Text by Taylah Donegan
With reportedly over 2 million people in South Korea considered to have an internet addiction (one of the highest numbers in the world), Koreans have finally started to notice the dangers of unbalanced use of devices. A number of popular TV entertainment shows are choosing to focus on the relationships between humans and technology.
On the 19th March 2016, Lee Sedol, a Korean champion in an ancient intellectual game of Go (or baduk), lost to the artificial intelligence program AlphaGo, produced by Google. The game that can last for several hours and has been likened to Chess in the West is one of the most popular ones in Korea, and Lee's setback was covered by the likes of Sky news and CNN.
In spite of his loss, Lee Sedol's popularity in Korea rose even more, especially amongst people who weren’t originally a fan of the game. His loss became a talking point in many Korean shows, and became the inspiration for an episode on a very popular TV show Running Man, which focused on Man vs Machine and tried to show how overdependent we have become on our devices,
Low tech challenges
Running Man is a Korean variety show that has been on the air for almost six years and has become a household name. The cast meet weekly to film the show which follows the format of small missions that lead into a final mission. This time, producers chose to give the cast a variety of tasks that highlighted just how dependent its citizens are on technology.
Missions such as making the members navigate themselves around the city without the use of a GPS caused a panic within cast members, in which several members exclaimed that they have never even used a map before in their lives. Interestingly, this issue was seen to not be generational, as oldest member Ji SukJin, who is 50 years old, had the most problems navigating himself around Seoul.
Other tasks included trying to win a match against a robotic arm in a game of balloon popping, and playing against a high tech computer in a popular Korean word association game, which in many ways resembled Lee Sedol’s match against the AlphaGo.
They resisted, but then enjoyed it
The challenges were initially detested by most of the members, comedian Kim Junho even exclaimed that he felt like a stress test lab rat.
However, over the course of the week, the cast began to notice that actually spending time with each other, and without technology coming literally in-between them, helped them to appreciate the value of one another, and loved ones, gaining relationships over convenience, and experiences that were analog - not digital.
In later episodes after that particular mission was over, some of the members even stated that they did try and reduce their usage of smart phones when they could. Overall, this particular episode did well, and the program even extended the mission to female comedians, when the show later expanded.
Running Man is not the first Korean show to highlight the issue of tech dependency. In late 2012, entertainment show The Human Condition challenged a group of comedians to live for one week without the use of smartphones, the Internet and television for their pilot episode, in a sort of social experiment.
With Korean rehabilitation clinics for Internet and gaming addiction on the rise, and with 1 in 4 teenagers diagnosed with Internet addiction attending these clinics, it is extremely important and beneficial that these major entertainment companies continue to tackle this issue from the source, and continue to showcase the effects of Internet dependency in a light hearted manner that allows conversation to begin.