To Connect and Flow in Seoul: Ubiquitous Technologies, Urban Infrastructure and Everyday Life in the Contemporary Korean City

To Connect and Flow in Seoul: Ubiquitous Technologies, Urban Infrastructure and Everyday Life in the Contemporary Korean City

Jaz Hee-Jeong Choi (Queensland University of Technology, Australia) and Adam Greenfield (Independent Scholar, New York, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-152-0.ch002
OnDemand PDF Download:


Once a city shaped by the boundary conditions of heavy industrialisation and cheap labour, within a few years Seoul has transformed itself to one of the most connected and creative metropolises in the world, under the influence of a new set of postindustrial prerogatives: consumer choice, instantaneous access to information, and new demands for leisure, luxury, and ecological wholeness. The Korean capital stands out for its spatiotemporally compressed infrastructural development, particularly in the domain of urban informatics. This chapter explores some implications of this compression in relation to Seoulites’ strong desire for perpetual connection—a desire that is realised and reproduced through ubiquitous technologies connecting individuals both with one another and with the urban environment itself. We use the heavily managed urban creek Cheonggyecheon as a metaphor for the technosocial milieu of contemporary Seoul, paying particular attention to what its development might signify for Seoulites both as a constituent node of the city and as an outcropping of networked information technology. We first describe some of the historic, social and economic contexts in which the Cheonggyecheon project is embedded, then proceed to discuss the most pertinent facets of Korean-style everyday informatics engaged by it: ubiquity; control and overspill; government-industry collaboration; lifestyle choice; and condensed development timelines.
Chapter Preview

History And Context

A stream of fresh water. Shoals of fish orbit in a leisurely manner; curious children point them out, all the while being photographed by their delighted parents. Through the sound of the running water, surrounded by laughter and the little shutter-clicks from cameras and camera phones, a young couple are crossing evenly-spaced stepping stones, hand in hand. The air feels lush, fragrant, alive.

Standing on the many bridges arching over the stream, you realise you are at the centre of one of the most populous, polluted, quickly-developing, and densely interconnected metropolises on the planet. You are at Cheonggyecheon, in the very heart of Seoul.

Originally stretching ten kilometres from its origin to the point at which it eventually meets the Han River, Cheonggyecheon’s history as an urban feature dates to the Joseon Dynasty’s selection of Seoul as its new capital, at the beginning of fifteenth century CE. As a restored and managed stream, it now runs for almost six kilometres across the central city.

Recognition of Cheonggyecheon’s potential benefits for Seoul residents was initially realised in simple forms: as ‘a sewage system, a laundry and playground for children’ (Park, 2007, p. 9) and adults alike (Seoul Development Institute, 2004, p. 1). Its use as an open sewage system evidently became unsustainable sometime during the Japanese occupation, leading to a first attempt at dredging and partial covering, with the aim of safeguarding Japanese citizens from disease and crime (ibid.). However, with the intense national focus on economic reconstruction in the post-liberation (1945) and post-war (1953) periods, and a corresponding slide into social and environmental negligence on the part of a preoccupied government, attempts at improvement fell by the wayside. Cheonggyecheon remained—and was generally perceived as—a perilous seam in the fabric of Seoul.

The stream’s natural flow finally came to an end during Park Chung-hee’s authoritarian administration (1961-79), a period in which the thrust toward national greatness was heavily predicated on, and identified with, export-oriented industrialisation. During this period, the government’s need to make its authority and legitimacy visually manifest in modernisation—amidst a broad concomitant suppression of nature, history, and human rights—began to shape the city in ways that are still visible today. The result of this approach was evidenced in a contemporary statement of Kim Hyeong-ok, then mayor of Seoul: ‘The city is lines.’ Straight wires and streets started to replace traditional winding roads.

As part of this rapid national modernisation process, Cheonggyecheon was filled with cement, and was used as the foundation for both local streets and a high-capacity roadway transporting products and people in and out of the city centre. This was the height of the period often called the ‘miracle on the Han (한강의 기적)’—approximately three decades from the mid-1960s to the Asian financial crisis of 1997 (Kleiner, 2001, p. 254) although the term is generally used to refer to the first two decades—in conscious emulation of the postwar West German Wirtschaftwunder (economic miracle), or ‘miracle on the Rhine.’ The stream was effectively ploughed under, literally subducted beneath the infrastructural development perceived as necessary to the advance of one of Asia’s surging ‘tiger’ or ‘little dragon’ economies.

