The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] Reconciliation of digital with analog

By Kim Seong-kon

Published : Jan. 23, 2018 - 17:46

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The world is now divided into the “push-and-press” generation and the “touch-and-slide” generation. The former always tries to solve problems they face by pushing something, for example their luck, or other people, or even nuclear launch buttons. On the contrary, the latter almost always attempts to solve the problems they encounter by touching and sliding their fingers across a screen. 

The chasm between these two radically different generations seems to be despondently unfathomable and unbridgeable. It is no wonder that these two generations can never truly communicate or understand each other fully.

A few days ago, I installed KakaoTalk on my Verizon mobile phone. When I set Korean as the default language, I could only see the Korean keypad on my phone. I found a bar that said “Korean” with arrows on both sides. So I pushed and pressed it a number of times, hoping that the keypad would change to English, but nothing happened. I also pushed the arrows but to no avail. I became desperate and frustrated.

I finally gave up and called my daughter for help. With a heavy sigh, she said, “Don’t push or press it. Touch and slide it!” When I followed her instruction, the English keypad magically appeared. I was greatly relieved and pleased. At the same time, however, I was sad because I felt the irreducible generation gap between my daughter and I.

I thought I was good at handling electronic devices, but I was not. I came to realize that I belonged to the hopelessly old-fashioned push-button generation, not the tech-savvy touch-and-slide one.

The same thing happened when I chatted with my 2-year-old granddaughter online. I found that whenever she got bored with me, she tried to change the scene by the touch-and-slide motion. She knew she could make me disappear simply by touching and sliding the screen. How convenient. Someday, she will probably try to use the motion in reality as well when she wants to bid goodbye to me.

In his 1970 novel “Being There,” Jerzy Kosinski depicted a man who had lived in a secluded place, watching television shows all through his life. Whenever he did not like the scene he was watching, he switched the channel to another, using his remote control. The remote control was the only device that enabled him to control the world. The TV remote control in 1970 was like today’s computer mouse or touch-screen tablet PC.

When he is kicked out of the place, the man suddenly finds himself on the street with only his remote control. For the first time in his life, he has to face the hostile reality because he has lived in a fantasy provided by the TV all through his life. When he is surrounded by a group of street muggers, the man abruptly points his TV remote control at the knife-wielding ruffians and presses it several times to switch the scene. But he finds he cannot change or control reality with his remote.

Just like the TV generation in 1970, today’s computer generation is used to changing scenes it does not like or to going back to the previous screen to correct mistakes by the magical touch-and-slide technique. In reality, however, they cannot make the current crisis go away or go back to make corrections, no matter how they touch and slide the screen. Although the touch-and-slide technique is effective on the screen, it is not so in reality. In life, there are times when you need to push and press.

By the same token, the older push-button generation should learn how to touch and slide softly, instead of pushing and pressing hard all the time. In today’s war, hand-to-hand combat is not the only option; there is technological warfare that requires high-tech computer skills. If you belong to the push-button generation, you should not try to teach the touch-and-slide generation with your miserably old-fashioned sensitivity and outdated knowledge. If you do, you will surely end up being a laughing stock among the younger generation.

By the same token, it will be absurd if older people who cannot speak English try to decide when children should begin their first English lessons. Everybody knows when it comes to language acquisition, the sooner the better. Our children will learn English while texting, emailing and googling. We cannot force them not to study English before the third grade.

The generation gap is inevitable. However, we should reconcile the conventional push-and-press method and the innovative touch-and-slide technology. Then we can accomplish what Dr. Lee O-young defines as “Digilog,” the reconciliation of the digital with the analog. 

We cannot choose one of the two. Instead, we should embrace both in order to truly accomplish the ultimate appeasement of the two. Then surely we will be able to reconcile the young with the old, the left wing with the right wing, and progressivism with conservatism.

By Kim Seong-kon

Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and distinguished visiting professor at George Washington University. He can be reached at -- Ed.