Korean Kids Are Digital Natives

Korean Kids are Digital Natives

By Kim Tae-gyu

In South Korea, “digital natives’’ are sprouting up at a fast pace to help cement the nation’s global status as a high-tech pacesetter full of technology gurus.

The term, “digital native,’’ was coined to refer to the first generation who was born and grew up in the 21st century Internet era surrounded by gadgets like computers and cell phones.

“Some babies here appear to pick up a computer mouse and cell phone earlier than a spoon and chopsticks,’’ said Park Jung-hyun, a senior researcher at LG Economic Research Institute.

“They are genuinely digital natives, a totally different generation from their fathers and grandfathers, or `analogue natives,’’’ Park said.

Indeed, a majority of Korean children go online regularly, and they are accustomed to using mobile phones for games or wireless telephone services.

A recent government survey found that 50.3 percent of three-to five-year-olds log onto the Internet at least once a month. They were found to have first faced the Web at 3.2 years on average.

Many Korean preschoolers are also casual users of handsets. KTF, the country’s No. 2 wireless carrier, runs a charging system customized for four-year-old kids.

“Digital natives are thinking, acting and reacting much differently from how we did, mainly because their childhoods are in large part shaped by technology,’’ Park said.

“Their lifestyle, formed in line with newest technologies, can be a huge asset for this nation. They will grow up to become developers of futuristic techniques or consumers to help the related markets take root,’’ he said.

Some regard digital natives as a potential blessing for Korea, but some experts voice concerns on the increasing number of the young techno geeks.

“Kids use computers and cell phones mostly to play games. It is just like when children indulged in TV and video in the past,’’ said Hwang Jin-kyu, a researcher at the state-backed Korea Institute for Youth Development.

“Children turning to computers and handsets are more prone to game addiction than those who depended on TV or video. We have to recognize the dark side of digital natives and prepare for proper measures,’’ he said.

With both the positive and negative aspects of digital natives, Korea is expected to become a target of benchmarking, according to Kim Kyung-mo, an economist at the local brokerage Mirae Asset.

“Korea is leading the world as far as digital natives are concerned. As a result, foreign countries will try to keep a tab on things here to learn lessons in advance,’’ Kim said.

“In a sense, Korea will become a crystal ball displaying what happens when digital natives replace analogue natives,’’ Kim said. “The nation would be an example to benchmark.’’

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