During this “Miracle” phase, a large-scale national effort—both the iconography and the subjectivity of which frequently involved themes of heroic sacrifice—was directed toward the end of rapid economic development. The predominant institutional structure which South Korea relied upon to accomplish this breakneck industrialisation was the chaebol, a huge and highly centralised, but heavily diversified, family-owned form of business conglomerate with no direct comparison in the Western world.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Ppali-Ppali: Literally, ‘hurry-hurry.’ The ppali-ppali ethos refers to the general tendency to rush through any given activity, widely accepted as a common characteristic of contemporary Korean culture.

“Miracle on the Han”: the catchphrase used to refer to the post-Korean-War period economic expansion, from mid-1960’s to 1997, during which Korea’s economy grew at an extraordinarily fast rate through industrialisation and modernisation.

Ubiquitous Computing: A milieu in which computation resources are distributed through the objects and surfaces of everyday life.

Segyehwa: Literally, ‘globalisation.’ A public slogan used by the Kim Young-sam administration (1993-1998), representing the top-down reform of the Korean political economy in response to global pressure for market liberalisation

Bang: Although the literal translation is ‘room,’ the designation -bang connotes a social and multipurpose space. Dabang, for example, means tea-house, but is literally translated as ‘tea room.’ There are many commercialised bangs today, such as PC-bang, DVD-bang, and noraebang (karaoke).

Chaebol: Large, family-owned conglomerates in Korea, such as Samsung, Hyundai, and LG, with multiple child-companies in diverse fields belonging to one parent company.

