Social Life

It used to be that I would seriously contemplate my Facebook status on my birthday because I knew people would be coming to my “Profile” to write on my “Wall.”  It was an opportunity to be clever and funny, or witty and political, plug for a new favorite musician, etc.  The day before my birthday, I would actually spend time thinking about a good status.  These were also the days when Facebook statuses started with “Katie is… “ so obviously you had to be creative in order not to be limited by the present tense.  The night before, I would set my status and prepare for my best friends (and the people who wanted to be or thought they were my bffs) to type me a “happy birthday!” message at midnight.  While they were doing so, they could read the product of my deliberations, they would think I was so smart and thoughtful, and our friendship would deepen.  The next time I saw them in person, they would refer to my birthday status and include a compliment about my social networking skills and/or personality. They would ask me to write statuses for them to post the day before their birthday and I would become a professional status writer for the next 40 years, but would always save the best status for my own birthday.

This communication, and dare I say hope for continued interaction, was social networking at it’s finest.  So fine, that Myspace’s redeeming qualities of customized backgrounds and Top Friends couldn’t keep up.

The Status was a death sentence for other social network services.  When I found out about Twitter, their whole model being centered around a limited length status to encourage succinctness, I didn’t dare get into it, seeing as how much pressure it would have been to be clever/funny/smart every day.  If I was going to become a professional status writer, it would be by sheer luck, not hard work.

I don’t need to continue reminiscing Facebook’s innovations all the way to the present day, because everyone who’s on it knows the state of things.  These time-saving, conflict-avoiding, relationship-voiding “innovations”:

  • Sharing news articles, memes, or blog op-eds so that we can share our opinions without having to have awkward conversations made up of our own beliefs or thoughts


  • Comments sections, that are our own beliefs or thoughts, designed to bite and sting so we won’t be forgotten or suffer a death by lack of likes


  • Ability to completely ignore any friend and/or their opinion we get tired/sick of, without having to actually unfriend them, thereby creating a conflict and an unscripted conversation about why we are suddenly not friends anymore


There is now hope that FB is changing their algorithm, so we will see more directly from friends!   Finally!  How else will we communicate about our own experiences, our own plans, our lives…?  It’s all there for our friends to read with their scrolling thumb on the smart phone that everyone now has.  If our friends care about us enough, they’ll keep-in-touch through use of the like button,  and that will be enough for our relationship.

Keep in mind a lot of this so-called communication takes place on our work breaks, or public transportation, when we’re bored, or late at night when we can’t sleep.

What’s ironic is that while I bash this technological “social” life, I’m guilty as charged.  I am dramatic, post news that I agree with in order to communicate my political opinions, substitute actual conversation with friends and family with pictures or posts that I expect my friends and family to read.  Obviously I’m guilty of thinking my statuses hold importance.

But if I didn’t have any hope, I wouldn’t be here.  On this day.  The day before my birthday.  Pondering yet another birthday status.  I expect to continue thinking I am clever, funny, maybe even witty.  Sadly, with today’s social media, it doesn’t matter if you think I am clever, funny, or maybe even witty; the readers are for the most part, superfluous.  But that’s definitely not what I want.

I want to go to the social media I’ve always dreamed of- where our relationship deepens because you read my witty post, and we talk about it later, even if only in the comments or through text messages.  Where I care enough about your recent food pictures to try that restaurant or that recipe, maybe even share in it together.  When good news can be announced online, but celebrated offline, without a typed congratulations to increase the attention of an algorithm.

I hope for a social network that helps me make friends and keep them, rather than destroying bonds by allowing me to be passive- or worse, attacking them for some opinion or article they’ve posted.  A social media that encourages socializing, with less media from outside sources.

Thank you for reading.  And liking.  And thinking I am clever.  Let’s be friends.


Voting Season

In the midst of trying to decide whether the latest news from the American presidential race will enhance my life in any way, I’ve been watching the country of Korea prepare to elect all of the 300 representatives in their National Assembly.  Well, 253 of them. The remaining 47 spots are closed party decisions based on the percentage of other seats each party wins.

