Untact: Koreans Dream Of A Future Where They Never Have To Meet Anybody
12/11/2021
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From The Guardian:

South Korea cuts human interaction in push to build ‘untact’ society

The government invests heavily to remove human contact from many aspects of life but fears of harmful social consequences persist

Raphael Rashid
Thu 9 Dec 2021 22.23 EST

… Introduced in 2020, “Untact” is a South Korean government policy that aims to spur economic growth by removing layers of human interaction from society. It gathered pace during the pandemic and is expanding rapidly across sectors from healthcare, to business and entertainment.

The push to create contactless services is designed increase productivity and cut bureaucracy

It’s probably also intended to cut immigration by reducing the need for low-skilled service workers with robots, but don’t tell The Guardian.

but has also fuelled concerns over the potential social consequences.

Choi Jong-ryul, a sociology professor at Keimyung University, says while there are advantages to developing an untact society, it also threatens social solidarity and may end up isolating individuals.

Ya think?

“If more people lose the ‘feeling of contact’ due to lack of face-to-face interaction, society will encounter a fundamental crisis,” Choi says.

In everyday life, small changes brought about by untact are becoming increasingly noticeable.

Robots brew coffee and bring beverages to tables in cafes. A robotic arm batters fries and chicken to perfection. At Yongin Severance Hospital, Keemi – a 5G-powered disinfection robot – sprays hand sanitiser, checks body temperature, polices social distancing, and even tells people off for not wearing masks.

Unmanned or hybrid shops are flourishing. Mobile carrier LG Uplus recently opened several untact phone shops, where customers can compare models, sign contracts and receive the latest smartphones without ever having to deal with a real person.

Civil services too are getting untact facelifts. Seoul City plans to build a “metaverse” – a virtual space where users can interact with digital representations of people and objects – and avatars of public officials will resolve complaints.

Sure they will.

Or at least in the metaverse, every time you demand to talk to the bureaucrat’s supervisor, a new digital supervisory avatar will shuffle in and listen to your complaint until you finally get tired and log off. Or you can keep going forever, hoping to see the ultimate boss avatar. Lots of luck!

Several local governments have launched AI call bots to monitor the health of those self-isolating.

Loneliness problem solved!

… The world of K-pop has also stepped into the metaverse. Fans create avatars where they can “meet” their favourites like Blackpink in a virtual space and receive virtual autographs.

And the young ladies of Blackpink get to not meet you. Everybody wins.

Untact in South Korea is more than a buzzword: it represents a potential economic engine for the country.

“Untact companies have shown greater growth effects than face-to-face companies in attracting investment and creating jobs,” South Korea’s small business and startups minister Kwon Chil-seung told the Guardian, noting that 12 out of 15 Korean unicorn companies – private firms valued at US$1bn (£750m) or more – use non-face-to-face methods in their primary business.

“South Korea has a very strong (communications) infrastructure in the country and many industries based on that infrastructure,” he says, adding that untact is part of a growing global trend that has accelerated in light of the pandemic.

Maybe some of the craziness of the pandemic social distancing is that it represents a Next Step in a trend that has been growing since the World Wide Web, or maybe since television came along, in which humans are becoming more averse to face-to-face contact?

Perhaps what is going on is a shift away from preferring synchronous to asynchronous communications.

Young people more or less stopped talking on the telephone a decade or two ago. Texting is lower bandwidth than talking, but it lets you not respond until you think up something good to say. On the other hand, most people text about as fast as they can, so I’m not sure if people are using it asynchronously…


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