Korean Wave: Refers to the sharp increase in popularity of Korean popular culture—and subsequent increase in Korean media export—especially in the Asian region, starting in the late 1990s.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
List of Reviewers
Table of Contents
Anthony Townsend
Marcus Foth
Marcus Foth
Chapter 1
Amanda Williams, Erica Robles, Paul Dourish
This chapter critically examines the notion of “the city” within urban informatics. Arguing that there is an overarching tendency to construe the... Sample PDF
Urbane-ing the City: Examining and Refining the Assumptions Behind Urban Informatics
Chapter 2
Jaz Hee-Jeong Choi, Adam Greenfield
Once a city shaped by the boundary conditions of heavy industrialisation and cheap labour, within a few years Seoul has transformed itself to one of... Sample PDF
To Connect and Flow in Seoul: Ubiquitous Technologies, Urban Infrastructure and Everyday Life in the Contemporary Korean City
Chapter 3
Nancy Odendaal
Recent literature on African cities examines the way in which social networks function as critical livelihood arteries in the ongoing survival... Sample PDF
Creating an Analytical Lens for Understanding Digital Networks in Urban South Africa
Chapter 4
Wayne Beyea
Community planning is facing many challenges around the world, such as the rapid growth of megacities as well as urban sprawl. The State of Michigan... Sample PDF
Place Making Through Participatory Planning
Chapter 5
Mike Ananny, Carol Strohecker
In this paper, we describe the design and installation of a new kind of public opinion forum—TexTales, a public, large-scale interactive projection... Sample PDF
TexTales: Creating Interactive Forums with Urban Publics
Chapter 6
Jenny Preece
This chapter describes a small networked community in which residents of an apartment building in Washington, D.C., USA supplement their... Sample PDF
An Event-Driven Community in Washington, DC: Forces That Influence Participation
Chapter 7
Fiorella De Cindio
After more than a decade of e-participation initiatives at the urban level, what remains obscure is the alchemy—i.e., the “arcane” combination of... Sample PDF
Moments and Modes for Triggering Civic Participation at the Urban Level
Chapter 8
Michael Veith
Societies face serious challenges when trying to integrate migrant communities. One-sided solutions do not pay tribute to the complexity of this... Sample PDF
Fostering Communities in Urban Multi-Cultural Neighbourhoods: Some Methodological Reflections
Chapter 9
Victor M. Gonzalez, Kenneth L. Kraemer, Luis A. Castro
The practical use of information technology devices in domestic and residential contexts often results in radical changes from their envisioned... Sample PDF
Beyond Safety Concerns: On the Practical Applications of Urban Neighbourhood Video Cameras
Chapter 10
Colleen Morgan
This chapter explores how we may design located information and communication technologies (ICTs) to foster community sentiment. It focuses... Sample PDF
The Figmentum Project: Appropriating Information and Communication Technologies to Animate Our Urban Fabric
Chapter 11
Barbara Crow, Michael Longford, Kim Sawchuk, Andrea Zeffiro
The Mobile Media Lab (MML) is a Canadian interdisciplinary research team exploring wireless communications, mobile technologies and locative media... Sample PDF
Voices from Beyond: Ephemeral Histories, Locative Media and the Volatile Interface
Chapter 12
Helen Klaebe
This chapter defines, explores and Illustrates research at the intersection of people, place and technology in cities. First, we theorise the notion... Sample PDF
Embedding an Ecology Notion in the Social Production of Urban Space
Chapter 13
Vassilis Kostakos, Eamonn O’Neill
In this paper, we describe a platform that enables us to systematically study online social networks alongside their real-world counterparts. Our... Sample PDF
Cityware: Urban Computing to Bridge Online and Real-World Social Networks
Chapter 14
Katharine S. Willis
In our everyday lives, we are surrounded by information which weaves itself silently into the very fabric of our existence. Much of the time we act... Sample PDF
Information Places: Navigating Interfaces between Physical and Digital Space
Chapter 15
Viktor Bedö
This chapter contributes to the ongoing effort to understand the nature of locative urban information by proposing that locative urban information... Sample PDF
A Visual Approach to Locative Urban Information
Chapter 16
Tristan Thielmann
Car navigation systems, based on “augmented reality,” no longer direct the driver through traffic by simply using arrows, but represent the... Sample PDF
Navigation Becomes Travel Scouting: The Augmented Spaces of Car Navigation Systems
Chapter 17
Daisuke Tamada
A lot of street view services, which present views of urban landscapes, have recently appeared. The conventional method for making street views... Sample PDF
QyoroView: Creating a Large-Scale Street View as User-Generated Content
Chapter 18
Hideyuki Nakanishi, Toru Ishida, Satoshi Koizumi
Many research projects have studied various aspects of smart environments including smart rooms, home, and offices. Few projects, however, have... Sample PDF
Virtual Cities for Simulating Smart Urban Public Spaces
Chapter 19
Andrew Hudson-Smith
Digital cities are moving well beyond their original conceptions as entities representing the way computers and communications are hard wired into... Sample PDF
The Neogeography of Virtual Cities: Digital Mirrors into a Recursive World
Chapter 20
Laura Forlano
This chapter introduces the role of community wireless networks (CWNs) in reconfiguring people, places and information in cities. CWNs are important... Sample PDF
Codespaces: Community Wireless Networks and the Reconfiguration of Cities
Chapter 21
Katrina Jungnickel, Genevieve Bell
From WiFi (802.11b) with its fixed and mobile high-speed wireless broadband Internet connectivity to WiMAX (802.16e), the newest wireless protocol... Sample PDF
Home is Where the Hub Is? Wireless Infrastructures and the Nature of Domestic Culture in Australia
Chapter 22
Andres Sevtsuk
This chapter presents the iSPOTS project, which collects and maps data of WiFi usage on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in... Sample PDF
Mapping the MIT Campus in Real Time Using WiFi
Chapter 23
John M. Carroll
We discuss the vision, plan, and status of a research project investigating community-oriented services and applications, comprising a wireless... Sample PDF
Supporting Community with Location-Sensitive Mobile Applications
Chapter 24
Christine Satchell
Early 21st century societies are evolving into a hybrid of real and synthetic worlds where everyday activities are mediated by technology. The... Sample PDF
From Social Butterfly to Urban Citizen: The Evolution of Mobile Phone Practice
Chapter 25
Jong-Sung Hwang
u-City is South Korea’s answer to urban community challenges leveraging ubiquitous computing technology to deliver state-of-the-art urban services.... Sample PDF
u-City: The Next Paradigm of Urban Development
Chapter 26
Dan Shang, Jean-François Doulet, Michael Keane
This chapter examines the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in urban China, focusing mainly on their impact on social... Sample PDF
Urban Informatics in China: Exploring the Emergence of the Chinese City 2.0
Chapter 27
Francesco Calabrese
The real-time city is now real! The increasing deployment of sensors and handheld electronic devices in recent years allows for a new approach to... Sample PDF
WikiCity: Real-Time Location-Sensitive Tools for the City
Chapter 28
Eric Paulos, RJ Honicky, Ben Hooker
In this chapter, we present an important new shift in mobile phone usage—from communication tool to “networked mobile personal measurement... Sample PDF
Citizen Science: Enabling Participatory Urbanism
Chapter 29
Mark Shepard
What happens to urban space given a hypothetical future where all information loses its body, that is, when it is offloaded from the material... Sample PDF
Extreme Informatics: Toward the De-Saturated City
Chapter 30
Roger J. Burrows
Is it still the case that one can symptomatically read the early work of the cyberpunk author William Gibson as a form of prefigurative urban theory... Sample PDF
Urban Informatics and Social Ontology
About the Editor
About the Contributors