Trials and Triumphs of Technology

While moving to the extreme far East has been a gigantic step and shift in living for us, both culturally and because of the size and modernity of the city and Korea, what is most fascinating for many people is that we have additionally moved to a brand new “smart” city.  “Smart” because it is Leeds certified, is hardwired with the fastest internet in the world, is built beside a major Asian airport hub, and also because its every detail is planned out for residents who do not yet exist.

So I can say things like, I live in a “smart city” or I live in a new “aerotropolis”–but what does this actually mean?  The internets are full of information about the concept of New Songdo City, the plans, how the economic crunch has affected the dream, etc etc.  But what is it really like to live in a smart city?  What is it like to have technology in your face everywhere you look?  My experiences will not be much different from someone living in Seoul or Tokyo or Hong Kong, except that I get to experience these things with a lot of space, clean streets and a lack of gross city smell.  All the things now apart of my daily life are especially astounding (and frustrating) to me as I grew up in a small Appalachian town and only moved to a slightly larger town in my 20s.  I never lived in New York or Shanghai or London.  So try to look at what follows through my particular lens of experience.

In our house, there have been some adjustments.  Let’s begin with the first moment you walk in the door.  Our front door is computerized and the whole thing is battery operated.  You cannot enter our house with a regular, tongue-in-groove key.  This is highly disconcerting to me.  I can open my door with my fingerprint or a code punched into a touch-screen, but what will we do if the batteries die?  We’re locked out and it’s not some flimsy wooden door you can kick in.  The door does sing to us and gives lots of warning if the batteries are dying so we can change them in time.  But this is a mechanized, computerized, sensitive and therefore susceptible to breaking device.  Does that not scare anyone else?
Out in the hallway is our trash chute.  We have one chute for food waste and one chute for regular trash.  This is good and bad.  On the one hand, I put a bag of trash into a little hole, and it gets whisked away underground to some processing center.  Amazing!  There are no dumpsters.  No smelly trash cans waiting for the dump truck.  However, because it’s a vacuum chute, if someone on the 27th floor doesn’t close the door just right (and you do have to slam it just right), no one in the building can throw away their trash until the problem is solved.  This can be a weekly nuisance.

Next, and what has taken the most getting used to, is the Home Net computer system.  This is the system by which, eventually, people will be able to teleconference with their doctor or teacher or whatever–part of the whole “smart” city concept.  Right now, the system works to regulate the house temperature, lights, gives you lots of information on weather and traffic, and gives you video conferencing capabilities with your neighbors.  The Home Net also shows you a video of who is at the main building door and who rings your door bell in hallway.  This is especially convenient and nice.  For example, we can easily identify the Bible salesman and pretend we’re not home.  In addition to the main screen in the living room, there are also consoles with screens in the kitchen and in the master bathroom.  So, if someone rings the door while you’re on the john, you can let them in.  This is highly convenient but freaked me out the first time I was using the bathroom and the door rang and the video popped up on the screen in the bathtub.  I couldn’t shake the feeling the caller could see me!

While a source of convenience, the Home Net often makes me crazy.  When we moved in, the system was all set up and functional.  But it turns out that if it ever resets, you have to enter a specific code to re-boot it or else an alarm will sound.  And not just a little beeping alarm.  It’s a full on intruder/emergency alert.  Right.  Guess what happened in the middle of one night when the power went out?  The stupid thing went off every hour until I could locate our housing assistant to give me the code.

If that wasn’t invasive enough, there’s a speaker just above the main console through which the housing guards talk at all the residents.  It’s loud.  It’s in Korean.  And I’ve been told that the content of their sometimes three-a-day announcements include such earthshatteringly important things as telling people to remember to sort the trash and to close the windows because in case we didn’t notice, it’s windy out.  Obviously, this is highly frustrating, and makes me wonder how this concept gained popularity.  Who wants their phone calls, shows, sleep, and lives interrupted by someone jabbering at you to remember that recycling time is over at 10am?  But I think this is a Korean thing.  Not a “smart city” thing.  Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate.

I’ll end this commentary with my favorite item.  I’m sure this is not specific to our city and our house, just as all of our singing appliances are a totally new concept to us, but so normal to Koreans–but the foot pedal at the sink is indispensable.  You can turn the water on at the kitchen faucet and then turn it off and on with a tap of your foot.  There’s no dishwasher, so in the course of washing dishes, so much water is saved by tapping that foot pedal!  I’ve become so accustomed to this little gem that I found myself back in the States this summer stomping in front of my friends’ and family’s sinks to try to turn on the water.  I mean, why wouldn’t you want this device?  Everyone should have one of these.

A year in I am still learning about my house.  I’m sure I would know even more about all it’s amazing capabilities if buttons and instructions were in English.  But through trial and triumph, we’re slowly figuring it out.

Haven’t heard enough?  If you’d like to know more, I had a small hand in the following articles:



7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carrie
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 14:54:44

    Wow, sounds a little 1984esque- the “telescreens.” But also sounds like a step up from the smelly broken leaky bathrooms and no recycling of Turkey.


  2. anitajohorton
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 17:45:35

    What an interesting post! I had no idea about all these innovations. How strange and otherworldly! I want the foot pedal at the sink. Way cool. What kind of advanced technology is available in your classroom?


  3. anitajohorton
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 17:46:05

    Oops. I want to sign up for “follow-up” comments.


  4. firewheel17
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 23:36:37

    Amazing update! I loved the video on your house. The Koreans sure have some interesting ways!


  5. Nanette
    Jan 02, 2013 @ 05:23:48

    more posts, please! We are considering a move to Korea and find your blog very informative. Thank you!


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