South Korea: A High-Tech Utopia

By Kristie Lu Stout

With its anonymous skyline and mind-numbing traffic, Seoul may not seem like a sci-fi city. And yet it’s blazing one very high-tech trail.

It’s where hardcore online gamers get paid as professionals. It’s where social networking, in the form of the incredibly successful Cyworld, has been abuzz since 1999 – predating both Facebook and MySpace.

It’s also where watching live television on your mobile is an everyday habit. And try not to stare when you see it. “DMB phones,” as they’re known, are so 2005.

These days, consumers are getting ready for the launch of the BluEye by SK Telecom – a matchbook-sized projector that simply plugs into your handset to screen mobile videos.

They’re also gearing up for the LG Viewty, a high-feature camera phone that shoots videos at 120 frames per second and, in certain markets, uploads the video to YouTube with a single click.

This is the land where tomorrow reigns, as local consumers are all too willing to flaunt the next new thing.

Sanjin Lee, director of the Ministry of Information and Communication (read: South Korea’s I.T. czar), tells me that Koreans are simply “impatient” and have “I.T. DNA.”

This gotta-have-it technolust has in turn forced the government to deliver the future.

For starters, the government has set up the “Ubiquitous Dream Hall” – a dreamily named showcase of the future home, complete with robot butler and a refrigerator that orders any missing food items on the spot.

The networked fridge has been a long-predicted feature (if not clich̩) in the South Korean future home Рa feature that, both in and outside the country, really has yet to become a reality.

But such forward thinking has transformed South Korea from one of the poorest countries in Asia to an advanced high-tech economy that’s home to major tech firms like Samsung and LG, as well as the most wired population on the planet.

The country boasts more than 30 million mobile subscribers out of a population of around 49 million, and more than three quarters of Korean homes enjoy blazingly fast broadband.

Always-on internet, mobile TV, viral video projectors – it’s enough to inspire a bad case of techno envy. And yet the one geek souvenir I wanted so desperately to bring back home was neither fast nor wireless.

It was the “puppy couch Sotoro” – a (for lack of a better way to put it) furry dog robot couch that whimpers when it’s upset.

Sotoro settles down only when you take a seat and stroke its brown fuzzy “arms” – a delightfully offbeat piece of technology that I never thought I needed

Kristie Lu Stout anchors CNN’s dedicated week of programming Eye on South Korea, from October 13-21, including daily morning news program CNN Today live from across South Korea. For special reports, features, video and more information go to

Filed under:
Travel & Culture

Comments are closed.