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Ditching digital

A customer looks around an LP record shop, located in Hoehyeon Underground Shopping Centre in central Seoul. (Nam Yoon-seo/The Korea Herald)

Publication Date : 17-07-2012


Koreans are often thought of as some of the world’s most tech-savvy people, quick to catch on to the newest digital gadgets.

Using their mobile phones or tablets, they listen to music, manage schedules, take pictures and type emails.

However, an underground shopping arcade in Hoehyeon-dong, central Seoul seems to resist the tide of digital culture. Vinyl record stores line the passageways, and everything feels slow. If you want to listen to an LP, you must find the one you want among thousands stacked in huge piles.

Jung Eun-kyong, 43, who runs record shop Livingsa, is an advocate of LPs at a time when K-pop idols are rated by download sales.

“Once you get into a room full of LPs, you can smell something unique about LPs. Then, you will never forget it,” said Jung.

While Jung has run her business for the past 24 years, it was about 10 years ago that she started to see a noticeable increase in LP sales.

Although CDs also offer good quality sound, people who have been exposed to nothing else will find it really hard to understand the richness that only LPs can offer, said Jung, who owns about 10,000 records.

Most of the customers at her shop are in their 50s-70s and are nostalgic about musicians of yesteryear. But 30 and 40-somethings are increasingly visiting her shop these days, she said.

“In the old days, reading a book or listening to music was one of the few hobbies people could enjoy. Now, there are lots of hobby choices but people still keep searching for something analog to fill their empty hearts,” Jung said.

A few blocks away from the LP shops are camera stores where sales of film cameras have risen in the past five years, despite the surging popularity of compact digital cameras and DSLRs.

According to 61-year-old Oh Hyun-soo, who runs camera store Chungmu Yang haeng, people look for film cameras to take photos with their own unique “feeling”.

Digital-camera users tend to set the camera at “auto” mode and take scores of shots rather than a single good shot, he said, whereas film-camera users have to be careful to get the aperture, exposure and shutter speed right, so as not to waste expensive film.

Kim Jin-hoi, 38, who runs online analog camera community Rollei 35 Club, said the long process of film development attracts young people especially.

“With a digital camera, I can see what I take instantly. But with a film camera, I enjoy having to see my pictures. I call it the beauty of waiting,” he said.

Fountain pens, paper diaries retain appeal

Kim Jong-su, a 50-year-old civil servant, is an ardent fan of fountain pens, saying using one is incomparable to typing on a keyboard.

He has been in love with the pens for the past three decades, since he received one as a gift from a professor during his college days.

“The biggest merits of writing with a fountain pen are that you can use it permanently and you can choose from a variety of nibs and ink cartridges and replace them with ease according to your taste and purpose,” said Kim, who has cherished Parker’s Frontier since 1996.

“You can learn patience, add sincerity and prudence in your handwriting with fountain pens,” he said.

At major bookstores including Youngpoong Bookstore and Kyobo Book Center in central Seoul, sizable corners are allocated for dozens of fountain pen brands for free trials and free engraving services.

At Youngpoong, German brand Lamy’s Safari Series is one of the most popular among young customers, with an affordable price of 54,000 won and a variety of colors.

“Long-established brands such as Waterman, Parker, and Montblanc are favored and their prices vary from a hundred thousand won to millions of won,” said an employee at Kyobo.

“Customers usually make their decisions according to their personal preferences in design and writing style, rather than just by brand names.”

People are also sticking with the basics in the diary market.

Performance Improvement Institute of Korea, which sells traditional diary brand Franklin Planner in the local market, said the company does not plan to reduce the production of paper diaries even though it recently developed Franklin Planner applications for both Android and Apple smartphones.

“Some traditional diary users who have recently tried smartphone diary apps said they could not restore the information they deleted by mistake. If you use a traditional diary, there’s no worry about losing records even if you make a mistake,” said Jang Hye-ji, a spokesperson of Performance Improvement Institute of Korea.

Ahn Chi-wook, a 26-year-old university student, said he uses both a mobile diary application and a traditional diary; the former for short memos, and the latter for long memos, drawings and stickers “in his own style.”

While various applications for drawing and painting are available for Android and at Apple’s App Store, people still stick to drawing by hand.

Lee Jeong-eun, a 36-year-old banker who attends an art class at Rime Art Academy in Seoul, said she prefers to sketch with pencils and paint with real water colors, even though she owns a smartphone with drawing applications.

“Drawing on the smartphone makes me feel caged in the small screen. Painting affects our sense of touch and smell. There is something emotional that I can find only when drawing with my own hands,” she said.

Slower living

Listening to vinyl records, filling your diary and using your own hands help slow down the pace of the life ― which is crucial in giving peace and pleasure to the information-overloaded brain, said Yoon Dae-hyun, psychiatry professor at Seoul National University Hospital Gangnam Center.

“People’s brains in the current era are ‘shocked’ by too-fast inflows of stimulus and emotions. I would call it ‘stress brain fatigue,’ which lowers your self-respect and ability to remember,” said Yoon, who is known for advising people on how to overcome smartphone addiction.

“In fact, a part of the brain is called an emotional brain, which is in charge of motivation for life, energy, willingness. When this part is stressed out, it is easy to fall into the state of nonexistence.”

For the digitally fatigued and empty-hearted, he suggested investing some time to meet a friend face-to-face, going for a 10-minute walk each day without using any digital device, or any other activity that takes some time to think and feel.


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