The newly coined term in Korea, ‘Honsul Namnye’ embodies a sense of empathy for today’s youth because it reflects the reality of their culture. In other words, it puts into perspective the life of youth today, such as the increased number of young university students preparing for the public servant examination and the increased number of individuals overly concerned about enjoying time alone and away from others. ‘Honsul’ refers to the act of drinking alone in Korea. Nowadays, young people not only drink alone, but also do almost everything alone. They eat, drink, go shopping, watch movies, exercise, and even travel alone. In other words, today’s younger generation prefers to spend time and live alone rather than with friends.
A New Culture, Personal Time
The biggest factor that led to this trend of “personal time” is the changing households in Korean society. According to the National Statistical Office (NSO), the number of single-person households has steadily increasing in recent years and in 2012, they represented almost one fourth of households in Korea (4.8% in 1980; 25.3% in 2012). NSO estimates that the number of single-person households will rise to 34.3% by 2025, the year when today’s young generation will have become people in their 40s. One of every three households will be a single-person household.1) This change in household structure has led to cultural changes. Besides this change, however, another reason for the trend to spend time alone seems to be the development of applications. The popularity of the application "Duridubap" strengthens this idea. The application helps people who are not seeking deep relationships find a mate who is willing to spend a few hours wining and dining, such as enjoying a short meal at a café near Seoul National University main gate. The app is quite simply to use. A user merely enters the objective of the meet-up, such as have lunch or dinner together, and their location. The app randomly searches for a dining mate. It has more than 300 users a week.2) Besides this dinning application, there has been an increase in applications that center on enjoying time alone.
Today there is a surge in new expressions that symbolize the numerous ways of spending one’s personal time alone. The coined phrases that have popped up in the Korean language include expressions like ‘Honsul (enjoying an alcoholic beverage alone), ‘Honbap (dining alone)’, ‘Honyoung (watching a movie alone)’, and ‘Hontel (staying at a hotel alone)’. Among the differing personal time activities, ‘Honyoung’ and ‘Hontel’ are the most interesting. According to research by Chosunilbo and Maxmovie, the percent of people who have seen a movie alone has increased fivefold from 2013 to 2016, a rise from 8.2% to 42.2%.3) Also, more and more young people are enjoying their vacations at home or nearby their home, strengthening the notion of Hontel. Among 1251 respondents, 35% said they had ‘I have stayed lodgings’, which could have been brought on by the long-drawn economic slowdown.
The Joys of Being Alone
About 5 years ago, ‘outsiders’, or people who had difficulties with relationships were considered socially unusual and some even sought psychological help. However, these ‘outsiders’ are now representative to the new culture that has developed among university students thanks to two main changes in society. The first is freedom. A recent survey of university students showed that 7 out of 10 students prefer being alone than with others, and 80% of participants reported feeling more comfortable, free, and joyful being alone and doing things alone.4) When individuals spend time alone, they don’t need be concerned about others. For example, when they watch a movie alone, they do not need to negotiate things like movie time, genre, theatre location, seat preference, and and so on. Kim Youngeun, Department of French Language & Culture ’16, said “I enjoy my time with friends, but I also enjoy ‘my’ time. I can do whatever I want and whenever I want to do it. Alone I save time and energy and use my time a lot more freely.” Due to the times’ complexity, over crowdedness, and hushed modern living, most young people do not feel the need to be with others and enjoy spending their personal time alone in comfort.
Being alone is also economical. After setting up an appointment to go to the movies together, there is also the expected or before movie activities such as going shopping, having a meal together, and chitchatting over coffee. Simple arithmetic indicates that being alone is much more economical than going out with a friend(s). A single movie date with a friend can set a university student back considerably. Generally, the living cost for a university student is 334,000 won a month. Roughly 43.7% of that is spent on food expenses.5) A student may spend up to 145,958 won a month on food, which is about 5,000 won a day. Coffee franchises sell Americano from between 2,800 won to 4,500 won.6) Thus, the mean price of coffee is about 3,600. Lastly, according to Daehakneail 20slab, on average young people watch 11.6 movies a year. In other words, watching a movie with someone will cost about 100,000 won or more. The cost is clearly different. Son Jiwon, Department of French Language & Culture’16, said, “I like to spend my time wisely and rationally. Whenever I meet friends, I end up doing unwise and irrational spending. Also, when I go to a concert, I can get a good seat because there are usually good individual seats left after initial reservations.” Whether it is because of the expense or freedom of choice, students are increasingly enjoying time alone.
The Dark Side of Being Alone, Gwantae-gi
While being alone surely has its advantages, sociologists have expressed concern over this new cultural trend, referring to it as ‘Gwantae-gi’. This new coined terms comes from Gwontae-gi, meaning period of lassitude in Korean, which summarized how people in their twenties have lassitude towards relationships. Kim Hansoo, student in the Department of Architecture at Hanyang University, said, “While I spend plenty of time with others, including friends, I still find myself disappointing them. I’m tired of trying to please others. I am not looking to create new relationship, but to solidify the ones I already have.” Also, Professor Seo I-jong from Seoul National University said “People in their twenties now have a tendency to become closer to people they meet online rather than offline. My concern for this is the lack of offline relationships will lead to a lack of sociality and awareness of unity.”7) Unlike generations of the past, young people today find strength from independence rather than reliance on others. However, this independence could bring about a loss of solidarity, a much more serious issue.
Another concern is that the merits of solidary seem to be fading. Solidarity is crucial for players in politics and special interest groups. It is well-accepted that there is power in individualism, but there is greater strength in the power of groups of individuals. Working as a group has, for instance, much greater persuasion force than a sole individual. Both in leisure activities and in politics, unity among peoples has disappeared. While the need and desire for personal time is great, people need to also recognize the greatness that comes from being with others and take joy from the warmth that comes from talking, touching, and so on.
Path to a Well-Balanced Relationship
Being alone is the latest cultural trend, and togetherness has weakened. People enjoy eating alone, having tea alone, going to a movie alone, and so on. Truly, Koreans have embraced the culture of individualism, but from the perspective of sociology, Koreans should be wary. Aristotle once said humans are by nature social creatures. It is crucial that society does not forget individuals cannot survive alone. No one is an island. Young people should strive for a balance between personal time and time with others. This is the path towards well-balanced relationships and personal time.
1) Kim Yeongi, “[Cover Story] Single-person households have changed the concept of business”, Economy Insight, May 1, 2015
2) Online Jongangilbo, “Have you heard Gwanteagi in 20s?”, Joungangilbo, Feburary 26, 2016
3) Baek Eunyoung, “Are you part of Hon-young jok?...42.2% claim to watch movies alone”, TV chosun, June 7, 2016
4) Jung Yucheol, “The old adage that relationships are important has faded among the young generation… in 2016, young adults are ennui towards relationship”, Brainmedia, April 26, 2016
5) Kim Bong-ku, “The average cost of living for a university students is 334,000 won a month... their highest expense is food”, Hankyung, May 28, 2014
6) Jang Yumi, “The best priced coffee is found at EDIYA – the best flavored coffee is at STARBUCKS”, Joynews24, February 22, 2015
7) Bu Aeri, “I hate men...young people express a lassitude towards relationships”, Asia Economy, June 3, 2016