs for singers or movie stars. They watched candlelight vigils on the Web or their Internet fan clubs and sometimes got some text messages on their cell phones from their friends. Through those channels, they came and participated in candlelight vigils in person. The candlelight protests are unique in a number of ways. Organizers used the Internet to prepare for these events, and there were no major organizers.
Also, the Web was a major part of these developments, with millions of Korean tuning in to Internet news to watch the protests in real-time. They offered a glimpse of what the future may hold for mass communications
and journalism, called it “street journalism”. Equipped with laptop computers and digital video cameras, protesters were reporting and posting their own news on the Web in real time.
This type of reporting gave a boost to Internet reporting and news sites. Online bloggers participated in street journalism by streaming live video footage. At that time, the public’s response to the live broadcasting was explosive. In this way, these Internet-driven public protests and discussions as a new form of direct democracy would complement Korea’s representative democracy. This direct democracy was practiced both on- and off-line via the Internet and text messages and candlelight vigils on the streets. These Internet-driven vigils and protests also showed that the public could wield its collective power against any national and state affairs.
These examples show how the Internet plays a role in drawing young people’s attention to some social and political issues. Communication technologies will continuously develop, and they could still be very powerful. But how the power of technology is used really depends on the people who use it, not on technology itself.