Campaigning seems a bit different, though I have to consider that I am viewing it from a foreigners surface perspective.  Candidates post people at major points of foot traffic- like subway stations or crosswalks- with giant posters and flyers, ready to shake hands.  It’s the only time I see strangers smile at strangers.  The candidates make celebrity-like appearances on their campaign cars, sometimes parked at busy intersections or even driving around slowly, candidate installed on the platform with a loudspeaker or microphone.  Occasionally, several ladies might get on the stage and do a dance- now that’s worth stopping to watch!


A campaign car from a previous election.

I live near Bucheon City Hall, which was a rally point for Bucheon candidates on recent weekends, and the location of several debates- the powerfully magnified sound floated through my window, open or closed made no difference.  The worst moment was when a candidate parked their trailer platform at the intersection, and proceeded to play the same 30 second sound bite for 4 hours over and over and over and over.

Finally, Election Day came yesterday!  In addition to the promise of peace and quiet returning, Election Day was a public holiday, to ensure that anyone who wanted to vote wouldn’t be stuck at work all day.  I took further advantage of the day off by claiming my boyfriend for a date after he did his civic duty, and getting him to explain some of the different complexities of South Korean politics and voting systems that helps bring order to no less than 15 parties, including 4 parties that received a substantial amount of votes. His hope that Korea will improve is infectious- a breath of fresh air to my weary presidential contemplations.

I also have another new perspective this election: I have the pleasure of teaching several refugees through the Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) program.  One of them is not new to South Korea, and this is not his first election, but talking about politics with him reminded me of my first voting experience.

I am helping him perfect his past and future tense expressions, so during our lessons we frequently utilize questions such as “What did/will you do yesterday/last weekend/this morning/tomorrow,” etc.  I used the upcoming special day for a topic of conversation, asking him what he planned to do, and if he planned to vote.

As sometimes happens, he heard the word vote in my sentence and got so excited to talk about elections that he forgot to directly answer my question.  Instead, he wanted to know who I was going to vote for!  And, he was dropping names.  Hillary, Bernie, Trump, who did I like?  His eyes lit up with interest.

There are some things tutors must avoid talking about with North Korean refugee students, but sometimes you accidentally stumble into a subject that could turn the wrong way if you’re not careful.  I had previously avoided politics, but given the expression on his face, I couldn’t deny him a genuine answer and a few details.

How do you describe the candidates in simple English?  I said Trump was scary.  I like Bernie, but he will split people too much, effectively causing pain and divisions in addition to being rendered useless in policy changes.  (Using hand motions helped get that point communicated.)  And Hillary is somewhere in the middle.  I’m not sure that was clear, but at the mention of Mrs. Clinton, his excitement reached it’s peak.  “I like Hillary!”  He smiled, and struggled to say more.

I brought the conversation back around to the Korean election, but it sounded like he wasn’t going to- or couldn’t -vote.  Keep in mind, folks, that I’m trying to comprehend a complex situation with limited English.  What stuck with me was his excitement for elections.  Voting, a concept that doesn’t exist the same way in the North.

I don’t want to put words in my student’s mouth, but my own mind went crazy at the thought of putting myself in his shoes and imagining such an election.  If you look up elections in North Korea, you might read about how they elect the Supreme People’s Assembly every 5 years, the majority party represents 97% of those elected, and voter turnout is 100%.  Imagine having more than one option on a ballot, let alone two individuals who represent differing opinions!

Although I have been eligible to vote for less than 10 years, the excitement of voting is gone.  In fact, I remember having a carefully mediated debate in 1st grade about who we would vote for between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in 1996.  But now, voting is only a duty.  The name calling, finger pointing, and scandals that last for more than a year have clouded elections.  Not only between candidates, let’s face it- Facebook is like a walking political ad, and even amongst my family we avoid hot topics because we know we don’t agree.  The complaining that follows after an election no matter who is elected is something I could live without.  I’m just grateful that by living abroad, I’m not subjected to the endless television commercials!

Now I have something to look forward to when the election rolls around.  The joy I witnessed during that ordinary lesson, on my adult student’s face, just thinking about voting, is a picture I will remember every election.  Besides the obvious result of reminding me to be grateful for the ability to vote, I can also aspire to be excited for choosing a candidate I believe in.  In addition, learning something about another political system’s inner workings, believing in the system, and maintaining my boyfriend’s hope that people will not choose the scary candidate.